C.K. Scott Moncrieff (1889-1930) was a poet, war hero, spy and, above all, one of the world’s greatest translators. Journalist Findlay reveals his natural, effortless writing talent in this story of her great-great uncle.
Moncrieff held a low opinion of his poetry, but his ability to recognize great talent brought him into the brotherhood of the great World War I poets, including Robert Graves, Osbert Sitwell, Siegfried Sassoon and, especially, Wilfred Owen. Moncrieff encouraged Owen in his writing, but it was his unrequited love of Owen that was most important. He vowed to give up poetry because his talent couldn’t compare. So many of England’s young intellectuals wrote of the horrors of war and never returned. Not so, Moncrieff; his work gloried in the chivalry and honor of soldiering and chronicled not blood and death, but flowers, integrity, friendship and the countryside. Beauty was his escape. Crippled by friendly fire and suffering from both shell shock and trench fever, he began writing reviews, criticism and translations. In 1919, he began to translate Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past. It took nine years and seven volumes and was hailed as a masterpiece in its own right. So successful were his Latin, French and Italian translations that he was lauded as one poet catching the emotion of another. In the early 1920s, Moncrieff proposed that the passport office act as a cover for spies, and it was he who reported Mussolini’s attempts at expansion. A spy’s double life came easily as he’d been hiding his homosexuality for years. The most fascinating thing about Moncrieff is that he knew very little French grammar, and his Italian translations began even before he spoke the language.
Findlay employs a vast family archive to bring this little-known writer to the fame he justly deserves, making readers want to turn back to Proust.