Colin Nettelbeck reviews 'Chasing Lost Time' by Jean Findlay

Colin Nettelbeck reviews 'Chasing Lost Time' by Jean Findlay

Chasing Lost Time: The Life of C.K. Scott Moncrieff: Soldier, Spy and translator

by Jean Findlay

Chatto & Windus, $59.99 hb, 368 pp, 9780701181079

Jean Findlay had access to an impressive array of sources when writing this biography of her great-great uncle. She does not always make the best choices in navigating the mass of material: too many pages are cluttered with unsifted detail, and the family history genre often interferes with the biographical project of a significant public figure. However, the multiplicity of authentic documents – letters, poems, notes, diaries – allows Charles Scott Moncrieff to emerge as a vital, brilliant, conflicted whirlwind of a man whose courage in war, devotion to friends and family, and profound religious commitment were accompanied by rampaging sexual promiscuity and a large measure of self-deprecation. He never became the great poet or fiction writer he had dreamed of being in his youth, but his life nonetheless belonged primarily to literature. It was as a translator that he made his lasting contributions, and above all, of course, as the first, and best, English translator of Proust.

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Colin Nettelbeck

Colin Nettelbeck

Colin Nettelbeck is an Emeritus Professor at the University of Melbourne, where he held the A.R. Chisholm Chair of French. He taught previously at the University of California (Berkeley) and Monash University. He has written extensively about twentieth-century and contemporary French literature, cinema, and cultural history, with special focus on the French experience of World War II. His most recent book is Dancing with de Beauvoir: Jazz and the French, published by Melbourne University Press in 2004. His essay ‘Kneecapper: a Trip to Happiness’ (published in the Autumn 2011 Meanjin Quarterly) was shortlisted for the 2010 Calibre Prize for an Outstanding Essay. He was awarded second prize in the 2012 Calibre Prize for ‘Now They’ve Gone’.

Published in May 2015, no. 371

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