The 14-Minute Marcel Proust
Available at most Amazon stores in paperback and Kindle editions. Also for the Nook and other e-readers

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 PROUST

(In Search of Lost Time, with special attention to the translations from Penguin/Viking)

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. (The print edition will take a bit longer, I'm afraid.) What's more, I've reduced the price to $2.99 – 99 cents if you also buy or have earlier bought the paperback &ndash and made it available at more e-tailers. Now listed by Amazon stores worldwide, Apple iBooks, Inktera, and Kobo.

Chasing Lost Time

Charles Scott Moncrieff's great-grandniece Jean Findlay has written an engaging biography of the translator to whom Joseph Conrad wrote: "I was much more impressed and fascinated by your rendering than by Proust's creation." That's a bit overheated, but there's no question that Scott Moncrieff created a masterpiece of his own, and one that still dominates most English-language versions of À la recherche du temps perdu. He was a Scot, a great wit, a poet, a homosexual, a lieutenant in the King's Own Scottish Borderers, a lame veteran of the Western Front, and a spy in Fascist Italy. Altogether, this is a wonderful biography. It's for sale at Amazon's store in Britain. There are used and new "marketplace" copies available at Amazon.com in the U.S., but an American edition won't be available until February; it's available now for pre-order.

Everything old shall be new again

Du côté de chez Swann was published in 1913, so Yale University Press published a centenary volume last year. You can get it from Amazon in a quality paperback for under twenty dollars. (There's no hardcover or digital edition.) The editor is William Carter, author of two fine studies of Proust. Yale plans to release a volume a year, starting with Young Girls in Flower in September 2015. These are updates of the public domain editions of Scott Moncrieff's work from the 1920s. I especially like Professor Carter's notes, which appear close by in the outside margin. In addition, errors have been corrected, some of Scott Moncrieff's mustier phrases have been modified, and American spelling and usage appears throughout. I found the first volume eminently worthwhile, especially for the American reader with no great grounding in French language and literature (which describes me exactly).

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.

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.)

  • The Penguin Proust
  • Sorry to say, the hardcover "Penguin Proust" is out of print, so paperback or digital is the way to go. Click here for Amazon.com:

  • Swann's Way
  • Young Girls in Flower
  • The Guermantes Way
  • Sodom and Gomorrah
  • The Prisoner, The Fugitive
  • Finding Time Again

    See individual listings for the UK links and for hardcover editions. And beware of links on Amazon, which has conflated Penguin, Enright, and public-domain editions and reviews beyond belief.

  • The Enright six-pack
  • The Enright six-pack at Reading Proust dot com

    Personally, I think the Penguin Proust is worth the extra cost, but if you are a traditionalist or want to save money, you can get the Enright - Kilmartin - Scott Moncrieff translation for about sixty bucks from Amazon.com. Click here to order.

  • The biography
  • Tadie: Marcel Proust: A Life
    Proustian in its size and often in its prose, and requiring a near-Proustian commitment of time, this is without question the biography. I recommend it to anyone who has read and enjoyed the novel, or who's re-reading it. Especially after about page 500, it also serves as a field guide to In Search of Lost Time. Out of print, alas! Look for used copies here

  • A moveable website
  • The essence of this website is available as an e-book for Amazon's Kindle and also in a 50-page paperback edition.

  • Presque magique!
  • And here's Á la recherche in French for your Kindle e-book reader. It works seamlessly with the Larouse digital dictionary: "Presque magique!" as one reviewer said. Go here for more information.

  • Proust in paintings
  • Proust: A Visual Companion
    I wish I'd had this handsome book on the bedside table while reading the Enright translations last winter! On the other hand, it's a pleasant way to review the book from another perspective. Definitely a volume to add to your shelf of Proustiana. Look for it here

    Poland's Daughter
    Poland's Daughter - How I Met Basia, Hitchhiked to Italy, and Learned About Love, War, and Exile. "An extraordinary book" (Cosmopolitan Review). Paperback or Kindle edition.

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