Sunday, July 02, 2006

An Introductory Comparison

Initially I had decided to read the Moncrieff/Killmartin/Enright Modern Library edition of Proust but since I was able to get the new translation as a bargain book I am now waffling. If I were to choose solely on the introductions, I would choose Lydia Davis's translation hands down. Her introduction is informative, insightful, and goes against the nature of all introductions to classics I have ever read by also being useful. Plus, it doesn't give anything away. But I am getting the impression there really isn't anything to give away in Proust. Davis suggests the way to read Proust is
in the full, slow reading and rereading of every word, in complete submission to Proust's subtle psychological analyses, his precise portraits, his compassionate humor, his richly colored and lyrical landscapes, his extended digressions, his architectonic sentences, his symphonic structures, his perfect formal design.
That makes me want to dive right it. If you don't have the Davis translation, I recommend you borrow it from the library or take a few minutes to read it when next you are at the book store.

The Modern Library introduction was written by Richard Howard who has a Pulitzer to his name. It is an unfortunate introduction in that Howard attempts to set a light and breezy tone to make first time readers comfortable and confident. His is a letter of introduction to both the first time reader and to Proust introducing the modern American reader to him (as if Proust cares). Far from making this reader feel excited and confident in the book I am about to read, Howard succeeds in making me feel like a six year old whose hand needs to be held while crossing a busy intersection. He tells Proust that modern American readers are intimidated by his reputation for being difficult and his long sentences. He asserts that we are not likely to understand Proust's interest in time and the past because Americans "have a kind of allergy to the past." By the end Howard is fervently wishing that through his charitable introductions of new readers to Proust and Proust to his new readers, that we will get along and "proceed some way together."

Whereas Davis's introduction is everything I could want in an introduction, Howard's is nearly useless. If you manage to dig past the tripe there are a few bits of information that can be cleaned up for use. What I like best about Davis's introduction is that she writes with the assumption that I am an intelligent reader. She acknowledges Proust's difficult reputation and explains the reasons for it, explains what Proust was up to with the long sentences and the minimal use of punctuation as well as a few other points.

I have not yet placed my bookmark into either translation. I have not yet chosen my bookmark (an important thing to consider--something fru-fru? Serious? Artsy? It contributes to the whole enterprise at hand). My plan is to read a few pages of each edition and then decide which I like best. I know I shouldn't allow the introductions to influence me, but I must admit I am slightly inclined to Davis.


Blogger Dorothy W. said...

Ah, now I'm looking forward to reading the introduction to my brand new volume! I'm trying to figure out just how many volumes of the Penguin translations (the Prendergast ones) are available. I can only find up to the fifth volume available here in the U.S., and that volume has a very different cover than the others. Do you know what's up? I'm disappointed because I liked the idea of having all the volumes in one uniform edition cause they look so pretty that way :)

8:24 PM  
Blogger Stefanie said...

I wonder if that 5th volume you are looking at is not part of the new translation? To my knowledge there are only 4 volumes currently available in the US. All of the books were published in the UK in 2002 and according to this Slate article we will not see the remaining ones in the US until 2018 thanks to Sonny Bono and US copyright law. Looks like I might be making an Amazon.UK order.

8:34 PM  
Blogger Quillhill said...

Stefanie, I would like to hear more about choosing a bookmark and how that fits in with reading, perhaps a post at So Many Books.

3:46 AM  
Blogger Dorothy W. said...

Thanks for the info Stefanie. I might be making a UK order as well, although I bet the UK covers look different. Okay, that's a little silly, but I do like to have a nice-looking set.

7:53 AM  
Blogger Michelle said...

I have the Davis translation as well. I am always a little hesitant about reading introductions because they tend to give things away. But sounds like this one doesn't so I shall read it, especially as you indicate its very well-written and informative.

I, too, have a thing about the bookmarks. My husband bought me some beautiful handmade fabric booksmarks embroidered with flowers. I've been using them for the last few books. I think I'll use the red flowers for Proust!

9:25 AM  
Blogger Stefanie said...

I'll see what I can do Quillhill to put together a coherent theory of bookmarks. I think, Michelle, red flowers are perfect.

10:06 AM  
Blogger Isabella said...

Davis has a thumbs up at . But beware, those of you who like the look of matching sets — the other volumes have different translators, and it sounds like the second one takes a lot of liberties.

1:26 PM  
Blogger Chris said...

Well, the only copy immediately available locally-- we have one Barnes & Noble and two very small bookstores within 360 miles-- was the B&N Classics edition translated by Moncrieff. I'm a cheap bastard so I bought it, but I will compare with the Lydia Davis version when it gets here this weekend.

Does anyone know if this is the one Beckett called abominable or the revised version of the same edition?

10:57 AM  
Blogger Stefanie said...

I am guessing since Beckett wrote a book about Proust in 1931 and the Moncrieff edition was published a year or so before that, that it is likely the translation he was referring to. The Moncrieff edition was later corrected revised by Terence Kilmartin and then revised again later still by D.J. Enright. I don't think the Moncrieff translation is absolutely horrible, it was the best translation available at one point.

5:48 PM  

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