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)

#9,489 Paid in Kindle Store

My book-clubby pals have been reading and raving about The Boys in the Boat, so when the publisher dropped the price of the Kindle edition to $2.99, the better to keep it on the e-book best-seller list, I decided to buy it. When I looked for it on Amazon, I discovered to my horror that there was a sort of Sparks Notes edition, summarizing the book, presumably for the benefit of those who wish to talk about it without the awful labor of actually reading it. What, I thought, has happened to the American mind? But then this morning I did a search on the Kindle store — I wanted to know how many megabytes were required to render the world's longest novel — and I saw that the public domain Scott Moncrieff translation stands at 9,489 among purchases of Kindle editions. That's huge! Sure, The Boys in the Boat is number 78, but it will be gone next year, and Proust will still be here. (Caution: though I have this version on my Kindle, I haven't read it. I'd be glad to get an email from anyone who has, and who has an opinion on the quality of the proof-reading, which in some public-domain books can be pretty bad.)

The 14-Minute Marcel Proust

I have updated and revised the digital edition of my guide to In Search of Lost Time, including but not limited to the Yale University Press edition edited by William Carter, whose work I greatly admire. (Updating the print edition will take a bit longer.) What's more, I've reduced the price to $2.99 – 99 cents if you also buy or have earlier bought the paperback – and also made it available at more e-tailers. Now listed by Amazon stores worldwide - Apple iBooks - Barnes & Noble - Inktera - Kobo - Scribd.

How this project began

Marcel Proust I ventured onto Swann's Way two or three times before a pal challenged me to read the whole of the novel with him. Every Wednesday on his way to the law office where he was a low-level attorney, he would stop by my rented room (it had a kitchen and bath but wasn't really an apartment). We would drink coffee, smoke(!), and talk about Proust. Egging each other on in this fashion, we both finished the novel before the year was out.

Ten years later, I read the novel 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 the author and the reader, cinched his case by pointing out: "After all, who has read every word of À la recherche du temps perdu?" It pleased me hugely to be able to say, if only silently, "I did!")

That was the handsome, two-volume Random House edition of the novel, entitled Remembrance of Things Past, the first six books rendered into English by Charles Scott Moncrieff and the seventh by Frederick Blossom. (Scott Moncrieff died before finishing his task, which is probably the reason Penguin decided to employ seven different translators for its 21st century Proust.) When Kilmartin's reworking came out in the 1990s, I acquired that, too, but only read pieces of it—notably book seven, The Past Recaptured, greatly improved over the rather lame Blossom translation. Otherwise, however, Remembrance of Things Past was still hobbled by the post-Victorian prose of Scott Moncrieff.

Then came the new Penguin editions, the first four volumes of which have now been published in the U.S. by Viking. After reading a rave review of vol. 2—In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower—I realized 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 this edition), I knew that I was once again in for the long haul. So 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 have reported on them here.

(And now of course it begins again, as Yale University Press begins to issue the Scott Moncrieff translations as modernized and Americanized by William Carter, author of two fine studies of Proust. Swann's Way was published in 2013, its centenary year, with In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower promised for this October. I've read the first and can't wait for the second....)

The novel according to Penguin

Swann's Way (In Britain: The Way by Swann's) (tr. Lydia Davis)
In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower (tr. James Grieve)
The Guermantes Way (tr. Mark Treharne)
Sodom and Gomorrah (tr. John Sturrock)
The Prisoner (tr. Carol Clark)
The Fugitive (tr. Peter Collier)
Finding Time Again (tr. Ian Patterson)

And for extra credit :)

Mr. Joyce, may I introduce M. Proust?
On translating Proust (Lydia Davis)
A first cut at comparing the two "Lost Times"
Dueling madeleines (C.K. Scott Moncrieff vs. the others))
Why doesn't Viking publish the rest of them?
"A Short View of Proust" (Edmund Wilson, 1928)
Marcel goes to the movies
In search of Proust: biographies and commentary
In search of Proust: the comix!
In search of Proust: one man's collection
Private Proust at Coligny Caserne
The love of his life: all about Albertine
What would Marcel make of the Kindle? (digital editions)
A la recherche du temps perdu in French

But why bother?

The French sometimes boast that they have a Shakespeare for every generation, or at least for every century, while we Anglophones are stuck with Will's originals. Well, now we can say the same about Proust!

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 Charles 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.)

Question? Comment? Newsletter? Send me an email. -- Stephen Fall

Poland's Daughter