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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

BOOKWORM: Proust: An Untimely Translation




Soviet rule lasted in Russia for more than 70 years. But that wasn't long enough for the publication of a full translation into Russian of Marcel Proust's epic "A la recherche du temps perdu," or "Remembrance of Things Past," first appeared in French in seven volumes between 1913 and 1927.


The first attempt to publish Proust in Russian was made in the mid-1920s, when the cooperative Academia issued Proust's first installments of the novel in two pocket-size editions. But within a year or two, all private and non-state-owned publishing houses in the country were closed by Kremlin decree in an attempt to centralize and strengthen ideology in the Soviet Union. Academia survived as a trademark, but was forced to drop the modernistic Proust, and was drastically reoriented toward the publication of traditional 18th- and 19th-century classics.


In the mid-1930s, the state-run Goslitizdat revived the idea and began publishing a seven-volume set by two famous translators of the time, Leningrad residents Andrei Frankovsky and Alexei Fyodorov. Four books saw the light within the next few years, until publication was suspended and deemed a "politically inappropriate ideological mistake." World War II signaled a definitive end to the project: One of the translators starved to death during the Leningrad Blockade, and it was only by pure chance that a manuscript containing a further translation was found half a century later.


The third attempt to publish the complete Proust in Russian was made in the 1970s in Moscow by the largest Soviet state publishing house, Khudozhestvennaya Literatura. Previous translations had been judged "formalistic." Three volumes appeared in Nikolai Lyubimov's translation within the next seven years, but another 15 would pass before the fifth volume was published. Then Lyubimov died, and soon after Soviet power itself.


It was only two years ago that the sixth part, taken from a recovered manuscript of Lyubimov's, was published, and only last month that the work was finally completed, and then presented by translator Alexei Kondratyev at the Moscow International Book Fair.


Proust is no exception to the harsh treatment of foreign classics in Russia. James Joyce's "Ulysses" had to wait until the 1980s, while T.S.Eliot's play "Murder in the Cathedral" was published for the first time only two weeks ago. It's a similar story for contemporary authors, like American novelist John Updike and his "Rabbit" quartet: Complete translations of all four novels have long been ready, but only the first, "Rabbit Run," is so far available in full to readers.


Published by Natalis, the hardcover "Remembrance of Things Past" is for sale for the ruble equivalent of $2.