The Moncrieff Proust

[New Yorker] Photograph by Ullstein Bild via Getty.

C. K. Scott Moncrieff (1889 – 1930) published the early-twentieth-century English version of Marcel Proust’s “A la Recherche du Temps Perdu.” Adam Gopnik reviews the first full-length biography of Moncrieff by Jean Findlay, “Chasing Lost Time: The Life of C. K. Scott Moncrieff, Soldier, Spy, and Translator.”

Findlay’s book, says Gopnik, “helps us see how someone who was not even particularly expert in the original language managed to make a great French book into a great English one.”

Moncrieff adapted Proust’s unabashed French to English sensibilities, influenced by an appreciation of Henry Jamesian allusiveness — Gopnik draws out certain affinities between the two men’s styles. What comes clear is how Moncrieff’s choices succeeded, to a degree that Joseph Conrad could think Moncrieff “a better translator than Proust was a writer.”

The article concludes with a sprightly summary:

[Moncrieff] had a thoroughly lively time in life, in that British way that is still surprising to our more earnest American minds—he has rough sex on the streets of Venice, spies for the secret service, translates his Proust and Pirandello, goes to Catholic mass, and works for the Tory party, in one big, very British, and happy entanglement of sodomy, spirituality, spying, and sociability. Far from being a Proustian acolyte perfuming the altar, he refused to be remotely pious about the great book he had brought into English literature—if anything, he seems to have generally preferred Pirandello.

(Adam Gopnik, “Why an Imperfect Version of Proust Is a Classic in English,” The New Yorker)

(c) 2021 JMN — EthicalDative. All rights reserved

About JMN

I live in Texas and devote much of my time to easel painting on an amateur basis. I stream a lot of music, mostly jazz, throughout the day. I like to read and memorize poetry.
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