Since the original, prewar translation there has been no completely new rendering of the French original into English. This translation brings to the fore a more sharply engaged, comic and lucid Proust. IN SEARCH OF LOST TIME is one of the greatest, most entertaining reading experiences in any language. As the great story unfolds from its magical opening scenes to its devastating end, it is the Penguin Proust that makes Proust accessible to a new generation. Each book is translated by a different, superb translator working under the general editorship of Professor Christopher Prendergast, University of Cambridge.
Almost no one writes as well as Proust, which is good because the entire In Search of Lost Time series is enormous. Would be much harder to read with subpar or even just acceptable writing style. It’s true that he can write paragraph length sentences that are laden with clauses - often have to go back and read over a couple times to fully get what he’s saying. Not as easy as a thriller or chicklit, but much more interesting, challenging and rewarding. Like the Mann quote – only the exhaustive is truly interesting. And he is exhaustive, especially about love, loss and jealousy.
The narrator is living with Albertine at the beginning of the novel, still jealously worried about her lesbian behavior. Unfortunately, their relationship is the sorriest kind – he admits that he’s tired of her and bored but can’t leave her because of the pain of her being with someone else. She couldn’t make him happy anymore – could only make him suffer. Always the invalid/procrastinator, the narrator generally spends his days in his Paris apartment while trying to keep Albertine amused (so she won’t go looking for girls) by buying her things and sending her out on trips with her friend Andree.
Because Marcel is narrating from the present (or future, compared to events in the novel) he often knows the truth of seemingly unimportant events during their time together. On one hand, Proust gives the immediacy of the narrator’s tumultuous emotions while also providing a cool analysis of what ‘really’ happened. Morel and M. Charlus are also having problems which gives the narrator the chance to further discuss one-sided love.
His love for Albertine is a repetition of other obsessions – first with his mother, then Gilberte, then the Duchess. This time, it’s much more intense since she’s living with him. As in the relationship with his mother, Albertine’s kiss before leaving him for the night is necessary. Still, other than that and a few far between moments, life with her is dull. One of the reasons he wanted her at Balbec was her constant motion, riding everywhere on her bicycle, always off with the little band, known by everyone. Here, he always knows where she is (or thinks he does) which detracts from her attractiveness. The narrator strikes up a deal with her chauffeur, who tells him everywhere they went. But there appear small inconsistencies – symptomatic of much larger lies. But, as is exhaustively noted, those in love, as in anything, can usually delude themselves or make justifications or minimize problems. Even imagining the worst can never actually prepare someone for learning it in an undeniable way. One thing that the narrator learns to do with a liar is to pretend he’s already aware of her lies and has been for a while. It’s not true, but she’ll try to justify them.
To gain the upper hand, Marcel pretends that he wants to separate. However, he is devastated when she actually leaves in "The Fugitive". He notes the difference between this relationship and the one with Gilberte – he’d been able to control the obsession then and gradually became indifferent to her. But now, he actually tries to manipulate Albertine into coming back. Shortly after, he learns that Albertine has died in a riding accident. At several points in the relationship (also with Swann and Odette) he’d wished she would die so he would never worry again. But death is much more painful that he thought possible. His only hope, expressed in a depressing but beautiful passage, is that he will forget – just like with Gilberte, Mme de Guermantes and his grandmother. But this thought only made him realize that soon he would be indifferent to everything he loved, and that everything about Albertine that was important would soon be meaningless. Double edged sword.
Some of Proust’s best writing is on the narrator’s meditation on loss. How, like many people in love, he thought he’d die before he forgot Albertine – but various selves dying all the time. Even though she’s dead, her behavior while alive still torments him. Although the narrator is devastated, he is still jealous and realizes that if it wasn’t Albertine, it could have been someone else. Forgetting distorts the true memory of their relationship and also shows its impermanence. One comfort – that the dead know everything, are watching over us – worries the narrator, not all of this thoughts are ones he’d want her to hear. There are a few attempts with other girls, often similar to Albertine, but nothing serious. Memories, inherently fragile, can’t last forever without some distortion. Finally, the narrator is no longer in love with Albertine.
Sometime later, he learns about Gilberte's new life in high society.
In 2002, Penguin UK announced that editor Christopher Prendergast was supervising an all-new translation of Marcel Proust's famous French masterpiece, "In Search of Lost Time." The original English translation had been begun in the 1920's by C.K. Scott Moncrieff, and while his work was considered a classic of the translator's art, there are many bilingual critics who argue he was unnecessarily squirmy/euphemistic about some of the book's more adult themes (including frank and frequent references to homo- and hetero-sexuality), and that his love of flowery language had made Proust's infamous style even more difficult than it was in the original French.
(For those unfamiliar with Proust's style, the following sentence may provide some idea: Proust would, for example, begin a sentence slowly, often inserting sub and sub-subclauses early on, that they might explode, like land mines long forgotten in province and matter, far down the page, and then--for if not garrulous in real life, he was, like those flowers which thrive in a shadowy, crystalline vase, even as a gardener despairs of their wilted stalks in his finely terraced courtyard, at the very least certainly capable of making up for the loss on paper--he would use this allusive color to illustrate his analysis of human nature and motive, unparalleled not only because of manner in which It was written but because, like all truly great artists, the writing expressed feelings and sensations which had never been put into words--words as rare and valuable in the history of literature as the periods scattered amongst his prose.)
The Moncrieff 'foundation' had twice been redone over the years: first by Terence Kilmartin, and then in the 1980's by DJ Enright. Both streamlined the language, undid any prudish glossing, and made use of the latest French scholarship. But the foundation continued to be Moncrieff's. One of the best examples of his translating method lies in the very title he gave to Proust's work--one which stuck for most of the 20th century: "A Remembrance of Things Past." It's elegant--Shakespearean, in fact--and certainly conveys the YEARNING Proust shows in attempting to recapture the past. But the actual title is "À recherche du temps perdu," which Kimartin, Enright, and the new Penguin volumes all render as "In Search of Lost Time." What it loses in Edwardian elegance it more than makes up for in accuracy.
Anyway, the new Penguin translations received for the most part excellent reviews (particularly Lydia Davis's "Swann's Way"), but for some reason it had been decided that each volume would have a different translator. Possibly to speed things along, though I'm not certain. At any rate, for those reading from one volume to the next without pause (this is NOT me; it's taken me years--with numerous "vacations" from the book--to finish all seven volumes) this can be a jarring phenomenon, and what's more, not all translators are created equal. (Opinions differ as to which volume is the equalest.)
But that's beside the point, as this review is concerned with Volumes 5 and 6 (of 7): also known as "the Prisoner" and "the Fugitive." Beware: these two volumes have long considered the most tedious in the series. There is comparatively little humor to be found, and the sparkling, often hilarious parties which Proust can spend half a book describing are few and far between (though there are a couple brilliant pieces set at that Mme. Verdurin's, with more of Baron Charlus for us to enjoy). Instead, the vast majority of both books are concerned with Proust's obsessive love for the (possibly-lesbian) Albertine Simonet. From the time he somehow moves her into his flat (his parents are...out of town...) he is consumed with worry about her loyalty and affection.
Is she cheating on him? Don't worry, Proust will take pages and pages of Volume 5 to consider the subject. He becomes so possessive Albertine leaves him (thus "The Prisoner" becomes "The Fugitive") and this loss, and Proust's discovery of the truth about the woman he loved, takes most of Volume 6. Incidentally in both the M-K-E and the Penguin translations, these two volumes are usually bound together in one book, though Penguin has assigned a different translator for each! Out of all the books, these two would benefit most from a consistent voice. What's more, Proust himself was still editing these two volumes when he died (the final volume, Time Regained, was done for the most part much earlier, as a bookend to Swann's Way). Proust edited on a massive scale--even a typist's query would send him into a fury of cut-and-paste. While the French critics have reconstructed as best they could, these volumes retain an incomplete feel, especially when a character declared dead early on reappears alive at the Verdurins'. First names also mutate, and sometimes there will be references to bits of gossip or anecdotes which Proust forgot to provide.
So is the new Penguin edition that much better? In the case of these volumes, not if you already own the older translation. I feel somehow that while the Penguin versions are more taut, something of Proust's love of beauty has been lost. Sometimes it seems the two Penguin translators pruned so much that the reader winds up missing a step or two in Proust's thought processes. (When this happened I would usually wind up muttering the text aloud with peculiar emphasis, like someone trying to make sense of a poorly-written instruction manual) More than once I would compare Penguin to the M-K-E translation, and between the two managed to glean a much better idea of what was going on.
I found this like the 4 volumes before it - occasionally difficult to read and sometimes a bit dull, but when it's good is as good as anything you'll ever read. The insights into human nature and life, and the fundamental unknowability of other people, are breathtaking.
There's not a lot of action in this book. Marcel keeps Albertine with him in his home in Paris, restricting her freedom so much that she is nearly a prisoner. He goes back and forth emotionally over her. Sometimes she makes him jealous and he becomes obsessed with her, feeling that he must love her. Then when she is docile and obedient, he feels he is becoming bored with her. He wonders if she has actually made him a prisoner, and he would be better off without her.
The other plot line involves Baron de Charlus, Morel, and the Verdurins. The Verdurins become angry with the Baron. To get even with him they decide to cause trouble between him and Morel.
That's it as far as the plot is concerned. But once again you have Proust's beautiful prose, filled with many memorable passages. I am looking forward to reading the final two books in this series.
But even during the narrative, Marcel realized memory’s willfulness and the variation in hues, shapes, pitch and timbre between the actual object and its mental reconstruction. When he encountered an old friend, the facial features were so different from his recollection and reconstruction, for better or for worse pregnant with all the emotions, preoccupation, biases, that he could not match face with voice.
Because recollected sensation can never equate with the actual experience and time, like a patient thief, steals memories a morsel at a time until one day the owner would realize he was ruined, Marcel ultimately would fail to recapture and assemble stolen sensations and decayed seconds and in the end, must create new moments, new sensations and ultimately a new biography, through the synergy between past experiences and creative imagination. From those deceased hours and decayed memories sprouted In Search of Lost Time, not only Proust’s novel but also that of the narrator.
Whether we savor Marcel’s frailness, Swann’s infatuation, Charlus’s pompousness, Franscoise’s independent-mindedness, the sorties’ frivolousness or the social revelation of the Dreyfuss Affair, we can enjoy Proust’s classic without resorting to Marxist or Freudian or Feminist critique. And the sentences, like the serpentine Amazon, seemed to flow unceasingly into the distant horizon carrying with it the sparkling sunlight. Although ascending the novel’s three thousand pages appears precipitous, the effort will be well worth the while and, at the end of the adventure, the reader can rest on the crisp apex and savor time’s transience and memory’s playfulness as if they were alpine zephyrs.
Treating the two books here as separate novels, I have to make the awkward comparison of Proust novels to Star Trek movies. I just really enjoy the even numbered ones remarkable more than the odd numbered ones. I only have the last one left - which in my counting is number 7. My favorites - so far - would be "In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower", followed by "Sodom and Gomorrah", then "Swann's Way", then "The Fugitive", "The Prisoner", and finally "Guermantes Way". So that's: 2, 4, 1, 6, 5, 3.
Anyway, I found The Prisoner to be frustratingly repetitive at times. He loves her because he can't completely have her. He seems to completely have her, so he doesn't care for her any longer, but wait, he doesn't really have her after all, so he loves her again. etc. Obviously, there is a great deal that is still really exceptional here, but it was somewhat tedious. It has been several months since I finished The Prisoner so I am hard pressed to come up with a more detailed review than that. Reading some other reviews reminds me of the section concerning Morel and Charlus. I did find that section to be quite good. Charlus - until now such a pompous though somehow likeable character - just seems so sad and pathetic after the treatment he receives from Morel.
I found The Fugitive to be much more rewarding. In particular his description of the loss of Albertine and his eventual recovery was just astonishing. The parts concerning Saint-Loup were great. The descriptions of Venice were great. I loved his reunion with Gilberte. I loved his awkward relationship with Andree.
It's frustrating trying to write a review of something so beautiful, and your writing comes out so ugly.
The Captive is an exploration of the shackles that romantic relations can impose on us, and of the natural consequences of the possessiveness of the narrator, of which we've had plenty of examples throughout the series. The Fugitive, perhaps the least polished of all the volumes (there are some glimpses of alternative futures, of undecided resolutions in the narrative, especially as we approach the end of the book, and these make the lack of polish of the book quite exciting), is about loss, grief, and the resumption of life after pain.
The relationship between the Narrator and Albertine is heavy on ambivalence, where he alternately lavishes expensive gifts on her and gives in to extreme fits of jealousy made worse by ambiguous things she says that can be interpreted as lies. The plot points are simple: a lazy morning spent contemplating his mistress with a mixture of boredom and obsession, a manipulative conversation, a trip to a salon to understand the attraction it has for Albertine, a quarrel. And yet underneath the collection of hidden motives, of mistrust, of emotions concealed and misrepresented, these are what give the story heft. It is hard to understand why he even cares what kinds of things Albertine does apart from himself, except from an insane kind of possessiveness.
These sketches of the story of Albertine actually go all the way back to the early part of Proust's writing life, but were only published after his death without benefit of a final edit by him. It still stands as a remarkable series of episodes where the main character's folly is made clear to the reader but not to himself. There are echoes throughout on themes and images we have seen before as preoccupations of this era before the first World War, which had already begun to fade into the past when this was published in 1922.
Our narrator, now given a hypothetical name, brings his lover Albertine to Paris, where they are both captives in different ways to his raging jealousy. The side story of Palamedes is also very interesting in this book.
Proust is alternately brilliant and maddening -- he loves to go on and on about insignificant details but then pulls out a random observation that makes all the wading worthwhile. I found this book to be much more readable than prior volumes -- I'm not sure if that's because it was shorter so the random musings were fewer or because it's the first I've read in The Modern Library translation. The book felt both brilliant and accessible, which wasn't always the case for me with other volumes.
I'll continue on reading the sixth book, "The Fugitive" in March.
"The Fugutive" was another great installment of this story... I'm almost sad to see it end. Here, our narrator is dealing with the loss of Albertine. Proust managed to fool me twice with what I'll call "plot twists," though not much happens in this book but musing, which really made me enjoy the book even more.
Looking forward to reading the final book in this series in May.
Alongside this predominant storyline, other now familiar characters appear and either suffer socially or find their status elevated. The pompous and flamboyant Baron de Charlus gets his comeuppance and Marcel’s childhood love, Gilberte, makes an advantageous marriage.
Like the previous books in this work, there's a lot of internal monologue and not a lot of action. Proust analyzes, in depth, the feelings and motivations of Marcel and others at various levels of the social hierarchy. I have one volume left to read and am interested to see how this all wraps up.
The third, and, I hope, correct reason is that they are weighting the amazing parts of these books as heavily as I am (it's here that we get hints of the way that art redeems Marcel and potentially human history; there are some great maxims here and there), and they're weighting the bad, but non-jealousy related stuff as negatively as I am (I haven't gone back to check whether it happens in the other volumes, but the way the narrator generalizes here is pretty eye-roll inducing, that is, a botched adolescent love affair isn't a good basis for a metaphysics; nor, for that matter, is undigested Bergson a good basis for anything), but other readers do value the dribble. You can make all the arguments you want about self-referential use of the Vinteuil sonata being like Swann's love for Odette and the narrator's love for Gilberte and the Vinteuil septet being like the narrator's love for Albertine- really, go ahead. The difference is that, if we believe Marcel, the septet was better than the sonata. 'Swann' and 'Jeunes Filles' are much better than either of these two books.