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Evie
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PostPosted: Tue Mar 29, 2011 5:41 pm    Post subject: Proust  Reply with quote

I am about to embark upon Remembrance of Things Past, or In Search of Lost Time (depending on which translation you read).

Has anyone read it - or any of it?  I don't remember many discussions about Proust on the various incarnations of the board, but there must have been some.

I am wondering about translations.  I have downloaded a free edition to my Kindle, but can't find out which translation it is - I presume it is the Scott Moncrieff one.  I was reading about a recentish translation (2003) and am wondering whether that is regarded as better.  I will certainly read my free version, but wondered if anyone had an opinion.

Of course as someone with a degree in French, I ought to read it in the original!  But I am going to start off, at least, in English...

Anyone's thoughts very gratefully received, on the book itself, not just translations.  I know it is often regarded as the greatest novel of the 20th century, while others think it's tedious and pretentious.  I am looking forward to finding out what I think!


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chris-l



Joined: 27 Nov 2008
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PostPosted: Tue Mar 29, 2011 7:42 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Evie, I read the entire book (or set of books, maybe it should be), back in the late 1970s. I can be fairly sure of the dates, because I remember starting it before my third daughter was born, and she was toddling before I finished the final volume. That was the Scott Moncrieff  translation: I now have on my bookshelves the revised translation, still essentially Scott Moncreiff's work, but with revisions by Terence Kilmartin. The latter I treated myself to a few years ago, but have yet to read, so I cannot presume to comment on the comparative merits of the versions. I do clearly remember that the ones I actually read were library copies, and one of the volumes, despite having numerous date stamps in the front, still had uncut pages!

One of the things I promised myself I would do when I retired would be to read it in French, but so far I have not even laid my hands on any of the volumes in French, so that is a long way from happening. I might be tempted to read the English version again, but I don't think I would want to do it to any sort of deadline. It is very much a book to be savoured and enjoyed at leisure.


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Evie
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PostPosted: Tue Mar 29, 2011 8:05 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thanks, Chris - good to know someone who's read it here, anyway, and maybe can share a few comments from time to time...  There was a completely new translation, apparently, which has good reviews, and I read an interesting comment that English has changed more than French in the last 100 years; I was thinking that the Scott Moncrieff language might be more appropriate, but this reviewer claimed that Proust's French is not as old-fashioned as SM's English, and that the new translation is more accurate.  I am going to read my free version, anyway, and see how I get on, and maybe have a look at the modern translation in a bookshop - won't spend money until I feel the need!


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TheRejectAmidHair



Joined: 19 Nov 2008
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Location: Staines, Middlesex

PostPosted: Wed Mar 30, 2011 10:05 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

It takes posts on Proust & on Euripides (thanks, Mike H – I’ll reply to your post on Alcestis later!) to tempt me back into the fray after a sabbatical!

First, a note on the translations. The first translation of Proust was by C. K. Scott-Moncrieff, and that is still regarded by many as a work of art in its own right. However, there are many important textual issues, and what is now regarded as the “definitive text” wasn’t available then. And also, Scott-Moncrieff was happy to add his own embellishments (such as translating the title as the sonorously Shakespearean “Remembrance of Things Past” rather than the more accurate “In Search of Lost Time”). So, in the 1980s, Terence Kilmartin, and, later, D. J. Enright, revised Scott-Moncrieff’s translation to bring it up to date with the latest edition of the French text, and also to remove many of the Scott-Moncrieff-isms that have delighted some readers by their brilliance, but have irritated others by their infidelity to the original. The Scott-Moncrieff/Kilmartin/Enright version is the one I read some twenty years ago now. It is currently published by Viking, and also in the Everyman Classics hardback edition. I don’t think the original Scott-Moncrieff edition is currently in print.

More recently, there has been a completely new translation published by Penguin/Viking. Here, each volume is entrusted to a different translator, with editor-in-chief Christopher Pendergast ensuring consistency across the different versions. It’s hard to discern the quality of these translations, as reviewers all have their own idea on how it should ideally be done, and have a tendency to ride their own particular hobbyhorses when writing the reviews. (I also can’t help wondering whether people capable of reading the thing in French will actually bother reading the whole thing in English just for the purpose of writing a review, but that’s perhaps being a bit too cynical.) The general consensus of opinion is that the new translation is more accurate than the Scott-Moncrieff/Kilmartin/Enright version, but, on the whole, not quite as stylish. So, basically, you pays your money and you takes your choice.

As for the work itself. When I read it, I wasn’t really prepared for it..I really didn’t know what to expect. I liked what I was reading, but I couldn’t really get a sense of the wider picture: I couldn’t get a sense of the structure of the thing – of how each individual passage fitted into the whole. Throughout the vast length of the novel, we are stuck in the narrator’s mind: his perspective is the only one we are allowed to see. And his is a strange mind, for many reasons. On several occasions – especially in the novel The Captive which depicts his obsessive and possessive love for Albertine – I found the effect claustrophobic. But there was something more than that. Of course, there’s barely any narrative momentum at all, but I had been used to that in the late Henry James. But James did set up powerful dramatic tensions, and here, that is missing also. I think I do look for dramatic tension in fiction, and I did find it somewhat disconcerting not to find it. Admittedly, in a novel (or series of novels) as vast as this, there is a wide variety, but the tone is not as varied as one might expect: it is contemplative rather than dramatic, and, even by the time I reached the end, I wasn’t sure that I had become accustomed to it.

The themes are vast – too vast even to be enumerated here. The central themes are, I suppose, time and memory –of what we remember, how we remember, of how we rec-create the past in our own minds. But spinning around these central themes are many others: love, in all its forms; sexuality – again, in all its forms; the awakening in adolescence of various types of consciousness; the individual’s interactions with society; the redeeming nature of art; obsession; prejudice – especially antisemitism (the impact of the Dreyfus Affair plays a large part in the proceedings); etc. etc.

This is a novel that needs to be lived with, and I haven’t lived with it enough to comment upon it to any depth. It took me a year to read the thing (I read the Scott-Mocrieff/Kilmartin/Enright version). Each individual novel (there are seven of them) I read uninterrupted, but I did take breaks between novels. As with late James, one has to read slowly, and savour each page, and not worry about the lack of forward movement. Or, indeed, the lack of dramatic tension.

I do need to return to this work, as much of it – far too much – went over my head. I do hope you’ll be posting here detailed updates of your impressions as you are reading it: I would be very interested in your comments.



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Evie
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PostPosted: Wed Mar 30, 2011 10:57 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thanks Himadri - and good to see you!   Cool

I have a friend who has given me advice about taking it slowly and approaching it in chunks and not trying to read too much in one sitting, to savour it and allow myself to get into its atmosphere and rhythm.  I know a fair bit about it from the outside, so feel relatively well prepared (honestly, am making it sound as though I'm going for major surgery or something!!), and am greatly looking forward to it.  I will, as I say, start with my free (ie cost-free) translation and see how I get on, but I feel it may be one where I want the feel of the book rather than the Kindle, so time will tell!

What finally prompted me to read it is that the character of Swann is apparently based on Charles Ephrussi, who is the first 'hero' of The Hare with Amber Eyes, the family memoir I have just read and which was so good.

Will definitely report as I go along, as I often find that helpful with longer works.


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Castorboy



Joined: 22 Nov 2008
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Location: Castor Bay Auckland NZ

PostPosted: Thu Mar 31, 2011 7:11 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I think, Evie, there were a number of posts on the 2005-07 BBC Board but I didn't make a note of them as I thought Proust was out of date as a discussed author.

I am now in a quandry: as an admirer of Anthony Powell's writing, who was an avowed disciple of Proust, do I take the plunge or do I take refuge in Himadri's as usual authoritive guidance that Proust is late James with its lack of dramatic tension?

I am enjoying the early James short tales which are, let's say, sedate with a willingness to use words not current in today's fiction. If there was an occasion to read Proust then here it is. I am very tempted to put him at the top of my TBR list and displace Witi Ihimaera.


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TheRejectAmidHair



Joined: 19 Nov 2008
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PostPosted: Thu Mar 31, 2011 9:39 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I wish I could write authoritatively about Proust. Before I could even think of doing so, I would need to immerse myself into his works for a few years. There are some writers in whose works I have immersed myself over the years: Shakespeare, Dickens, Wordsworth, Flaubert, Ibsen, Tolstoy, Chekhov, Faulkner - and even Joyce if you don’t count Finnegans Wake; and, while I don’t claim any authority, I think I can speak of their works at least with some degree of confidence (while at the same time happy to bow to greater wisdom or insight). But there are other writers on whose works my grip is but slight: even Henry James I would place in this category, much though I love what I have read by him. Proust, for all his undoubted qualities, is really on the fringes of my literary world.



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Evie
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PostPosted: Thu Mar 31, 2011 11:25 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I have finally found out that my Kindle version is the original Scott-Moncrieff version - which one friend who has read the whole thing says is the only way to go!  But I was tempted by the version you mention, Himadri, so may buy it in hard copy.  I was also tempted by the Lydia Davis translation, but am not completely sure that I like the idea of different translators for each volume.  If I can find a bookshop that has a variety of translations (maybe Blackwells in Oxford...not sure I hold out much hope for anywhere else!), I will have a good browse and see which reads best to me.

However - I want to read the SM version anyway, as it is famous in its own right.


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Castorboy



Joined: 22 Nov 2008
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Location: Castor Bay Auckland NZ

PostPosted: Fri Apr 08, 2011 4:57 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I have started on the first section of Swann's Way published in 1981 by Random House. The translation by Terence Kilmartin is a reworking based on the 1954 revision of Editions Gallimard, Paris, of Scott Moncrieff's version.

I agree with Evie that the style is light and I found humour in the part where the two great-aunts refuse to listen to conversations by a process of selective hearing when the subject is not to their refined taste and they refuse to thank Swann in a proper way for the case of Asti he has sent them.


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Evie
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PostPosted: Fri Apr 08, 2011 6:29 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Hello Castorboy - great that you are reading it too!  I have just read the hugely famous part about the madeleine (may have to go to Waitrose later to buy some!), and am trying to compose a few analytical thoughts about it all, but it's marvellous - the way he manages to reminisce and move the story on at the same time is beautifully done.

I agree about the humour with the great-aunts - lovely.



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