Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Parents, weather, plaid, mourning, hums

The narrator's Aunt Léonie has died (trust me; that's not a spoiler), and the servant Françoise is grief-stricken. Today's Proust sentence has a little of everything:

That autumn, completely occupied as they were with the formalities that had to be observed, the interviews with notaries and tenants, my parents, having scarcely any time to go on excursions, which the weather frustrated in any case, fell into the habit of letting me go for walks without them along the Méséglise way, wrapped in a great plaid that protected me from the rain and that I threw over my shoulders all the more readily because I sensed that its Scottish patterning scandalized Françoise, into whose mind one could not have introduced the idea that the color of one's clothes had nothing to do with mourning, and to whom, in any case, the sorrow that we felt over the death of my aunt was not very satisfactory, because we had not offered a large funeral dinner, because we did not adopt a special tone of voice in speaking of her, because I even hummed to myself now and then.

From Swann's Way, translated by Lydia Davis (New York: Viking, 2002), 157

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comments: 2

Anonymous said...

I like this sentence a lot, much better than C.K. Scott Moncrieff's version, and especially because it hints at the complex, often touching and sometimes cruel, relationship between the narrator and Francoise. Here's Moncrieff's version, should any reader be interested to compare them:

"During that autumn my parents, finding the days so fully occupied with the legal formalities that had to be gone through, and discussions with solicitors and farmers, that they had little time for walks which, as it happened, the weather made precarious, began to let me go, without them, along the 'Meseglise way,' wrapped up in a huge Highland plaid which protected me from the rain, and which I was all the more ready to throw over my shoulders because I felt that the stripes of its gaudy tartan scandalised Francoise, whom it was impossible to convince that the colour of one's clothes had nothing whatever to do with one's mourning for the dead, and to whom the grief which we had shewn on my aunt's death was wholly unsatisfactory, since we had not entertained the neighbors to a great funeral banquet, and did not adopt a special tone when we spoke of her, while I at times might be heard humming a tune."

I like that Davis's description of the great coat is simple and unpretentious compared to Moncrieff's, and her use of tricolon in the final clauses makes the bit about humming—a delightful punch line in Davis—seem almost tacked on when placed next to the earlier version.

Michael Leddy said...

Stefan, thanks for adding the Scott Moncrieff version of this sentence. Seeing the differences made me curious enough to look at the French in the library this morning. Here it is in the 1954 Bibliothèque de la Pléiade edition, the only French Proust in my library (postdating Scott Moncrieff and predating Davis, who used the 1987 Pléiade edition):

"Cet automne-là, tout occupés des formalités à remplir, des entretiens avec les notaires et avec les fermiers, mes parents, n’ayant guère de loisir pour faire des sorties que le temps d’ailleurs contrariait, prirent l’habitude de me laisser aller me promener sans eux du côté de Méséglise, enveloppé dans un grand plaid qui me protégeait contre la pluie et que je jetais d’autant plus volontiers sur mes épaules que je sentais que ses rayures écossaises scandalisaient Françoise, dans l’esprit de qui on n’aurait pu faire entrer l’idée que la couleur des vêtements n’a rien à faire avec le deuil et à qui d’ailleurs le chagrin que nous avions de la mort de ma tante plaisait peu, parce que nous n’avions pas donné de grand repas funèbre, que nous ne prenions pas un son de voix spécial pour parler d’elle, que même parfois je chantonnais."

So you're right on the money about the plaid: the "gaudy tartan" is of the translator's making. And I'm happy to see that the repetition at the end of the sentence is in the original. It seems especially appropriate if we imagine the narrator sighing with tedium (que, que, que) as he rehearses Françoise's grievances.

It's funny -- with Homer, I'm always comparing translations, largely because I had to work my way through deeply unsatisfactory ones to find ones I like (love). With Proust, it's the opposite -- I'm happy reading the Penguins, and I still haven't felt the impulse to read Scott Moncrieff. But I'm borrowing his Swann's Way right now to at least look.