Colin Nettelbeck reviews 'Chasing Lost Time' by Jean Findlay

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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Published in May 2015, no. 371

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