Lost in Translation: Proust and Scott Moncrieff


William C. Carter in The Public Domain Review:

Proust’s theory of memory rejects the notion that we can simply sit and quietly resurrect the past in its true vividness through what he called voluntary memory. When we attempt to do this, we find that it doesn’t work very well. We remember very little and often only in a haphazard and rather bland way. On the other hand, Proust’s title should be taken to suggest a different approach: the Narrator’s search (recherche means both search and research in French) is an active, arduous quest in which the past must be rediscovered—largely through what Proust called involuntary memory, as demonstrated in the famous madeleine scene—then analyzed and understood, and finally, if your ambition is to preserve it in writing, transposed and recreated in a book. As we will see, Proust lived long enough to see the title Remembrance of Things Pastand, while he objected to it, did not take measures to change it.

A native of Scotland, Scott Moncrieff had served as a captain in the Scottish Borderers during World War I. Before reading A la recherche du temps perdu, he had already made a name for himself as the translator of major French works, such as La Chanson de Roland (The Song of Roland) and Stendhal’s two masterful novels Le Rouge et le Noir (The Red and the Black) and La Chartreuse de Parme (The Charterhouse of Parma). After the Great War Scott Moncrieff had served as secretary to Lord Northcliffe, in addition to being an editor at The London Times. In January 1920, a thirty-year-old Scott Moncrieff resigned his post at the Times in order to devote himself entirely to translating À la recherche du temps perdu.

More here.