Translating back the translation wouldn’t yield the original

Gilbert Adair opted as a student to read the first and last portions of Proust’s masterpiece in French but relied on the English translations for the middle volumes:

Very gradually, as I struggled through the poetic thickets of the English text, I realised I’d made a mistake. Scott Moncrieff was a brilliant prose writer but, as a translator, patently something of a traducer. After finishing “Du côté de chez Swann” in French, then switching to “Within a Budding Grove” in English, it became obvious to me that Proust himself, though undeniably an arduous stylist, was not at all the florid, euphuistic précieux into which Scott Moncrieff had transformed him. (It would be an amusing Borgesian exercise to get some quixotic don to translate the translation back into French just to see what it looked like — Remémoration de choses passées?) And if, as a student, I continued to wade through Scott Moncrieff, up to “Le Temps retrouvé”, on the grounds that it was easier to read even an unnecessarily ornate translation than the cleaner, leaner (not to mention, funnier) French original, for a long time thereafter I was slightly ill-at-ease whenever anyone asked me if I’d read Proust. Well, yes and no, was as near as I could give to an honest answer.

(Via Languor Management.)


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