Category Archives: proust

Proust Translator Interivew

Chad Post offers up an interview with the translator of Proust’s "new" book, one of the 25 nominated for the Best Translated Book of 2008 award.

For those who don’t recall, the new Proust is called The Lemoine Affair and is a sort of pastiche of French literary styles. The translator is Charlotte Mandell, and she is also the translator of a book that is slightly longer than 2666 and very well might appear on 2009’s longlist

Mandell first expplains where exactly this book came from:

The Proust project was my idea—Dennis and Valerie had asked me for some
French ideas for their novella series, so I came up with three:
Balzac’s The Girl with the Golden Eyes (which has been translated a number of times, but not to my liking), Jules Verne’s The Castle in Transylvania (_Le Château des Carpathes_, which was translated as The Carpathian Castle a while ago but is now out of print), and Proust’s Pastiches. (I had already translated Flaubert’s A Simple Heart and Maupassant’s The Horla for Melville House.) My friend Mark Cohen had given me a copy of Pastiches et mélanges a year or so before that, and while I knew the Mélanges (a collection of essays on art and literature) had been translated and published as Against Sainte-Beuve, I couldn’t find any published translation of the Pastiches.
Which is sort of shocking, considering what wonderful material it
is—Proust writing as Flaubert and Balzac!—but then again, it is a
difficult piece to translate, so maybe no one wanted to tackle it

And then later on they get into why Proust wrote the book and what it’s like:

Proust admired Saint-Simon as a writer; I think one of the reasons the
Saint-Simon pastiche is the longest one is that Proust got a little
carried away with it, and it began to sound more like Proust than like
Saint-Simon (the long sentence describing Proust’s close friend Robert
de Montesquiou, the Symbolist poet and one of the models for Charlus,
on pp. 79-80 sounds like pure Proust at his best). Proust said he wrote
the pastiches partly to purge these authors from his system, so that
when he began his great work, A la recherche du temps perdu, his voice would be entirely his own. I think Saint-Simon was the hardest author for him to exorcise!

The entire interview makes for an interesting perspective on what I certainly think is one of the more interesting books to be published here in 2008. And the part where Mandell lists notable literary pastishes is excellent.

Lemoine Affair Review

Proust’s long-untranslated-into-English literary pastiche inspired by heavy losses in a coal-to-diamonds scam has been reviewed at Bloomberg.

Interestingly, Proust, who had (in my opinion) one of the most distinctive styles of the 20th century, here mostly relies on mimeticism:

His book “Pastiches et melanges,” translated for the first
time into English by Charlotte Mandell under the title “The
Lemoine Affair,” contains a series of newspaper pieces Proust
wrote about a diamond scandal that rocked Paris. Hardly straight
news articles, each parodies a major French writer, such as
Honore de Balzac and Gustave Flaubert. . . .

Proust had inherited De Beers stock from his parents and
fretted that the scandal would erode his portfolio. At the same
time, he was inspired by the literary potential of Lemoine’s
intrigue and hit upon an ingenious way to retell it — that’s the
true alchemy here.    

Later on, the review reports that writing in the styles of previous great French authors might have helped Proust develop his style:

Edmund White, in his short Penguin Lives biography of Proust, says the writer enjoyed imitating the styles of writers he admired excessively “so that he could be in conscious control of their influence on him and, in a sense, `exorcise’ their impact on his prose.”

As misinvestments go, sounds like Proust got off fairly easily. For my money, the most pitiably foolish misinvestment by a literary author must be Mark Twain’s shoveling of dollars after dollars into a typesetting machine that never really worked:

Twain’s love for technology and his background in printing led him to invest in the compositor. Between 1880 and 1894 he invested a fortune into its development, resulting in his near bankruptcy. In an 1889 letter to his brother Orion, Twain writes,

    "All the other inventions of the human brain sink pretty nearly into commonplaces contrasted with this awful mechanical miracle. Telephones, telegraphs, locomotives, cotton gins, sewing machines, Babbage calculators, Jacquard looms, perfecting presses, Arkwright’s frames – all mere toys, simplicities! The Paige Compositor marches alone & far in the lead of human inventions."

Though the Paige Compositor was faster than the Linotype, its 18,000 parts were prone to malfunction. Paige’s invention exhibited superior technological achievement, but its price and temperamental nature made it unattractive to a business world that had already embraced the Linotype. Still, it is regarded today as one of the finest examples of nineteenth century mechanical engineering.


The Surrender is Veronica Scott Esposito’s “collection of facts” concerning how she embraced her true gender.


Two long essays of 10,000 words each on sex in—and out of—literature . . .

The first essay dives in to Nicholson Baker’s “sex trilogy,” explaining just what Baker is up to here and why these books ultimately fail to be as sexy as Baker might wish.

From there the book moves on to the second essay, which explains just why Spaniard Javier Marías does right what Baker does wrong . . .


5 essays. 2 interviews.

All in all, over 25,000 words of Latin American literary goodness.

3 never-before-published essays, including “The Digression”—a 4,000-word piece on the most important digression in César Aira’s career.

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