The great works are ageless, but their translations date; indeed, as Walter Benjamin remarks, the subsequent translations of great works mark their stages of continued life. In most cases, even the case of so extensive a work as War and Peace, translations appear at intervals of about a generation. The Tale of Genji, for all its length, has lately found a second translation, for none is definitive (not even Arthur Waley’s). In the case of Marcel Proust, copyright problems and consequent production costs have delayed what in the case of Mann, of Lorca, of Brecht and Genet has proved an unopposable impulse. In 1972, this undertaking—a second version of Proust’s work—was first entertained, if that is the right word, but only last year did the work slide out of copyright, whereupon three new French editions immediately appeared. I have been working from the Garnier-Flammarion version, published under the general editorship of Jean Milly, and it is hoped that In Search of Lost Time will appear, volume by volume, during the next septenate. What appears here is susceptible still of revision, but I am unlikely to be persuaded to alter the opening phrase; it has become a sort of symbol, for me, of the work’s tenor (and bass). I have tried, throughout, for the sound of the Proustian sentence, its tempo and suspension, recalling that the last word, in French, means as well a source of light, indeed a chandelier.
— Richard Howard
The first line of Remembrance of Things Past is one of the most famous in literature. How does your version differ from the others?
Three versions of Proust’s first sentence—“Longtemps, je me suis couché de bonne heure”—have been published. The Scott Moncrieff-Kilmartin: “For a long time I used to go to bed early.” James Grieve (an Australian professor): “Time was, when I always went to bed early.” And mine: “Time and again, I have gone to bed early.”
And what is the thinking behind your version?
To begin with, “time and again” seems one of those cell-like phrases which sums up a meaning of the whole book, as longtemps does in French. I admire Professor Grieve’s “time was”, but it doesn’t have the notion of recurrence that I wanted. It seemed to me that what was needed was not only an opening phrase which would reveal the book’s meaning, but one that would begin with the word “time”, which would be the last word in the book as well, as it is in French.