Reading Proust: In Search of Lost Time (Remembrance of Things Past)

The 14-Minute Marcel Proust

All about the English-language editions of Marcel Proust's great novel, À la recherche du temps perdu, once known as Remembrance of Things Past but now more accurately titled In Search of Lost Time

READING MARCEL PROUST

(In Search of Lost Time, with special attention to the translations from Penguin/Viking and the new editions from Yale University Press)

Proust, Le Concert Retrouvé

In July 1907, Marcel Proust in a typical gesture of extravagance gave a dinner party at the Ritz in Paris, followed by a concert that has now been recreated (more or less) in a compact disc from Harmonia Mundi. The artists are the wonderfully named Théotime Langlois de Swarte and Tanguy De Williencourt, playing a Stadivarius violin and an Érard piano, respectively. Gabriel Fauré accounts for a significant number of the selections, as he did in the actual concert, though he himself wasn't able to attend, including his First Violin Sonata. Other composers include Wagner (in an arrangement by Liszt), Schumann, Chopin, Couperin, and Proust's good friend and onetime lover Reynaldo Hahn. There's an excerpt on Facebook. From the liner notes: "In a letter two days later to Reynaldo Hahn, Proust described the eclectic nature of the programme. Composers of his day were featured side by side with the masters of the past and of more recent date.... In recreating the recital's wide range of periods and styles, Théotime Langlois de Swarte and Tanguy de Williencourt also revive the intimacy of the Parisian fin-de-sicle salons and transport us into the fertile musical universe evoked in the pages of 'In Search of Lost Time'." (Though the Facebook video shows both men in casual 21st century garb.) The disc was extensively reviewed in the March 22 issue of The New Yorker.

The 6-volume Modern Library ebook

How my project began

Marcel Proust I peeked into Swann's Way two or three times before a pal challenged me to read the entire novel with him. Every Wednesday on his way to the law office where he was a low-level attorney, he stopped by my rented room (it had a kitchen and bath but wasn't really an apartment). We drank coffee, smoked(!), and talked about the week's reading. Egging each other on in this fashion, we both finished Remembrance of Things Past before the year was out.

Ten years later, I read it again — and aloud — to my wife over the course of two winters. (One of the French deconstructionists, arguing that one can't just study a novel by itself, because it's a collaborative venture between author and reader, cinched his case by saying: "After all, who has read every word of À la recherche du temps perdu?" It pleased me hugely to be able to think, "I did!")

That was the handsome, two-volume Random House edition of the novel, the first six books rendered into English by C K Scott Moncrieff and the seventh by Frederick Blossom. (Scott Moncrieff died before finishing his task, which is probably why Penguin decided to employ seven different translators for its 21st century Proust.) When Terence Kilmartin's reworking came out in the 1990s, I bought that three-volume edition, but read only pieces of it — notably Andrea Mayor's translation of The Past Recaptured, greatly improved over the rather lame Blossom version. Otherwise, Remembrance of Things Past seemed mostly unchanged from Scott Moncrieff's translation.

Then came the Penguin editions, the first four volumes of which were published in the US by Viking. After reading a rave review of vol. 2 — In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower — I decided that I would have to read it. On second thought, I decided to start from the beginning with the new Swann's Way. It was a good decision. Lydia Davis did a wonderful job with the first volume, and by the time I'd lulled Little Marcel to sleep (on page 43 in the Viking edition), I knew that I was once again in for the long haul. I set out to acquire a complete set of hardcover books — not so easy, as matters turned out! I read them in sequence, and I reported on them in what was a sort of blog. And now I'm adding the elegant Yale University Press editions as they are published.

The novel in translation

Swann's Way (also translated as The Way by Swann's)
In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower (Within a Budding Grove)
The Guermantes Way
Sodom and Gomorrah (The Cities of the Plain)
The Prisoner (The Captive)
The Fugitive (The Sweet Cheat Gone)
Finding Time Again (The Past Recaptured)

And for extra credit :)

But why bother?

The French sometimes boast that they have a Shakespeare for every generation, or at least for every century, while we Anglophones must stick with Will’s originals. Well, now we can say the same about Proust! (And indeed it's no longer true for the Bard. The Oregon Shakespeare Festival has commissioned the translation of his 39 plays into modern English, with -- of course! -- more than half the translators being female, and more than half "of color.")

Beyond that, I've seen it argued that literary French has changed little over the past hundred years, while English most certainly has, under the battering of such writers as James Joyce and Ernest Hemingway. (Whatever you say about C K Scott Moncrieff, he probably never read Ulysses, and he certainly was unfamiliar with the noisy young journalist who stormed into Paris in 1921.) However that may be, it's nice to have a freshened version of Proust's prose, and one that arguably is closer to the original than the one rendered by Scott Moncrieff in the 1920s.

(Proust, Joyce, and Hemingway! It's pleasant to think that my three favorite writers once breathed the same air in Paris. Indeed, Joyce and Proust once met at a party ... and had little or nothing to say to one another.)

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Flying Tigers

1. Swann's Way | 2. In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower | 3. The Guermantes Way | 4. Sodom and Gomorrah | 5. The Prisoner | 6. The Fugitive | 7. Finding Time Again

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Posted April 2021. © 2006-2021 Fallbook Press; all rights reserved.