Chasing Lost Time: The Life of C K Scott Moncrieff – Soldier, Spy and Translator by Jean Findlay - review by Richard Davenport-Hines

Richard Davenport-Hines

Du côté de chez Proust

Chasing Lost Time: The Life of C K Scott Moncrieff – Soldier, Spy and Translator


Chatto & Windus 352pp £25

‘I have started to read Proust, 12 volumes, in Scott Moncrieff’s wonderful translation,’ Harold Macmillan wrote in his prime ministerial diary in 1959. ‘I felt I ought to do this, because of the great influence which Proust has had on modern English literature.’ Macmillan, as a publisher, knew that A la Recherche du temps perdu had shaped, modified and swayed the work of countless 20th-century English novelists, essayists and memoir writers, and that Charles Scott Moncrieff’s translation, on which he worked from 1921 until 1929, had mediated that impact on English readers. For generations, Scott Moncrieff was to Proust what Richard Burton was to The Arabian Nights, yet it has taken eighty-four years since his death for a full study of his life and ideas.

Jean Findlay is Scott Moncrieff’s great-great-niece. She has written an eager, conscientious, affectionate book that is endearingly old-fashioned in its family piety, protective partisanship and unembellished decency. Chasing Lost Time is a work that murmurs and sidles in a self-effacing tone: there are no fanfares to its revelations, no shoves

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