Remembrance of Things Past
Marcel Proust’s Grasset Proofs: Commentary and Variants (distributed by the University of North Carolina Press)
Proust and the Art of Love: The Aesthetics of Sexuality in the Life, Times, and Art of Marcel Proust
Proust’s Recherche: A Psychoanalytic Interpretation
Proust dans la recherche littéraire
Proust’s Additions: The Making of ‘A la recherche du temps perdu,’
“If it works, don’t fix it.”
Around 1907, before he had chained himself for good to an 800-page book that would ultimately grow to 3,000 pages, Proust wrote a letter to Robert de Billy to scotch a rumor that he was translating Praeterita. The rumor had merit. Ruskin’s three-volume autobiography of a self constantly unwoven and rewoven in the writing is closer to A la recherche du temps perdu than any novel in English. Proust had already published two passionately annotated translations of Ruskin’s essays. He had read Praeterita. The characteristic sinuosity of his style and the remarkable concision of thought it embodies developed in great part during the five or more years he spent in the closest of all embraces with Ruskin’s English. What concerns us particularly here is that the whole complex problem, tactical and technical, of transmitting a work of literature from one language and culture to another was familiar ground to Proust.
By 1920, less than a year after he had miraculously won the Goncourt prize, Proust was complaining to his editor, Gaston Gallimard, that not enough was being done to arrange an English translation of The Search. He was wrong. A Scotsman of wide literary interests, employed as private secretary by Lord Northcliffe of the London Times, had already discovered Proust’s novel through the prize. He began to translate it without authorization and was casting about for a publisher. Considering the length and difficulty of the novel, we should be grateful that Chatto and Windus and Random House soon agreed to take on the whole project and that for the ten remaining years of his life C.K. Scott Moncrieff gave up everything (except for an occasional binge to translate Stendhal’s short sentences and Pirandello’s plays) to devote himself to Proust. When he died in 1930 Moncrieff was working on the last volume. What he produced is widely considered a masterpiece of twentieth-century translation into English.
Yet there has been some carping. Many critics, myself included, have pointed out annoying bloomers and occasional excesses of style. In 1954 a near-definitive French edition of A la recherche came out in three volumes of the Pléiade series. Pierre Clarac and André Ferré had worked for years over Proust’s manuscripts, typescripts, notebooks, galley proofs, and errata slips. For he not only made corrections but continued to write and compose at great length through the very last stages of proofreading. Moncrieff had worked from a partly faulty text.
For these reasons we are now offered a “reworking” of Moncrieff’s translation that follows the Pléiade edition and has been thoroughly checked for soft spots and errors. On the dust jacket the publishers call it “the definitive English version of one of the great masterpieces of the twentieth century.” Terence Kilmartin, an experienced translator of de Gaulle and Malraux and longtime literary editor of The Observer, spent four years on the task. Anyone in the business knows how to make …