Jean Findlay: Chasing Lost Time: The Life of C.K. Scott Moncrieff: Soldier, Spy and Translator
C.K. Scott Moncrieff’s translation of Proust’s A La Recherche du Temps Perdu was first published in English in 1922. It was hailed as ‘nothing less than extraordinary’ and was the beginning of a work for Scott Moncrieff that would exhaust and consume him, leading to his early death at the age of just forty. Joseph Conrad told Scott Moncrieff, ‘I was more interested and fascinated by your rendering than by Proust’s creation’ and to many, Scott Moncrieff is credited as the man who brought Proust to popular attention and wide acclaim to be hailed as a genius.
From the outside an enigma, Scott Moncrieff left a trail of writings which tell his story: poems, journalism, stories and thousands of personal letters. A decorated war hero, his letters home are an unusual take on day-to-day life on the front. Described as ‘offensively brave’, he was severely injured in his legs in 1917 and, convalescing in London, he became a lynchpin of literary society — friends with Robert Graves and Noel Coward, enemies with Siegfried Sassoon and in love with Wilfred Owen. Later as a spy in the 1920s he sent reports on Mussolini’s regime that would inform Britain’s hidden war with Italy.