Why an Imperfect Version of Proust is a Classic in English

“One other, I think significant, aspect of the translation that the biography illuminates is the intertwining, in Moncrieff’s imagination, between the materials of Proust and the related—slightly different, but related—rhythms of Henry James. James’s direct influence on Proust is debated; certainly James disliked what he read of the French writer. But in Moncrieff’s mind Proust and James always seem to come up together, to get twinned—and not James’s novels so much as his occasional writing and non-fiction. Opening James’s letters, Moncrieff remarks that it is ‘a book that fills the emptiest winter room with the warm breath of intimate communicative people.’”

The first translation I read of Proust’s great novel was that of Scott Moncrieff, corrected by Terrance Kilmartin. After that, I read the book in French several times. When I went back and browsed through the English translation, I saw so many areas where it was simply wrong. However, the translation, as it stood, worked fairly well.

I’ve always felt that best example of Proust’s style in English is that of Henry James’ late novels. As I’ve written about Proust, his style is very close to that of spoken French. Interestingly, James’ late style is also that of spoken language; Henry James took up dictation in 1897, and has major novels – The Wings of the Dove, The Ambassadors, and The Golden Bowl – were written in voice. The style of these three novels is quite similar to that of Proust.

Source: Why an Imperfect Version of Proust is a Classic in English – The New Yorker