C. K. Scott Moncrieff

Charles Kenneth Scott Moncrieff

C.K. Scott Moncrieff painted by Edward Stanley Mercer (1889–1932)
Born (1889-09-25)25 September 1889
Stirlingshire, Scotland
Died 28 February 1930(1930-02-28) (aged 40)
Rome, Italy
Occupation translator, author
Nationality British
Period 1894–1930

Charles Kenneth Scott Moncrieff, MC (25 September 1889 – 28 February 1930) was a Scottish writer, most famous for his English translation of most of Proust's À la recherche du temps perdu, which he published under the Shakespearean title Remembrance of Things Past. His family name is the double-barrelled name "Scott Moncrieff".

Early life

Charles Kenneth Michael Scott Moncrieff was born at Weedingshall, Stirlingshire in 1889,[1] the youngest son of William George (1846–1927), Advocate, Sheriff Substitute, and Jessie Margaret Scott Moncrieff (1858–1936). He had two elder brothers Colin William (1879–1943), the father of the Scottish author and playwright George Scott Moncrieff, and John Irving (1881–1920).


Winchester College

In 1903, Scott Moncrieff was accepted as a scholar to Winchester College.[2][3]

In 1907, while a scholar at Winchester College, Scott Moncrieff met Christopher Sclater Millard, bibliographer of Wildeana and private secretary to Oscar Wilde's literary executor and friend Robert Baldwin Ross.[4]

In 1908, he published a short story, 'Evensong and Morwe Song', in the pageant issue of New Field, a literary magazine of which he was the editor.[5] The story's sensational opening implies fellatio between two boys at a fictional public school 'Gainsborough' but its action principally concerns the hypocrisy of William Carruthers, the elder of the boys, who as headmaster of 'Cheddar' school, goes on to expel, for the same offence, the son of the boy he seduced. The story was republished in 1923 by Uranian publisher John Murray in an edition of fifty copies for private circulation only.[6] The magazine was hastily suppressed, but it is unclear whether Scott Moncrieff was himself expelled.

Edinburgh University

After Winchester, Scott Moncrieff attended Edinburgh University, where he undertook two degrees, one in Law and then one in English Literature. Thereafter, he began an MA in Anglo-Saxon under the supervision of the respected man of letters, George Saintsbury. In 1913 he won The Patterson Bursary in Anglo Saxon and graduated in 1914 with first class honours. This stood him in good stead for his translation of Beowulf five years later.

During his time at Edinburgh, Scott Moncrieff met Philip Bainbrigge, then an undergraduate at Trinity College, Cambridge, later a schoolmaster at Shrewsbury and the author of miscellaneous homoerotic odes to Uranian Love.[7] Bainbrigge was killed in action at Épehy in September 1918.

First World War and after

In August 1914 Scott Moncrieff was given a commission in the Kings Own Scottish Borderers and served with the 2nd Battalion on the Western Front from 1914 to 1917. He made a conversion to Catholicism while at the Front in 1915.[8] On 23 April 1917, while leading the 1st Battalion in the Battle of Arras he was seriously wounded by a shell explosion which tore into his left leg. Although he avoided amputation, his injuries disqualified him from further active service and left him permanently lame.[9]

After his release from hospital in March 1918, Scott Moncrieff worked in the War Office in Whitehall. He supplemented his income by writing reviews for the New Witness, a literary magazine edited by G. K. Chesterton.

At the January 1918 wedding of Robert Graves, Scott Moncrieff met the war poet Wilfred Owen in whose work he took a keen interest. Through his role at the War Office Scott Moncrieff attempted to secure Owen a Home posting which would have prevented his return to the Front. According to Owen's biographer the evidence suggests a 'brief sexual relationship that somehow failed'.[10]

After Owen's death, Scott Moncrieff's failure to secure a "safe" posting for Owen was viewed with suspicion by his friends, including Osbert Sitwell and Siegfried Sassoon. During the 1920s, Scott Moncrieff maintained a rancorous rivalry with Sitwell, who depicted him unflatteringly as "Mr. X" in All At Sea.[11] Scott Moncrieff responded with the pamphlet "The Strange and Striking Adventure of Four Authors in Search of a Character, 1926.", a satire on the Sitwell family.

Through his friendship with the young Noël Coward, he made the acquaintance of Mrs Astley Cooper and became a frequent house guest at her home Hambleton Hall. He dedicated the first volume of his translation of Proust to Mrs Astley Cooper.[12]

After the war, Scott Moncrieff worked for a year as private secretary to the press Baron, Alfred Harmsworth, Lord Northcliffe, owner of The Times, thereafter transferring to the editorial staff in Printing House Square.[13] In 1923 his health compelled him to move to Italy,[14] where he divided his time between Florence and Pisa, and later, Rome.

He subsequently supported himself with literary work, notably translations from medieval and modern French.

Remembrance of Things Past

Scott Moncrieff published the first volume of his Proust translation in 1922, and continued work on the enormous novel until his death in February 1930, at which time he was working on the final volume of the Remembrance. His choice of the title Remembrance of Things Past, by which Proust's novel was known in English for many years, is not a literal translation of the original French. It is, in fact, taken from the second line of Shakespeare's Sonnet 30: "When to the sessions of sweet silent thought / I summon up remembrance of things past".

By the autumn of 1921 Scott Moncrieff had resigned his employment and determined to live from then on by translation alone. He had already successfully published his Song of Roland and Beowulf, and now undertook to translate Proust's huge masterpiece in its entirety. He persuaded Chatto & Windus Publishers to issue the complete Remembrance of Things Past (as he now christened the novel in English).

On 9 September 1922 Sydney Schiff, an English admirer and friend of Proust, was alarmed by the following publisher's announcement in The Athenaeum:

Messers Chatto & Windus, as publishers, and Mr. Scott Moncrieff, as author, have almost ready the first installment of M. Marcel Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past in the English translation. The title of this initial volume is 'Swann’s Way.'

Schiff hastened to inform Proust that the titles in the English version were "hopelessly inaccurate". Proust, highly distressed, considered stopping publication. But Swann's Way came out in English as scheduled on 19 September 1922. "Despite his shaky acquaintance with English, Proust was relieved a little as he struggled through his own copy by the beauty he dimly perceived." The English reviews too were extremely complimentary to the work itself and even more so to the translation.

Thus on 10 October 1922, Proust wrote to Scott Moncrieff, thanked him for "the trouble you have taken," and complimented him on his "fine talent." But his tone was still grudging and prickly. "The verses you have inserted and the dedication to your friends are no substitute for the intentional ambiguity of my Temps perdu, which corresponds to the Temps retrouve that appears at the end of my work." [15] And Swann's Way might—so Proust said—have been better called To Swann's Way.[16]

Scott Moncrieff, "equally ruffled" replied as follows: "My dear Sir, I beg that you will allow me to thank you for your very gratifying letter in English as my knowledge of French — as you have shown me, with regard to your titles —is too imperfect, too stunted a growth for me to weave from it the chapelet that I would fain offer you. Are you still suffering — which I am very sorry to hear, and wish that my real sympathy could bring you some relief — I am making my reply to your critiques on another sheet, and by the aid of a machine which I hope you do not abominate: it is the machine on which Swann and one-third of the Jeunes Filles have been translated. Thus you can throw away this sheet unread, or keep it, or inflict it upon M. Gallimard." As Proust died very shortly after, on 18 November 1922, this correspondence had no sequel.

The further volumes of Scott Moncrieff's Remembrance were published in the years that followed in grand sequence:

Scott Moncrieff died in 1930 only 40 years old, leaving the translation of the final volume of the Remembrance to other hands.

Death and after

The original French text of the Remembrance was re-edited in later years, in two successive editions, and these additions and revisions were subsequently incorporated in later English translations. Thus, Terence Kilmartin revised the Scott Moncrieff translation in 1981, and an additional revision was made by D.J. Enright in 1992. The work in the Enright edition is given the more literal title of In Search of Lost Time. Most recently, and under the same overall title, Yale University Press has begun to publish a new version of Scott Moncrieff's translation, edited and annotated by William C. Carter, with the first two volumes published in 2013 and 2015.

Scott Moncrieff died of cancer at Calvary Hospital in Rome in 1930. He was buried in the Campo Verano. His remains lie in a small communal ossuary with those who died in the same month at the same convent. The exact place can be located by doing a search by name and date of death at the gate.

The Society of Authors administers the annual award of a Scott Moncrieff Prize for French Translation.

Chasing Lost Time: the Life of C K Scott Moncrieff, Soldier, Spy and Translator by his great-great-niece Jean Findlay was published in 2014.[17]


Among the many works translated by Scott Moncrieff are:


  1. J.M. Scott Moncrieff and L.W. Lunn (eds), C.K. Scott Moncrieff: Memories and Letters, (1930), p. 1
  2. Memories and Letters, p. 8.
  3. Beckman, Jonathan (17 August 2014). "Chasing Lost Time: the Life of C K Scott Moncrieff, Soldier, Spy and Translator by Jean Findlay, review: 'cherishes inconsequential events'". The Telegraph. Retrieved 16 January 2015.
  4. Maureen Borland, Wilde's Devoted Friend: A Life of Robert Ross (Oxford: Lennard Press, 1990)
  5. See David Leavitt and Mark Mitchell (eds.), Pages Passed from Hand to Hand: The Hidden Tradition of Homosexual Literature in English from 1748 to 1914 (1998), pp. 375–80
  6. Timothy d'Arch Smith, Love in Earnest: Some Notes on the Lives and Writings of English "Uranian" Poets from 1889 to 1930 (1970), p. 147
  7. D'Arch Smith, Love in Earnest, pp. 148–50
  8. Memories and Letters, pp. 92-3.
  9. Memories and Letters, pp. 127–8
  10. Dominic Hibberd, Wilfred Owen: A New Biography (2002), p. 315
  11. Osbert Sitwell, All at Sea: a social tragedy in three acts for first class passengers only, with a preface entitled A few Days in an Author's Life (Duckworth: London, 1927)
  12. Philip Hoare, Noël Coward: A Biography, (University of Chicago Press, 1998)
  13. Memories and Letters, p. 150.
  14. Memories and Letters, p. 152.
  15. Letter from Proust to Scott Moncrieff dated 10 October 1922 in National Library, Edinburgh
  16. George D. Painter: Marcel Proust, A Biography
  17. "ck scott moncrieff News - Speakeasy - WSJ". WSJ.

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