Is autobiographical in search of lost time

16 variants of the famous opening movement are known

While writing “Against Saint-Beuve” in 1908 and 1909, Proust realizes that the autobiographical will always get in the way of a classic essay, but that the discursive and the fiction need not be mutually exclusive. In the essay, which appeared long after his death in 1954, Proust first deals with the literary critic Charles-Augustin Saint-Beuve, who died in 1869, but increasingly adds more narrative parts, starting with the memory of a room well shielded from noise and light: “Up to the age of twenty I slept all night with short interruptions,” you can read as the first sentence in “Drafts for an Overture”. Or: “Sometimes I fell asleep all of a sudden without having the thought that I was falling asleep.” This finally resulted in the famous “research” beginning, “Longtemps je me suis couché de bonne heure”, “I went to sleep early for a long time gone ”, followed by the second sentence:“ Sometimes, when I have barely extinguished the candle, my eyes closed so quickly that I no longer had time to say to myself: 'Now I am falling asleep' ”.

Some things appear fresher in the new translation, others just look different and cumbersome

From the "16. Variant "of the opening sentence is spoken by the Berlin philologist Bernd-Jürgen Fischer in his recently published new translation of Proust's novel." The final form is found in 1911 in the third revision of 'Combray ‘", Fischer continues. Like Eva Rechel-Mertens in her first complete German translation from the 1950s and, most recently, Luzius Keller in his revised Frankfurt edition, Fischer is of course in a constant struggle with the syntactic lack of boundaries and complexity typical of Proust. Some sentences now seem fresher and clearer, others just seem different and awkward. As a German-speaking reader, you can choose what you find more beautiful and correct. When, for example, the Madeleine finally had its effect after the tenth attempt: "And then all of a sudden the memory was there." (Rechel Mertens) "And then all of a sudden the memory appeared to me." (Fischer) The latter is literally translated, In the original it is “Et tout d'un coup le souvenir m'est apparu” - but the comparison is astonishing: a memory that “appears”?

Such nuances change little in the beautiful magic of the original, which changes a reading life. Once again one is amazed when reading, especially knowing the complete works, how all threads leading to the end are laid out here at the beginning. Much has been said about the locations of Combray and Paris, but the narrator's stations that only later became important are already mentioned, Balbec, Doncières and Venice. The name of Charlus is mentioned, that of the tailor Jupien, that of Gilberte, which little Marcel also glimpses (and with whom he falls in love simply because she is acquainted with the writer Bergotte); The two paths of walks to Méséglise and Guermantes, which one day turn out to be one path, are forebodingly described. It is deceptions, dreams and illusions that oppress and inspire the young Marcel, the "research" tells its own story from the beginning. The happiness that the adult narrator feels in the end during his ecstatic memory is also the happiness of the Proust reader.

Marcel Proust: On the way to Swann. Translation and comments by Bernd-Jürgen Fischer. Reclam Verlag, Stuttgart 2013. 695 pages, € 29.95

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