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Swann's Way


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"For a long time, I went to bed early" in order to enjoy the manifold pleasures of reading Davis's excellent new translation of Swann's Way. In October 2002, Penguin's "Modern Classics" series published a complete new translation of In Search of Lost Time/A la recherche du temps perdu in Britain to mainly favorable reviews. (The seven-year project required seven translators, one for each volume. The next three are forthcoming here; the final three cannot be released until 2019 owing to copyright restrictions.) Viking's American edition includes minor changes in punctuation and spelling; non-English quotations are translated in the main text, with the version originale relegated to the unobtrusive, and generally helpful, endnotes. Most important, the Viking edition is based on the massive scholarship of the Pleiade edition released by Gallimard in 1987. Published in 1913, Du cut? de chez Swann was first translated into English in 1922-the annus mirabilis of High Modernism. C.K. Scott Moncrieff's justly famous rendering was hailed as a literary landmark but contained many misreadings, grammatical mistakes, superfluous embellishments, and Anglicisms (not to mention polite Edwardian euphemisms for the naughty bits). Most notably, Moncrieff's series title, Remembrance of Things Past, was borrowed from Shakespeare's Sonnet 30, thereby losing the nuance of the original phrasing. These infidelities were revised by Terrence Kilmartin in the Random House 1981 edition and again by D.J. Enright in 1992. Davis has published four novels and many well-received translations and is especially noted for her translations of Maurice Blanchot. In her introduction to this new rendering of Swann's Way, she states that she has "attempted to stay as close to Proust's own style as possible, in its every aspect, without straying into an English that's too foreign or awkward." Given the utter originality and delectable complexity of Proust's labyrinthian prose, the task of the translator is especially arduous. Davis's choices with respect to diction, syntax, phrasing, and punctuation (was Proust really too stingy with commas?) are largely successful in giving us a more direct and accessible English version of the plenitude of acute psychological, sociological, and philosophical insights one garners by reading Proust's masterwork: "our social personality is a creation of the minds of others." Will the Viking edition in the fullness of time replace Moncrieff's? Those who might cleave to what was for 80 years the "standard translation" might consider that translations, like memories, "are as fleeting, alas, as the years." Enthusiastically recommended for all libraries. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 5/15/03.]-Mark Andr? Singer, Mechanics' Inst. Lib., San Francisco Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.

Relax: it's fantastic. There's no question that Davis's American English is thinner and more literal than C.K. Scott Montcrieff's archaically inflected turns of phrase and idioms, at least as revised by Terence Kilmartin and later by D.J. Enright. The removal of some of the familiar layers of the past in this all-new translation gives one a feeling similar to that of encountering an old master painting that has just been cleaned: the colors seem sharper and momentarily disorienting. Yet many readers will find it exhilarating, allowing the text to shed slight airs that were not quite Proust's and making many of the jokes much more immediate (as when he implies that sense-organ atrophy in the bourgeois is a defense mechanism and the result of hardening unarticulated feelings). As accomplished translator and novelist Davis (The End of the Story) notes in her foreword, she has followed Proust's sentence structure as closely as possible "in its every aspect," including punctuation, word order and word choice. To take just one case, where Montcrieff/Kilmartin describe Mlle. Vinteuil finding it pleasant to metaphorically "sojourn" in sadism, Davis has the much more definitive "emigrate." Proust's psychological inquiry generally feels much sharper, giving a much more palpable sense of Freud and Bergson-and of the young Marcel's willful (if not malefic) manipulations of those around him. For first-timers who don't have French and are allergic to the slightest whiff of euphemism, this is the best means for traveling the way by Swann's. BOMC, Reader's Subscription and Insightout Book Club; 4-city translator tour. (Sept. 15) Forecast: Look for a fall blitz of Proustiana, reviving everything from the Montcrieff to Alain de Bouton's How Proust Can Change Your Life. Copyright restrictions will keep the last three of the six planned volumes out of American editions until 2019, 2020 and 2022, respectively, but devoted readers will seek them out via British booksellers-and have probably already begun to do so, since they were published there last year. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.

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