Today, June 10th, marks the birth date of another great 20th-century modern novelist: Marcel Proust, author of the celebrated, and massive, work, “À la recherche du temps perdu” (“Remembrance of Things Past”).

And luckily, by the same quirk of copyright that has left the work of Proust’s only rival for the title of greatest modern novelist, James Joyce, in the public domain and up for grabs, not only is Proust available gratis in the original French, but the finest ever single translation of his work, which set the standard for all succeeding renditions into English, is also available online for free.

Some pedantic revisionist efforts insist that the correct, literal translation of “À la recherche du temps perdu” as “In Search of Lost Time” is the proper title for the book in English.

However, Charles Kenneth Scott Moncrieff, the Scot who established his own claim to lasting literary renown as Proust’s first English translator, chose the title from Shakespeare’s Sonnet 32, “When to the sessions of sweet silent thought / I summon up remembrance of things past,” and the book went by that name in English-speaking circles for practically the entire 20th century. And Terence Kilmartin, who revised and expanded on Scott Moncrieff’s translation to accommodate improvements on the original “notoriously imperfect” Nouvelle Revue Francaise edition of Proust that was all Scott Moncrieff had to work from, kept that title.

Kilmartin admitted: “C.K. Scott Moncrieff’s version of À la recherche du temps perdu has in the past fifty years earned a reputation as one of the great English translations, almost a masterpiece in its own right … a work that has been enjoyed and admired, not to say revered, by several generations of readers throughout the English-speaking world.”

With that kind of endorsement, I’m inclined to follow Kilmartin and stick to Scott Moncrieff’s original choice as an inspired piece of creative recreation.

The usual problem with U.S. and non-U.S. copyright limits also arises over Scott Moncrieff. However, the ever-reliable University of Adelaide has all the volumes of the translation, as well as the original French, available for download in an excellent e-book edition for EPUB or Kindle (Mobi), based on the 1941 Chatto and Windus Uniform Edition.

The last volume of this, “Time Regained,” is Stephen Hudson‘s completion of the original, which Scott Moncrieff left unfinished at the time of his death in 1930. Hudson, under his real name Sydney Schiff, was a real-life acquaintance of Proust, and supposedly held a party in Paris in 1922 at which Proust briefly met James Joyce.

Galley proof of A la recherche du temps perdu

Proust’s original manuscript, with its ever-expanding series of notes and accordion-like add-ons and emendations, is probably one of the best cases ever for an interactive digital edition. But for readers wanting a more digestible encounter with his work, the tried-and-tested resort is “Swann’s Way,” the first volume, which includes the self-contained novel-within-a-novel “Swann In Love” and, for American copyright purists, is out of copyright in the U.S. in the Scott Moncrieff translation and available from Project Gutenberg.

Proust’s adventures into popular culture include a brush with porn starlet Ornella Muti in the film version of “Swann In Love“—possibly the sexiest rendition of a modern literary classic in cinema. Plus, as any “Monty Python” fan will tell you, he had a pet haddock.

So, to paraphrase John Cleese, if you’re calling the author of ‘A la recherche du temps perdu’ inappropriate for a TeleRead article, I shall have to ask you to step outside.


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