Which English translation of À la recherche du temps perdu?
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Thanks for joining the group.
as for translations hopefully another member with add some valuable input.
The new Penguin editions (new translations) are a little more expensive than the older ones. Was wondering whether one could mix up the translations (for each volume - Vol.1 = new, Vol.2 = not etc) or whether this will be too confusing or make an impact on my reading of it?
Of course, I love Moncrieff, and always will. I don't really think it matters - if you are to fall in love with Proust, it will happen no matter who guides you. I think of him as the architect and the translators as his tradesmen - laying the stones, carefully and beautifully, but always in the pattern dictated by master plan.
(except for the labyrinth, where they leave their own secret marks - but this just adds to the complexity, delightfully so, don't you think?)
Many thanks for your comments. A quick question: are you saying that a Moncrieff translation is perhaps better than the later revisions by K/E? I only ask as a friend of mine just told me she has seen a nice 12 volume Moncrieff set in a secondhand bookshop in the UK. I live in a part of South America with unreliable mail, so I have to plan my foreign book aquisitions in advance and Proust doesn't seem to be in your average highstreet bookshop in Britain any more.
Many thanks, Chris.
P.S. I say "little interest" as yours is the first real "answer" to the query which I have posted elsewhere too.
What I am also saying is that the translations built upon Moncrieff - Moncrieff/Kilmartin and then Tadie/Enright. I think each effort was necessary, and worthwhile.
I think the new Penguins are more immediate to Proust - they are not re-working of earlier translations - but direct translations in themselves. At least, that was the intent, and it seems to have been met. The fact that each book has a different translator gives it a less cohesive feel - but still, I think it works.
Caracas? Yes, I would think that less than reliable post service is one of your many daily concerns.
Good luck with your library!
Kilmartin revised Moncrieff, and Tadie/Enright added yet another layer - making it three layers removed from Proust. Which is why I recommend the new Penguin translations - not perfect, by any means, but a more immediate delivery of Proust.
I don't understand this at all. You surely don't think Kilmartin and Enright were just tinkering with the Moncrieff without reference to the French? The whole point of the revisions was to bring it closer to Proust; Moncrieff took the easy way out sometimes and misunderstood the original other times, and the revisers cleaned up that stuff while leaving his brilliant English prose intact as far as possible.
To the original poster: I'd say if you like the style of the first volume, might as well stick with the team.
The touchstone is not working due to it being recognized as Within a Budding Grove, which is NOT the French title!
I understand, but it is the nature of translation (have you done any? it is a difficult thing in itself) to lose the flavor of the original with each subsequent translation. What I am saying is that each translation stands alone - and the subsequent translations were reactions to Moncrieff - yes, to bring it closer to Proust on one hand, but also to make it less like Moncrieff on the other.
Do you see? It is very subtle, and that's why I think each reader should read them all and then make their own discoveries. Of course, we have only so much time.
I agree with this - certainly a more direct experience of the language if not the intent of Proust. Moncrieff was aiming for intent, I believe. a difficult thing to do, certainly, but not without merit.
I've never made the same souffle twice - even with the same original recipe, but each is delicious. That is how I look at it.
I leapt into A La Recherche du Temps Perdu with the new Lydia Davis translation of Swann's Way, taking it on faith that the profound praise of her interpretation was warrented. I enjoyed it very much, and came away with the impression that the rough edges of the original had very much been left intact.
As I'm almost through with my reading of this first volume, I've been "comparison shopping" between the Scott-Moncreiff and the James Grieve translations of the second. Sitting down with both in a local bookstore, I found the Grieve version much more engaging and approachable, despite certain liberties taken with the original text; ironically, it seems that the Scott-Moncrieff version is the more literal one. Nevertheless, I find difficulty with Scott-Moncrieff for the reason that it overlays Proust's "frenchness" with a certain "englishness", which, to an extent, seems to nullify or dull some of the subtle themes and tones of the original.
Would he sound too 19th century? Would he sound prosaic or melancholic? Would he even sound "French"?
The question of which translation to choose is always a personal one; you have to browse and decide for yourself. Obviously, every translator also brings his or her sensibilities to a work, and the foreign-language reader, apart from trying to distill the purported sensibilities of the author from the translator's, is also continually adding or subtracting his or her own, in attempting to move towards some conception of ideal, holistic "understanding" or "truth" inherent to the text which, in literature at least, is quite meaningless.
Every reading is an exchange of sensibilities. The only solution is to find a sensibility (or a group of them) compatible with yours.
As for my opinion, although some of the translators involved in the Penguin edition are esteemed, talented people who are well known for their previous work (and I own and would definitely buy some other translations of theirs) I wouldn't bother with the edition as a whole except out of curiosity, or to state my opinion on it. It feels much too uneven, too workmanlike, too bombastic in intention. In brief, it calls attention to itself. Who can take a title like "In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower" seriously? A literal rendition of the French, of course, but ghastly and convoluted English. A typical case of overenthusiastic translatese, peddled as "accuracy" - Moncrieff's substitute ("Within a Budding Grove"), on the other hand, invokes the poetry and intimacy of the original. There are reasons why translators are not only expected to 'translate', but be good writers themselves - or one could hardly take any interest in foreign works as literature, after all.
I have the complete set of the Enright revision, and short of improving my French, would buy it again in a nice hardcover binding if I found a reasonably priced copy. It is faithful in tone, syntax and vocabulary, and in other ways, and I can't see what the detractors here have against it.
Nevertheless, please try comparing various passages yourself, whether online or in person, and choose the one you are most comfortable with.
However clumsy it may initially sound in English, "In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower" is a title that I find easy enough to take seriously, given the experience of Proust's sensibilities gleaned from a reading of the initial volume of Á la recherche du temps perdu (how fortunate that the title "Du côté de chez Swann" is rather prosaic and approachable). It strikes me that that Scott-Moncrieff's transmutation of the title to "Within a Budding Grove", while perhaps more poetic (and certainly easier to say), somewhat excises the meaning of Proust's phrase.
To what extent has Scott-Moncrieff dulled edge of Proust's sentiment? Perhaps the title initially seems laughable to some, but it is just such an experience of culture shock when, as a reader, I find my expectations confounded, that continually draws me back to the arts. For this and other instants of suprise and joy I feel personally grateful to the many translators who have put their hand to Proust's text, who, providing foreign readers with a selection of interpretations, allow them to find a version which will speak to them with a clear voice.
and the second:
Since they are subscription-only, I'll provide a couple of highlights. From the first:
"Despite their differences, all four of the versions of Swann's Way—by Scott Moncrieff, Terence Kilmartin, D.J. Enright, and Lydia Davis—provide serious, good-faith renditions of the French. If Davis tends to be more accurate than Scott Moncrieff, her cadence is less resonant. Moncrieff was trying to reinvent something like an epic style to echo Proust's; Davis is not aiming that high. Hers is the case of a scrupulous and dutiful writer translating a French novel that happens to be written by Proust, the way Scott Moncrieff had translated French novels that happened to be written by Stendhal. Davis is more meticulous and far less hasty than Scott Moncrieff, less willing to take chances, unassuming in her diction, always honest, and frequently Gallic in her choice of words. But Enright, after reworking Kilmartin and Scott Moncrieff, is the closest to the source...
"Gone is the cadence that might shed more light, gone the sweep that could have given the irreducible comic meanness of the episode its near-tragic register, gone the sense of mastery on the part of the writer—and the translator. Gone not just the style, but the voice, which is the temper, the attitude, the inflection of style. The larger scope of Scott Moncrieff's and Enright's Proust is simply not present in Davis. Davis's prose runs more naturally on neutral—which is not necessarily a fault. But it's not really a virtue either..."
And from the second:
"There is nothing egregiously wrong in Grieve's volume. Its tone is much more relaxed and far less exacting than Davis's, and, as far as I could tell, it does not mistranslate anything, certainly not as was the case with Scott Moncrieff before both Kilmartin and Enright came to his rescue.
"But well enough is not good enough. Will Grieve's translation, for instance, serve the scholar who is not entirely at ease with the original French? Absolutely not. If anything, because it does not follow the rhythm of Proust's sentences, it is a dangerous translation. It fails to see—and, more importantly, to convey—that the drama of discovery and revelation inscribed in each sentence by Proust is indissolubly fused to Proust's style...
"The job of a great translator is never to forget this inner poet. If he so wishes, the translator may want to give us discreet reminders of the poet hiding in the recesses of his words. Scott Moncrieff attempted such a feat, and those who followed in his steps were all too well aware that if poets nod at times, they never plod, and that, even in prose, they can never afford to plod. That, in the end, is also how Scott Moncrieff, Kilmartin, and Enright came by their voices.
"How Grieve's version came by its voice, however, is beyond reckoning. It does not translate Proust. It rewrites Proust. The spirit is gone. As for the letter, well, it's there—but not really.
"... Not to understand an author's style may often be excusable; but not to understand Proust's style is to miss the vision—and without the vision, unfortunately, all we're left with is...prose. Just prose. And that's not good enough."
I don't think "In the shadow of young girls in flower" sounds "ghastly and convoluted". Stylistically it's equivalent to the French (not always nor automatically the case with literal translations). Proust's phrase is descriptive, simple and direct, there's nothing especially "Frenchy" nor idiomatic about it that would in principle compromise a literal translation (assuming the target language tolerates it). If it sounds a bit odd--I'd prefer to say, "unexpected"--in English, rest assured that it sounds equally odd and unexpected in French.
In contrast, I find "Within a budding grove" utterly irritating (and, while not precisely "ghastly", certainly "convoluted"). Its cloying poetry comes out of nowhere and abuts in euphemistic horticultural vagueness. Not only it isn't what Proust wrote, it misrepresents the way he is. It feeds into the frequent misconception of Proust as some sort of a faded Victorian violet, dunking cookies in tisanes and mooning about love, countesses, and other delicate, girly things in nightingale tones.
"La recherche..." bursts with poetry, but it isn't sentimental, quite the contrary. Proust is a modern, an instinctive Sadeian--infinitely closer to Zen poetry than to English lyric poets. I'll break off here with just another note on language, harking back to Existanai's musing about whether he sounds "19th century" in French, and leaving aside other indicators of period. French language is more stable than English, and the literary French of Proust is nearly timeless (it is the argot, the slang, the speak of the moment that becomes archaic rapidly). Flaubert's French sounds more modern than, say, Meredith's or Gissing's or Wells's English.
In fact, let that serve as my final reproach to "Within a budding grove"--it archaicises Proust's ageless original.
I wish I could read Proust in the French but that would be stretching it. I might still be able to figure out how to ask where the Orly Airport is but that's about it.
Languagehat, I remember reading that Andre Aciman article soon after it came out. Perhaps it had a premature influence on my opinion.
Chris, thanks for weighing in on the thread - some people post a question and never return.
As for Lola's post: Lola and I go a way back and we have uncannily similar tastes in some areas of literature (usually, classics) - and I think her disagreement underlines what I said earlier about personal taste. Music to one ear is noise to another, etc., even when two people like the same kind of music.
My French is still far from fluent, so if Lola says that A l'ombre des jeunes filles en fleur is about as unexpected in French as "In the Shadow..." is in English, I believe it. I won't defend "Budding Grove" too much; I too was puzzled by the choice initially, and couldn't see any justification for it, but grew to like the inherent euphemism - "budding" or "within a grove" leave strong impressions as metaphors, whereas "young girls in flower" sounds too close for comfort. Again, that might be deliberate - it might evoke the mispresented, boldly sexual/Sadean aspect that Lola mentions shouldn't have been lost - but once the intimation is understood by a reader, I feel the tongue wraps itself around the syllables better and takes delight in the 'puzzle' (euphemisms often have a dual function after all: not only to keep the uninitiated out, but to whet the appetite of the experienced.)
To return to the original question of selection, Scott-Moncrieff's translation has been repeatedly labelled with the phrase 'purple prose' (it crops up again in a review I'll link below). The Shakespearean "Remembrance of Things Past" always seemed too dated to me; I like "The Sweet Cheat Gone" (Albertine disparue) and some other archaisms even less; but nevertheless I think the Enright revision came closest to a balance between accuracy and sensibility (as the introduction to the revision says, (I paraphrase) it is all too easy for the newcomer to take the beau role.) But that doesn't mean the newer translation lacks all pretentiousness. I'd like to end this post with a link to a wonderfully balanced review by Graham Robb, the well-known biographer of Victor Hugo, Stephane Mallarme and Arthur Rimbaud, titled Stripping Proust of prissiness.
At least most will agree that The Way by Swann's is a lot less graceful than Swann's Way!
The titles of the individual volumes were prissy euphemisms: Within a Budding Grove, The Sweet Cheat Gone and The Cities of the Plain for A l'Ombre des jeunes filles en fleurs, La Fugitive and Sodome et Gomorrhe.
Absolutely--Proust isn't prissy. These translations convey a sensibility wholly different from his own; therefore they are bad translations. I'm also surprised to hear that someone (Moncrieff) "whose French was far from perfect" would undertake or be entrusted with translating Proust. Not because Proust might be exceedingly "difficult" (I never understood those charges), simply on principle. Although the problem here seems to be psychological as much (or more) than linguistic one, i.e. HOW a hypersensitive mama's boy is supposed to sound, what the stereotype contains.
At least most will agree that The Way by Swann's is a lot less graceful than Swann's Way!
I agree it's clumsy, but I don't like "Swann's Way" either. In English this phrase is deeply ambiguous, whereas the French original is a simple "geographic" (localising) pointer. Clearly, the new translation tried to limit itself to this "geographicity". Any ideas for a better sounding, yet similarly accurate one?
Commendable - this mission to beat that old misconception down - Proust is not in the least prissy. (I do appreciate the link).I think it has its basis in the translation - of language, of culture, of artistic understanding.
I find Proust to be both the earthiest of writers and the most sublime, we don't often encounter this in a writer, which may explain some of the difficulty that people have - he defies classification.
Swann's Way, seems too reductive to me because I think it is the experience of the path to which Proust refers: On the way to Swann's or Along the way to Swann's suggests the act and all it implies. (But, like Lola, I agree to leave it in French where it is intact and perfect).
However, for what my opinion is worth, I leafed through the first volume, comparing it to the later Vintage edition with revisions by Kilmartin & Enright, and I was struck by how much better the more recent version read; or perhaps I might more accurately say, how much more vivid were the images conjured by the revised text. At least to my mind, those revisions have significantly improved the read. Whether they are closer to the original I do not know. Maybe one day I'll have the chance to read the multiple translations, but I suspect that by then I'll have forgotten just what the first one was like!
Many thanks again for all your useful comments!
While I certainly enjoyed "Swann's Way," I'd have to say that I enjoyed "In the shadow of young girls in flower" a great deal more.
A few times, I have read particularly good passages in both translations (both meaning the Moncrieff and the Prendergast), and I have to say that I like the Prendergast versions better. Whether they are more accurate to Proust I cannot attest, but I did find them to be more beautiful.
I struggled with the Moncrieff, liked the Kilmartin
better, and might really finish the whole set
now that I have found out about the Enright edition.
I have a suspicion that one of the reasons is the
type size.. the Moncrieff is very small, but the
Enright is a happier and faster/easier read..
- I find the Vintage edition so much better.
The words are better, too..
(I also have to say what a delight it is to see young adults when they discover real literature - I gave a copy of Brothers Karamazov to my brilliant (perhaps too) nephew who thanked me for giving him such a "well-written" book. It is too bad they don't get this stuff from school, but I understand the time constraints. Real reading doesn't happen until you're free of the bondage of school).
Our serious Proust reading started some 30 years ago. And during that time we came to understand that all translations fail at a few points. There is never any difference between the translations. The faults are really independent of language or culture. What happens is that the translator, without knowing it, erases or distorts the secret formulas of the original text, making it basically impossible to cease the contents. It is question of just a few phrases, that occupy no more than 2 A4 pages. Hitherto we've seen all translations and read a few comments, all wrong. Can the wrong translation be corrected? The aswer is yes, but that does not help, because the reading cannot be corrected. When we visited the Proust translation colloqium in Paris at CRNS in 2013 this was exactly what we could witness.... the impotence of the translators. Accomplish complete nonsense.
There is a second novel in the original novel. In that one, the Narrator will kill his parents and his first reader. And some other people. If you don't see it, you have not read Proust. In itself, this story is of no importance, but it opens your mind and gives you the keys to the atrocities of the real Proustian universe.