Assessing the English and Spanish Translations of Proust’s <i>À la recherche du temps perdu</i>

by Herbert E. Craig (Author)
©2020 Monographs VIII, 344 Pages


This book examines in detail the numerous translations and revisions to these two essential languages of one of the outstanding works of French and world literature. Although the Spanish poet Pedro Salinas completed the first translation in the world of Proust’s first two volumes (1920, 1922), it was C. K. Scott Moncrieff of England who was largely responsible for the first complete translation of the Recherche (1922-1931). Since then there have been many partial translations of Proust’s seven volumes, as well as one new complete translation for English and three for Spanish since 2000. Through comparison of first the English versions and then the Spanish versions of each important segment of the Recherche, the author attempts to determine which translation or revision is the best for each one. Factors included the addition or omission of elements, mistakes in the translation of words, phases or levels and the importance given to equivalency or fluency.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Introduction
  • Translations to English
  • 1. The Three Translations to English and the Three Revisions of “Combray”
  • 2. The Four Translations to English and the Three Revisions of “Un amour de Swann”
  • 3. The Two Translations to English and the Three Revisions of À l’ombre des jeunes filles en fleurs, II
  • 4. The Two Translations to English and the Three Revisions of Le côté de Guermantes, I
  • 5. The Two Translations to English and the Two Revisions of Sodome et Gomorrhe, I & II: Chapter 1
  • 6. The Two Translations to English and the Two Revisions of La prisonnière, Chapters 2–3
  • 7. The Two Translations to English and the Two Revisions of Albertine disparue, Chapters 1–2
  • 8. The Four Translations to English and the Two Revisions of Le temps retrouvé, Chapter 3
  • Translations to Spanish
  • 9. The Five Translations to Spanish of “Combray”
  • 10. The Eight Translations to Spanish of “Un amour de Swann”
  • 11. The Four Translations to Spanish of Le côté de Guermantes, I
  • 12. The Seven Translations to Spanish of Sodome et Gomorrhe, I
  • 13. The Six Translations to Spanish of La prisonnière, Chapter 1
  • 14. The Six Translations to Spanish of Le temps retrouvé, Chapter 3
  • Final Conclusions

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As Edwin Gentzler has pointed out in his recent book Translation and Rewriting in the Age of Post-Translation Studies (2017),1 Marcel Proust is a quintessential French writer, his work is a “translational” text2 and because Proust himself was a translator of the British art historian and writer John Ruskin and he attributed a great importance to the relation between translation and other forms of writing, it can be very fruitful to study in detail the translations of Proust. The protagonist and narrator of Le temps retrouvé asserted, alluding to the work that he had just decided to write:

je m’apercevais que ce livre essential, le seul livre vrai, un grand écrivain n’a pas, dans le sens courant, à l’inventer, puisqu’il existe déjà en chacun de nous, mais à le traduire. Le devoir et la tâche d’un écrivain sont ceux d’un traducteur.

[I perceived that this essential book, the only true book, a great writer does not, in an ordinary sense, have to invent it, since it already exists in each one of us, but to translate it. The duty and task of a writer are those of a translator]. (1954, 3: 890)3

Among the numerous translations of Marcel Proust’s monumental and world famous French work À la recherche du temps perdu (1913–1927), both the ←1 | 2→English and Spanish versions share a place of preeminence. The former case has been readily acknowledged, but even in the recent and quite admirable issue of Revue d’études proustiennes “Traduire À la recherche du temps perdu” (2015) a few major scholars continued to refer to Swann’s Way as “la première traduction.”4 While in fact the very first translation to any language of Proust’s first two volumes Du côté de chez Swann and À l’ombre des jeunes filles en fleurs was accomplished by the famous Spanish poet Pedro Salinas in 1920 and 1922, respectively. One can observe in the correspondence between Gaston Gallimard and Marcel Proust references to both of these volumes, the first of which was submitted to Proust for acceptance in February 1921.5 The contract for the second one to Spanish was in fact presented at the same time as that of the first volume for English. Gallimard wrote: “En ce qui concerne les traductions de vos ouvrages, des traités ont été conclus avec: Calpe à Madrid pour “À l’ombre des jeunes filles …” … Chatto & Windus à Londres pour l’Angleterre et l’Amérique pour “Du côté de chez Swann” [Regarding the translations of your works, the negotiations have been concluded with: Calpe in Madrid for “À l’ombre des jeunes filles …” … Chatto & Windus in London for England and America for “Du côté de chez Swann”] (1989, 547).6

Although the Scottish translator to English Charles Kenneth Scott Moncrieff was only able to bring out the second translation of Du côté de chez Swann and À l’ombre de jeunes filles en fleurs in 1922 and 1924,7 he and his editors, along with another translator for the last volume (Stephen Hudson), succeeded in completing for the first time the seven volume series in 1931. Gentzler not only emphasized the heroic feat of Moncrieff’s six volume translation, but also the “newness” of Proust’s work that he wished to share with the English-reading public: “Its aesthetic insights, circular style, long stream-of-consciousness reflections, breath-length prose units, objective/ subjective narrators and invention of nonfictional fiction did not exist in the target culture. Moncrieff wanted to bring the newness across” (2017, 147).

In nearly those same years, 1931 and 1932, there appeared in Spain a translation of Proust’s third volume Le côté de Guermantes. However, it would be in Argentina where the second complete version of all of Proust’s novel was published in 1944–1946. In this case Pedro Salinas was responsible for more than two volumes, José María Quiroga Pla for the remainder of the third volume and the Argentine translator Marcelo Menasché did the last four volumes: Sodome et Gomorrhe, La prisonnière, Albertine disparue and Le temps retrouvé.8 No other foreign translations of Proust’s entire great novel would become available for several years. The first ones included Italian in 1951, and German and Portuguese in 1957.

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The work of the first two translators, Pedro Salinas and C. K. Scott Moncrieff, was highly praised and for many years was considered irreproachable. Being a major poet, Pedro Salinas was assumed to be an excellent translator. Similarly C. K. Scott Moncrieff, as the introducer of Proust to the English-speaking world, was held in the highest esteem.

The parts that they did not translate, however, were rendered several times. Because of Scott Moncrieff’s death in 1930, Le temps retrouvé was first translated in Britain by Stephen Hudson (Proust’s friend Sydney Schiff) in 1931, but Frederick A. Blossom in the United States made a new version in 1932. Another was created years later by Andreas Mayor in 1970. For the last four volumes in Spanish, besides the Argentine Marcelo Menasché, two Spaniards, Fernando Gutiérrez and Consuelo Berges, published their versions in 1952 and 1967–1969.

Another Spaniard, Julio Gómez de la Serna, retranslated Proust’s first two volumes in 1981, but his text was not able to compete well with the highly esteemed version by Salinas and was quickly forgotten. The same can be said for the Australian James Grieve, who made another English version of Du côté de chez Swann in 1982.

Indeed the first translations of the Recherche to English and Spanish had some obvious weaknesses. They were made with the earliest French editions, which contained a large number of errata, and in the case of the later volumes, were corrected by persons other than Proust, who died in November 1922. Furthermore the first translators did not have the advantage of knowing all of Proust’s work and thus were not able to translate consistently his key words and themes.9 Finally, although Scott Moncrieff and Salinas had lived in France and knew the French language well, they had not been trained as translators and came to this profession after specializing in others.10

Over the years Proust’s French text was improved, particularly in 1954 when Pierre Clarac and André Ferré prepared the first critical edition of La Pléiade, which was published by Gallimard. Similarly, after all of the Recherche entered the public domain in the 1980s, La Pléiade and other French publishing firms brought out other carefully prepared texts. Jean-Yves Tadié directed the numerous Proustian scholars responsible for the second Pléiade (1987–1989), which I will be using for my source references, along with two editions of the Nouvelle Revue Française (1919–1927 and 1946–1947) and the first Pléiade.11

To update the English translation of the Recherche, in accordance with Pléiade I, and thus avoid creating an entirely new version, Terence Kilmartin revised Scott Moncrieff’s translation in 1981. Although on occasion he changed the first translator’s syntax, most of the modifications were of single words and phrases.12 Also ←3 | 4→with Le temps retrouvé Kilmartin largely incorporated Andreas Mayor’s version which had already followed the 1954 Pléiade. After the appearance of the 1987– 1989 Pléiade, D. J. Enright made another revision of the texts by Scott Moncrieff, Kilmartin and Mayor. Besides taking into account the changes in the new French text, he altered certain words used by Kilmartin.

Although in Spain the version by Salinas had similar weaknesses, there was only one partial attempt to correct these. In 1988 Elena Carbajo created a new translation of “Un amour de Swann” (part 2 of volume I), which used as its point of departure Salinas’ text. Also one should note that Consuelo Berges’ translation of the last four volumes followed the 1954 Pléiade, as did Julio Gómez de la Serna’s version of the first two volumes.

Here I can point out a clear contrast between the versions of Proust in English and Spanish. Whereas the former has had more revisions of a single translation, the latter has had more different translations. This tendency is also apparent through two additional translations of the second part of volume I “Un amour de Swann”: that of Carlos Pujol (1992) and that of Amparo Azcona (1999).

Before the end of the twentieth century persons from both languages decided to prepare entirely new translations of the Recherche, but they chose different means. Two Spaniards, who knew each other and had studied together in the Facultad de Filosofía y Letras at the Universidad Complutense de Madrid, Mauro Armiño and Carlos Manzano, began in 2000 to publish two distinct translations of the entire Recherche. It would take them several years, with Armiño finishing in 2005 and Manzano in 2009, but all of the work would be of a single hand and style.13 Also during these same years an Argentine publisher, Losada, made available the entire series using primarily the translation by Estela Canto, which this Argentine woman writer had left at the time of her death in 1994. The last volume, which was translated by Graciela Isnardi, was published in 2009, like the version by Manzano.

Under the editorship of Christopher Prendergast,14 a team of seven different translators provided a single new English version of the Recherche.15 This project began in 1995 when Penguin of London decided that it needed an in-house Proust for its classics list and contacted Prendergast to oversee this Herculean task.16 In this way all of the volumes appeared in just two years 2002–2003, but the style was different in each case. The American writer Lydia Davis created volume 1; the Australian James Grieve was responsible for volume 2; Mark Treharne—a Brit like the others—translated volume 3; John Sturrock, provided volume 4, Carol Clark and Peter Collier, volume 517; and Ian Patterson, volume 6.18

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The advantage of having all of Proust’s work by a single translator might seem to be obvious. He or she could be consistent with Proust’s key words and themes, and these would be followed throughout the entire text. Some critics, however, defended the multi-translator approach, saying that the comparison of styles might be interesting.19 Also by way of justification Prendergast claimed that “the heroic era of literary translation by a single person is over” (Boltanski, 2003, 38).20 Although such may be the case in the English-speaking countries, it certainly is not true in the Spanish-speaking world.

Furthermore one should note that there is now being published a third, new revision of Scott Moncrieff’s translation. The noted American Proust scholar and biographer William C. Carter has already published his revision of the first three of Proust’s volumes (2013, 2015 and 2018) and has promised the remaining four volumes. To justify the creation of this third revision of Scott Moncrieff’s translation, Carter pointed out, after extolling the value of this “extraordinarily fine English translation,” that it had never been “adequately annotated.”21 Finally I must acknowledge that another Australian translator, Brian Nelson, made available in 2017 a translation of the second part of Proust’s first volume “Un amour de Swann.”

Over the years, as each volume of a translation or revision has appeared, there have often been written reviews or at least brief comments on the quality of the said text. Sometimes these remarks have been favorable, but on other occasions they have been negative. It is also worth noting that some reviewers have been familiar with the original language and took it into account in making their judgment.22 Others did not know French and only considered the apparent fluency of the text in English or Spanish.23 If they in fact sighted specific examples to support their observations, these were an infinitely small percentage of all of Proust’s enormous text.

Although the Spanish scholar and translator Luis Maristany attempted, in his “Informe crítico: Proust en España” (1982), to compare specifically a few selected passages from the translations by Salinas, Menasché, Gutiérrez and Berges, in conjunction with Proust’s original text, no student, scholar or critic had been as ambitious and conscientious in comparing Proust’s texts with one or more translation to English or Spanish than the American doctoral candidate Susan L. Gil-wood. In her dissertation from Rutgers University “ ‘The Chapelet that I fain would offer you’. A Study of Scott-Moncrieff’s Proust” (1978), she examined in particular several sentences from the beginning of Du côté de chez Swann, as well as others from what she called key passages found in the first six volumes of the Recherche, and how they had been translated by Scott Moncrieff. Her analysis ←5 | 6→is very detailed, subtle and accurate.24 Even though, when she wrote her study, there were no other volume-length translations to English that could be contrasted to that of Moncrieff, she did make a careful comparison of Moncrieff and a series of brief texts that had been translated by two Proustian scholars for their books: Germaine Brée and Roger Shattuck. All in all Susan Gilwood’s dissertation is very interesting and suggests how enlightening and valuable a study of Proust’s translations can be.

Both the English and Spanish translations and revisions deserve to be examined in a more detailed way. Only by comparing large portions of the several versions with the original and each other can we hope to determine which are the most faithful or fluent.25 Concerning my own qualifications for such a study, I am a native speaker of English and, when I began to read Proust, mostly in French in the early 1970s, I chose to experience the second volume through Scott Moncrieff’s Within a Budding Grove. Since that time I have earned a Ph.D. in Spanish (University of Wisconsin-Madison, 1983) and a second Master’s in French (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 1985) and have devoted my extensive research to the critical/ literary relation between Proust and the Spanish-speaking world, including the translations to Spanish of the Recherche. I have also studied and taught translation and have even done some translations myself.26 As an example of my translation research, I will cite two articles for the American Translators Association Chronicle (2001, 2004). In recent years I have presented two papers on specific volumes of the translations of Proust to Spanish and two papers on certain volumes of the translations of Proust to English at a national conference, three of which papers were published online.27 Although I have not been trained in what the French now call traductologie, I am very interested and have experience in the study of translations.

For English there are three translations and three revisions for Du côté de chez Swann plus an additional version of part II “Un amour de Swann.” For À l’ombre des jeunes filles en fleurs and Le côté de Guermantes English has two translations and three revisions. In the case of volumes IV through VI there are two translations and two revisions. Le temps retrouvé has four translations and two revisions.28 For Spanish there are five translations of Du côté de chez Swann and A l’ombre des jeunes filles en fleurs with three additional versions of the second part of volume I “Un amour de Swann” (total eight). There exist four translations of Le côté de Guermantes. For Sodome et Gomorrhe, I there are seven versions and for the remainder of the Recherche six versions.

To assess translations, one important scholar Katharina Reiss has offered a useful guide: Translation Criticism—The Potentials & Limitations: Categories and ←6 | 7→Criteria for Translation Quality Assessment (2000).29 Here this German expert on translation considered different types of texts, such as form-focused texts, which include literary ones, and what elements need to be carried over from the source language to the target language. She observed in particular: “The critic must examine the translation with regard to each of these linguistic elements[:] the semantic elements for equivalence, the lexical elements for adequacy, the grammatical elements for correctness, and the stylistic elements for correspondence” (2000, 66). There are also non-linguistic factors that need to be considered, such as the situational context or subjective elements.

Although Reiss referred to omissions only in passing, the lack of a word, phrase or sentence equivalent is an obvious mistake. Concerning additions, she cited another scholar, who warned that “the translator must be able to resist the temptation to clarify and improve the original” (2000, 65). Other criteria include word choice, changes in word order, syntax, punctuation and level of style, actual errors in the translation of words or phrases, the unnecessary repetitions of words or other stylistic flaws, the literal translation of idiomatic expressions and the failure to find an equivalent of word plays.

Concerning my procedures, I will first study the translations to English and their revisions and then the translations to Spanish. Since Proust’s text is so long and there are so many translations and revisions, I will not examine the entire volumes. I have chosen important parts that represent the efforts of all of the translators and revisers. As each of the seven volumes in English has a different new translator, I will necessarily study a major portion (approximately one half) of each of these volumes.30 Because of the new translation to English of “Un amour de Swann,” I will necessarily devote another chapter to this part. In Spanish because “Combray” and “Un amour de Swann” have some different translators I will examine both of these parts in their entirety, but not À l’ombre des jeunes filles en fleurs because it has the same translators as “Combray.” Also I will not study Albertine disparue because it has the same translators for Spanish as La prisonnière.

In the study itself, I have read the original French taking into account the different editions of it used and the various translations and revisions sentence by sentence.31 I have then made annotations on 4 × 6 note cards to indicate errors, quality of word choice, additions, omissions, sentence or paragraph breaks, the reordering or reconfiguration of the text, etc. Each card contains approximately 35 observations and these have been compiled for the purpose of comparison. Although I have tried to be consistent in my study of each part, I must admit that my noticing of details has somewhat evolved over time. Thus the number of cards has also varied and should not be compared across chapters in a statistical sense.

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For an additional type of comparison for each part studied, I have also focused my attention upon a particular brief text, which may be famous or at least representative. Here individual words, phrases or sentences have been compared for all of the versions and these differences can add further light to help us distinguish between the translations and revisions.

This last type of detailed analysis comes closer to what we generally find in the recent issue of the Revue d’études proustiennes (2015) and, in particular the very interesting study by Dairine NÍ Cheallaigh: “Heurs et malheurs, ‘erreurs et tâtonnements’ des traducteurs anglais de Proust (II).” However, this scholar restricted herself even more to just two paragraphs from “Combray” (1987, 1: 148). Indeed, as she demonstrated very well, there is much to be said about three different English translations and her own of such a short, yet rich Proustian text. Not only was she able to find some errors or weak translations, like those that I will point out, for example, Moncrieff’s mistranslation of “devanture” as “doorway” (1934, 1: 115) instead of “window” (1992, 211), but she could also provide some linguistic or historical background information, as well as some perceptive observations on the differences between English and French tenses, etc.

In no way do I wish to disparage this careful, meticulous type of translation analysis. I only wish to defend the validity and even the advantages for someone that is not a native speaker of French, of performing a more global type of analysis, that can show patterns related to additions, omissions, types of errors, punctuation, etc.32 Also a tracing of the critical reception, a determination of the editions of the source, an examination of the theoretical intentions of the translators, etc. can be valuable.

Finally I should add a justification for considering together the translations of Proust to English and Spanish. These two important languages, which are among the most widely spoken in the world, have had their own special relationship to France, which dates back to the Middle Ages. This has involved rivalry because of proximity and even in both cases an invasion and occupation by the French. The rich literary and cultural heritage of France has affected, particularly since the Enlightenment, Great Britain, the United States and even Australia, as well as Spain and Spanish America. During and after the lifetime of Marcel Proust this influence was still widespread and both English and Spanish-speakers were very interested in the highly original French author of the Recherche and were quick to see the value of this work.33 Although some of the elite in these countries already knew French and did not need a translation, other intellectuals, who also wished to be knowledgeable about this new writer, could greatly benefit from such translations. Thus Proust’s early volumes were translated almost immediately ←8 | 9→into Spanish and English before any other language. Such an interest in reading Proust, albeit in translation, has remained constant in these two language areas for nearly one hundred years and can rival such an interest in any other language area.

I, of course, must acknowledge all that has been published in France related to Proust and how this has affected Proustians and other persons in the English and Spanish-speaking worlds, as well as elsewhere. Besides the initial publication of Proust’s vast novel, which brought forth the parallel and nearly simultaneous translations to English and Spanish by Scott Moncrieff and Salinas, we ought to remember the publication of the first Pléaide in 1954. This much more definitive text, which was universally accepted by all the Proustians of the time, spawned new versions in both English and Spanish because the first translations then seemed to be out of date. Thus Kilmartin revised Scott Moncrieff’s text, Berges created a new translation of Proust’s last four volumes and Carbajo similarly used Pléiade I as the basis for her reworking of Salinas’ “Un amour de Swann.” The same can be also said for Gómez de la Serna’s retranslation of the first two volumes, Mayor’s translation of the last volume and Grieve’s new version of Proust’s first volume.

Indeed during the mid to late 1980s the republication of Proust in France, once the Recherche entered the public domain, was not a monolithic task. Various French publishers vied with each other to try to create the definitive version of Proust’s work. These included first Garnier-Flammarion (1984–1987) and then La Pléiade (1987–1989), Robert Laffont (1987) and “Le Livre de Poche” (1992– 1993).

Indubitably the second Pléaide, which was published in four elegant volumes (instead of three like the first Pléiade), and incorporated hundreds of pages of “esquisses” [sketches] taken from Proust’s notebooks, as well as very complete notes and variants, was the most ambitious version and edition. Clearly, at least for English and Spanish-speaking Proustians, it has been treated as the most definitive version. Enright and Carter have used it as the basis for their second and third updating and revision of Scott Moncrieff’s text. I also observe that the new translations to both English and Spanish share as their common source and even inspiration the second Pléaide. Only Armiño occasionally consulted the Flammarion edition, but no other reviser or translator to English or Spanish did the same.34

Such an interest in Proust remains very much alive despite the fact that our world is quite different from Proust’s. Today English, rather than French, seems to be the dominant international language, and translations are done for different reasons. In the English-speaking world where one often assumes that other peoples speak and read in English, many persons have chosen the Recherche as one of their relatively few works in translation. In contrast, Spanish-speakers in Europe ←9 | 10→and the New World more frequently read foreign authors in translation, including Proust, who is one of their favorites. Other early twentieth century French writers are now largely forgotten, but for both English and Spanish-speakers, as well as for other persons, the Recherche remains a classic.

My own two book-length studies on the large number of critical texts that were written in Spanish about the Recherche and on the influence of this work upon novels and other texts in both Spain and Spanish America provide evidence of other aspects of Proust’s impact upon the Spanish-speaking world.35 Similarly studies, like the much earlier doctoral thesis by John Newton Alley “English and American Criticism of Marcel Proust” (University of North Carolina, 1959)36 and the book by Elyane Dezon-Jones Proust et l’Amérique (1982), as well as her article “La Réception d’À la recherche du temps perdu aux États-Unis” (1989),37 suggest at least some aspects of Proust’s presence in the English-speaking world.38 An introduction to Proust’s presence in other countries can be found in the book edited with the aid of Mireille Naturel La réception de Proust à l’étranger (2001). Also various national studies have appeared over the years in the Bulletin Marcel Proust and other publications. Brazilians, for example, have made several of their own studies.39

Indeed, one could examine the translations of Proust to other languages. At least Japanese (1958–1959, 1992–1993, 2001, 2010–2014), Italian (1946–1951, 1983–1993, 1985–1991, 1990), Portuguese (Brazil 1948–1957, 1992–1995, Portugal 1984–1989, 2003–2005) and German (1926–1930, 1953–1957, 2017)40 have had more than one translation,41 but no other language has had more translators or has produced more versions than Spanish and English. Thus it is only logical to begin with these two, particularly because I am capable of and interested in doing so.


1. Of all the possible literary works and their translations for this general study about translation and rewriting, Gentzler significantly chose the Recherche (as well as A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Hamlet and Faust). Here he focused on some of the major translations of Proust to English, but also provided basic information about those to Spanish. It is interesting to note that he did not highlight any of the translations to other languages.

2. In defining the “translational” aspect of Proust’s work, Gentzler cited in particular the ideas of the Proustian scholar Roger Shattuck, the author of Proust’s Binoculars (1963): “Shattuck elevates translation to the primary means by which Proust connects experience to art” (2017, 127).

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3. In this book the quotations cited in French, as well as Spanish, will generally be accompanied by a translation to English that I myself have created. I do not presume that these are literary, like the translations that we are studying. They are merely intended to help those readers, who do not know French or Spanish, to understand the quotations and all of their pertinent elements.


VIII, 344
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2021 (January)
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Oxford, Wien, 2020. VIII, 344 pp.

Biographical notes

Herbert E. Craig (Author)

Herbert E. Craig, born in Ohio, received Ph.D. in Spanish from University of Wisconsin-Madison (1983) and his M.A. in French from University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (1985). He is the author of two books that deal with the critical/literary relations between the French novelist Marcel Proust and the Hispanic world.


Title: Assessing the English and Spanish Translations of Proust’s <i>À la recherche du temps perdu</i>