Penguin Proust

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…


~ by Thomas on 2007-Jul-8.

9 Responses to “Penguin Proust”

  1. Great post! I’m in a Proust reading group here in Buenos Aires and recently abandoned the Scott-Moncrieff version when I saw the new Penguin translations in a used bookstore. (Besides Scott-Moncrieff’s translation was driving me crazy). So now I have the Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition of Swann’s Way. I wasn’t really too fond of the cover, though the book designer in my family liked it.

    One thing I noted about this edition is that it has the words “In Search of Lost Time” no where on the cover or title page. I thought that was odd. But it is an attractive paperback binding, overall great packaging that I enjoy using.

    Yet, our favorite cover designs of Proust are those of the Viking imprint.

    Are you really going to read all 2,408 pages this year?! Impressive. I hope just to get through the 2nd volume before year’s end.

  2. Thanks for the comment Jeff. Jane Smiley wrote a piece for Salon a couple of years ago suggesting that it would be possible to read all of In Search of Lost Time (in English translation) in 70 days without too much trouble. I figure that since I don’t read quite as quickly in French and that I share attention span issues with the rest of my generation, half a year would be a reasonable goal. So far so good, but we’ll see how it turns out.

  3. I just read the Smiley article. Thanks for the link. She certainly makes 65 pages/90 minutes a day sound reasonable. Now, I need to step up the pace, more time with Proust, less with the net. Indeed.

  4. Thanks a lot for this very interesting post :-)

  5. A rather interesting post indeed.

  6. […] House Proust After the response generated by the first post, I’ve decided to continue my look at cover designs for Proust, today examining those coming […]

  7. Hello,

    I found your blog today, and particularly this post, because I was looking for some more information about a Penguin’s deluxe edition of Proust. I saw it today in a store in London and I was impressed by the design. Since you seem not to have it in your blog, I thought you might would like to check it out. So here are the covers:
    And I’m glad I saw this book today, cuz now I know your blog, which is really interesting !

  8. the davis translation is wonderful. having just read both the moncreiff/kilmartin, then the davis, the latter felt so much lighter, the sentences not weighed down with a billion commas. too bad she didn’t translate the rest…

  9. …is this true? the US Copyright laws are preventing the release of the final two books for the penguin deluxe edition? I’ve been waiting for over a year to move on and wanted to stay true to the same edition.

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