I plan to reread one of my favorite books, the final volume of Marcel Proust's "In Search of Lost Time."
The seven-volume novel's conclusion, "Time Regained," ends with the narrator attending a party at the Guermantes home, where he encounters former acquaintances and enemies radically changed by aging.
Seeing the ravages of time, and aware of his own mortality, the narrator decides to write the novel that he has just finished.
Proust fans recently marked the 150th anniversary of the French novelist's birth, July 10. The Times Literary Supplement published literary critic Adam Watt's "Life Outside the Window," which affirmed the novel's undiminished significance. But the anniversary has received little notice in the United States.
As with "The Inferno" in Dante's "Divine Comedy," the first volume of Proust's novel receives the most attention, and readership.
The novel's beginning, "Du Cote de Chez Swann," translated as "Swann's Way" in English, has received a number of individual translations, including a lauded one by Lydia Davis.
But while the rest of the book has been translated several times, beginning with C.K. Scott Moncrieff's controversial rendition, the other volumes receive little readership. The exhaustive paragraphs and intricate mental processes dissuade most readers.
In my case, I read Moncrieff's "Swann's Way," "Within a Budding Grove" and "The Guermantes Way" but skipped "Sodom and Gormorrah," "The Prisoner" and "The Fugitive," except for bits and pieces. "Within a Budding Grove" was later changed to "In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower." In an amusing Moncrieff overreach, "The Fugitive" was once called "The Sweet Cheat Gone."
While Moncrieff's translations are considered landmarks of English prose, his Edwardian language is more ornate and mannered than Proust's original French. And he dismayed Proust by the English title, "In Remembrance of Things Past," taken from Shakespeare's 20th sonnet.
While I never finished the entire novel, I did read the final volume, "Time Regained," translated by Terence Kilmartin, who revised Moncrieff's work when new French editions were published.
"Time Regained" confirms the novel as one of the greatest works of the human imagination, whether in the original French or English translation.
The book’s unforgettable description of the Guermantes' party begins with the narrator stumbling on stones in the walkway, which takes him back to a similar incident in Venice. As with Proust’s well-known madeleines, the cobblestones trigger the past's return.
I first read "Time Regained" as a young man. Now, I will reread the book when I am old, like the characters the narrator encounters at the end of the book. Perhaps I too can regain lost time.