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The Threat to Proust’: An Exchange

In response to:

The Threat to Proust from the March 18, 1999 issue

To the Editors:

It is kind of Roger Shattuck [NYR, March 18] to remember the chapter on homosexuality, sadism, and evil in my Proust Between Two Centuries (1989; American translation, 1992), and to prize its moderation vs. subsequent outings of the author of the Recherche. However, his failure to mention that I also am one of the editors of that dreadful, despicable, and demeaning Pléiade edition of Proust (1987-1989), which he recommends your readers to boycott, no less, is misleading. They should be warned that I contributed to this monumental fiasco: for instance, Shattuck read in my transcription those sketches of a girl wearing red roses, which he finds alluring, but which he would nonetheless prefer not to have read for fear that they spoil the self-contained monolith of the Recherche.

Contrary to what Shattuck assumes, the Pléiade edition of Proust is not a genetic edition—it has been under attack from the so-called geneticists as well—but a fairly traditional critical edition, comparable to editions that have been produced since the establishment of philology early in the nineteenth century: it furnishes notes and variants, and also provides—in smaller face—earlier drafts that cannot be appended as variants because they differ too much from the final text. It is also misleading for Shattuck to weigh against our bulky Pléiade two tractable paperbacks—published by Garnier-Flammarion and Laffont-Bouquins—which are not critical editions—while he chooses to ignore the commensurate Folio paperback, the popular offshoot of the Pléiade, with minimal annotation, no variants, but the same text and pagination. Simply put, the issue is not whether amateurs should boycott the Pléiade, but whether we need a critical edition of the Recherche at all, or of any other great modern novel for that matter. Whether scholars ought to be cognizant of critical editions. Whether critical editions should be the ones referred to in scholarship. Obviously, this is a free country: one is at liberty to cherish one’s old Remington and boycott Microsoft.

Antoine Compagnon

Columbia University

New York City

University of Paris-Sorbonne

Paris, France

To the Editors:

About the Pléiade edition of A la recherche du temps perdu (which was published in 1987-1989), I would like to remind your readers that:

—The new material which is included in each volume is printed in a smaller type, in a different section and at the end of each volume. If one wants to stick to the main text, one may do so very easily.

—The total amount of pages includes not only drafts, but also notes and variants that any scholarly edition requires. Nobody is compelled to read them, of course! But they may help, from time to time. Proust is easy to read, but not that easy.

—One must not confuse paperback editions, like those mentioned by Professor Shattuck, with a complete, critical edition. In any case, the text which we have established can be read as well, with a few notes and introductions in the Folio edition. And the whole text of the Recherche, the same as in the Pléiade, has just been issued in a simple volume, in the Quarto series, by Gallimard.

—As Professor Shattuck seems to criticize the Pléiade edition every ten years (he published an article on the same subject ten years ago), I look forward to reading him again in 2009.

Jean-Yves Tadié, FBA

Editions Gallimard

Paris, France

Roger Shattuck replies:

The letters from Professor Tadié and Professor Compagnon call for two responses. I must first repeat what Isay on page 11, column 3 of my review:that Ivalue scholarly editions of major literary works and make use of them in my work as a literary critic and scholar. Such editions do not, however, serve everyone’s needs. Second, I must restate my argument for the sake of greater clarity.

Let me distinguish three kinds of edition: a critical edition with full scholarly apparatus and possibly some drafts and variants; a readers’ edition with reliable text, basic introductory materials, and essential notes, on good paper in a sturdy binding; and a popular inexpensive edition of uncertain reliability and durability.

In its sixty-year history, the Pléiade collection created for itself a widely admired and commercially successful niche as a series of readers’ editions. (It has also provoked feisty competition in this category from the excellent and less expensive L’Intégral editions from Seuil.) My complaint is that, most evidently in the case of Proust, the Pléiade has shifted from serviceable readers’ editions to extreme and bloated scholarly editions based on principles of genetic criticism and priced accordingly. In this country we have fared better with the Library of America, using the best available texts. Scholars’ genuine needs for critical editions should not impose themselves on or interfere with the distinct and even more valuable category of readers’ editions of standard literary works.

Professor Compagnon’s final metaphor pitting an old Remington against Microsoft illustrates my point. He implies that all readers need and want the most advanced and elaborate technology, that is, a full-fledged critical edition whose apparatus may outweigh the work it presents. If that were to happen, the scholars would have won the day and driven general readers with their more modest needs into exile.

I should mention two recent events that came to my attention after the review was printed. A long interview with Jean-Yves Tadié, “The Writer and His Archives,” appeared in the Paris review Le Débat (November/December 1998). In it, Tadié retreats measurably from the claims I quote from his introduction to the Pléiade edition of Proust. And almost as if in response to criticism of the Pléiade edition, its publisher, Gallimard, issued in February 1999 a one-volume, 2,400-page paperback edition of Proust’s novel with no notes, no introduction, and no apparatus at all. At 195 francs, perhaps it is intended to be the winning popular edition. Some readers may find it convenient to have the entire novel in a single volume; but Gallimard’s own Folio edition in seven volumes and the Garnier-Flammarion in thirteen volumes are both better buys for the general reader in French.

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