American edition of the “new,” non-Moncrieff translation of Proust’s posthumous novel, a story and a metastory alike that are full of tangles.
Copyright snags kept the British retranslation of The Prisoner from appearing in the U.S. for a full 16 years after being published in the U.K., but that’s only the beginning of a minor saga. Famously neurasthenic and agoraphobic, Proust died before this book appeared, and it hadn’t been part of the original plan for what became the six-volume In Search of Lost Time in any event. Had he been alive, writes translator Clark, “the book would have been considerably different from the one we have now.” She only begins to suggest those differences, but one wonders whether the already shrouded relationship Proust describes between his narrator, in many respects a stand-in for himself, and the rough-edged orphan Albertine might have been obscured even further, for while there is sex, there is no union and no clear reason why Albertine should have come to live with the narrator and his mother in the first place, Mama having perhaps been made nervous at the thought “that by expressing any reservations about the girl to whom I said I was going to become engaged, she might cast a shadow over my future life…perhaps lead me to reproach myself, once she was gone, for having hurt her by marrying Albertine.” It’s all very mysterious, for Albertine comes and goes, as do other characters who figure in the saga, such as M. de Charlus and the Duchesse de Guermantes; yet, each is there at exactly the right time. Proust, sharp-eyed and thinly veiled, writes here of the widespread acceptance of anti-Semitism and nationalism, there of sexual desire and its discontents (“It is the homosexuality that survives in spite of obstacles, condemned, covered in shame, that is the real homosexuality”), and always, always, of his Garbo-esque desire to be left alone.
A classic work of early modernist literature given new life, thereby to fuel a new conversation about the book and its author in a decidedly different world.