Leland de la Durantaye has a very nice Boston Review piece on Swann’s Way, its reception, the difficulties of translating it, and the problems with Yale University Press’s new annotated edition of the original Moncrieff translation. The problems begin with the fact that the editor, William C. Carter, chose to go back to Moncrieff rather than taking account of the improvements by Kilmartin and Enright and the entirely new, and much-lauded, version by Lydia Davis; there’s a troubling account of a particular passage in which the narrator’s grandmother says of a country church she loves that if it played the piano it would not jouer sec, and Carter announces his own “version that matches Proust” (“I am sure it wouldn’t sound dry“): “not only does he fail to note that a very similar choice had already been made a decade earlier in Davis’s translation, he nowhere notes the existence of Davis’s translation—not once, not anywhere.” There are also problems with the annotations; one, on the church of Combray with “certain anecdotes of Aristotle and Virgil,” reads “Aristotle (384–322 B.C.), Greek philosopher revered by theologians and philosophers of the Middle Ages,” providing information any reader of Proust is likely to know already while ignoring Proust’s point, that the church depicts “Aristotle on all fours with a beautiful woman astride his back, riding him like a horse.”
The whole thing is well worth reading if you like this sort of detailed and occasionally captious discussion; I’ll quote a passage near the start, about one early reader’s reaction:
A few years later Virginia Woolf would sit down to thank a friend for sending her a slab of nougat from Saint-Tropez, but, put in mind of France by the package, she soon found herself talking only of the novel. “My great adventure is really Proust,” she wrote, “I am in a state of amazement; as if a miracle were being done before my eyes. How, at last, has someone solidified what has always escaped—and made it too into this beautiful and perfectly enduring substance? One has to put the book down and gasp. The pleasure becomes physical—like sun and wine and grapes and perfect serenity and intense vitality combined.”
Thanks, Paul !