C. K. Scott Moncrieff’s celebrated translation of Proust’s A La Recherche du Temps Perdu was first published in 1922 and was a work which would exhaust and consume the translator, leading to his early death at the age of just forty. Joseph Conrad told him, ‘I was more interested and fascinated by your rendering than by Proust’s creation’: some literary figures even felt it was an improvement on the original.
From the outside an enigma, Scott Moncrieff left a trail of writings that describe a man expert at living a paradoxical life: fervent Catholic convert and homosexual, gregarious party-goer and deeply lonely, interwar spy in Mussolini’s Italy and public man of letters – a man for whom honour was the most abiding principle. He was a decorated war hero, and his letters home are an unusually light take on day-to-day life on the front. Described as ‘offensively brave’, he was severely injured in 1917 and, convalescing in London, became a lynchpin of literary society – friends with Robert Graves and Noel Coward, enemies with Siegfried Sassoon and in love with Wilfred Owen.
Written by Scott Moncrieff’s great-great-niece, Jean Findlay, with exclusive access to the family archive, Chasing Lost Time is a portrait of a man hurled into war, through an era when the world was changing fast and forever, who brought us the greatest epic of time and memory that has ever been written.
Moncrieff (1889 1930), the celebrated Scottish translator who gave Proust's Remembrance of Things Past its famous (and controversial) English title, led an exciting, even improbable life, as this informative biography from Findlay (his great-great-niece) reveals. Born into a distinguished but not particularly wealthy family, Moncrieff began writing poetry and fiction while in school and had no fixed career plans when he entered the Great War as a British Army officer. The sensitive Moncrieff somehow survived three grim years of active service before being invalided out with a grievous wound in his left leg. His admiration for the verse of fellow war poet Wilfred Owen (with whom he was in love) led Moncrieff to conclude that, by comparison, his poetry was too inferior to continue. He turned to translating, which led him to produce the first English translation of A la recherche du temps perdu, published in 1922. Viewing Moncrieff in the context of his turbulent times, Findlay writes with great insight into her subject's inner life, especially his homosexuality. (On Moncrieff's work spying for the War Office while translating Pirandello in Fascist Italy, Findlay writes, "Charles had already got accustomed to living parallel lives; secrecy came naturally to him.") Readers should find Moncrieff as intriguing as the books he translated.