As I’m currently getting stuck into Proust, I thought I’d have a look at the British and American cover designs for the new Penguin editions of In Search of Lost Time. Their idea was to produce a new English translation to replace C. K. Scott-Moncrieff‘s translation (subsequently reworked by Terence Kilmartin and revised by D.J. Enright for Random House) as the standard English edition. Penguin has grouped the seven novels that comprise Proust’s monumental roman fleuve into six volumes, with the novel twist of having a different translator assigned to each volume. From Penguin UK:
Since the original pre-war translation there has been no completely new rendering of the French original into English. This translation brings to the fore a more sharply engaged, comic and lucid Proust. In Search of Lost Time is one of the greatest, most entertaining reading experiences in any language. As the great story unfolds from its magical opening scenes to its devastating end, Penguin makes Proust accessible to a new generation. Each volume is translated by a different, superb translator working under the general editorship of Professor Christopher Prendergast, King’s College, Cambridge.
Penguin first issued these in the UK and Canada on 14 October 2002 as hardbacks published under the Allen Lane imprint.
Then, from 11 September 2003 to 23 September 2004, they were published on a staggered release schedule in the US by Penguin’s Viking imprint.
Notice that in the US there were only four books. This is apparently due to an American copyright law, designed to protect the outstanding cultural legacy of Walt Disney, that has the unfortunate side effect of preventing the publication of the last two volumes of Proust until 2019.
On 2 October 2003, a year after the original release, the six volumes were reissued in the UK and Canada as Penguin Modern Classics trade paperback editions, with designs essentially the same as the hardback originals.
Finally, from 30 November 2004 to 1 November 2005, the first four volumes were reissued in the US as Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition trade paperbacks, once again subject to copyright restrictions.
Although the British editions are beautifully elegant and rather classy affairs, I’m going to break with tradition here and admit a preference for the American designs. The hardbacks have more modern designs that break with the traditional representation of Proust’s world, much like the new translations are meant to break with the past rendering of his world into English. The design for the Swann’s Way hardback is simply dazzling.
The American paperback editions are also quite stunning. For anyone not familiar with Penguin Classics Deluxe Editions, they are trade paperbacks in a 210mm x 133mm format, produced with sturdy, beautifully illustrated covers and French flaps, with the text itself printed on high quality paper with raggedly cut edges. Very often the covers are designed by renowned cartoonists or illustrators, although I don’t know who did the Proust designs. It’s a real pity that it was not possible to issue all six volumes in these editions.
I’m currently having a go with the first ever single-volume edition, first published by Gallimard in France and Canada on 23 February 1999 as part of their Quarto collection (based on the defintive four volume edition of Proust published between 1987 and 1989 in their Pléiade collection, under the general editorship of renowned Proust scholar Jean-Yves Tadié).
It’s a trade paperback in a 210mm x 140mm format, with a textured vinyl-like cover featuring all seven novels squeezed into 2408 ultra-thin pages. Coming in at CAD 57.00, this edition is considerably cheaper than the sum of the individual volumes, either in French or in English. Despite its thickness and the sheer volume of content it contains, the book is actually quite comfortable to read: it’s supple and manageable, and the text is perfectly readable. If all goes well, I might even get through it by the end of the year. At which point I’ll be able to take advantage of the new line of Proust stationery being launched this fall by Random House to coincide with my new found engouement for Lost Time, or so it would seem…