- Swann in Love trans. by Brian Nelson
'Swann in Love' ('Un amour de Swann') is Part Two of Swann's Way, the first volume of Proust's In Search of Lost Time. This part of the novel—which recounts in flashback in the third person the whole episode of a love affair that does not directly involve the main hero/narrator whose story is told in the first person in the rest of the novel—has the capacity to stand alone, while still giving, in 190 rather than 2,900 pages, an accurate idea of the subtlety of Proust's analyses of love, art and music, the satirical verve of his social descriptions, including the way the characters speak, and his style of writing. There is even an instance of involuntary memory. The first separate edition of 'Un amour de Swann' in French appeared in 1930; between 1986 and 2018 there have been at least nine annotated French editions. While in English, as in French, there have been annotated editions of In Search of Lost Time which have therefore included 'Swann in Love', the present Oxford edition is the first annotated one devoted solely to that text (William Stewart Bell's was of the French text, not of an English translation (Un amour de Swann (New York: Macmillan, 1965)). This is therefore a timely publication.
In his preface to the Penguin Modern Classics translation of Proust's novel, Christopher Prendergast refers to 'the conflict between what we might call the naturalizing and the foreignizing conceptions' of literary translation (In Search of Lost Time, ed. by Prendergast, trans. by Lydia Davis (London: Penguin, 2003), I, xiv). Brian Nelson, who tends to retain Proust's abstract nouns and his long sentences building to a climax at their end, might, in these respects, be put into the second camp. Adam Watt suggests that, to the relief of the neophyte, 'Swann in Love' does not have a profusion of long sentences; but Nelson keeps all that are there, thus allowing the reader a genuinely bracing Proustian experience. Moreover, Nelson's style is rarely awkwardly 'foreignized' and is frequently felicitous. The characters' speech patterns are well caught as are their colloquial expressions (in fact, colloquialisms are even occasionally present in the narrative text when they are absent from the French!). Finally, Nelson has an excellent understanding of what Proust means: each time this reviewer read with puzzlement a sentence of Proust, Nelson's translation gave it a meaning which fitted the narrative without embroidering on it. The founding translation of Proust by C. K. Scott Moncrieff was reproached for its errors: only three times did this reviewer consider Nelson's accuracy open to question.
Annotators of the Proust text have many options but the following four, illustrated by their handling of Notre-Dame de Laghet, a church dear to Odette de Crécy, the woman with whom Swann falls in loves, are the most relevant here. The default, purely factual, note is to say it is a pilgrimage church 'close to Nice' (Davis, in The Way by Swann's, ed. by Prendergast, trans. by Davis, p. 437); beyond that, one can situate the church within the text: 'near Nice where Odette used to live' (Watt, in Swann in Love, trans, by Nelson, p. 185); then again, one can venture into literary criticism: the church 'with its thousands of crude ex-votos was sure to please Odette's taste' (Un amour de Swann, ed. by Bell, [End Page 304] p. 79); and finally, one can provide a link to Proust's life: Jean-Yves Tadié points out that the reference to the church is added late, motivated by Proust's falling in love with his ex-chauffeur, himself from Nice. Taking Watt's and Tadié's notes overall...