Friday, 23 March 2007

The Translation of Memories

Recollections of the Young Proust from the letters of Marie Nordlinger

This book, by P.F. Prestwich, records the friendship between Marie Nordlinger, the English cousin of the musician and composer Reynaldo Hahn, Hahn himself and Marcel Proust. The three young people (all in their early 20s) met in Paris when Marie went there to study art. It was to prove a life-long friendship, extending over almost thirty years and ending only with Proust's death in 1922. The friendship between the two cousins endured until Hahn's death in 1947.

Prestwich worked with Marie Nordlinger for some years transcribing the correspondence between Marie, Proust and Hahn. She became a close friend of the Nordlinger family and was the inheritor of Marie's archive of letters and other memorabilia.

Although Proust and Nordlinger were drawn together by their shared appreciation of fine arts, cathedrals and the countryside, the mainspring of their friendship was their shared devotion to Reynaldo Hahn, with whom both were, and remained, passionately in love.

Nordlinger was one of the first of Proust's circle to publish some of the letters she received from him - forty one of them are included in Lettres á une amie (Editions du Calame, Manchester, 1942). They contain an Introduction by her giving a brief account of her collaboration with Proust on the translation of two of Ruskin's books, The Bible of Amiens and Sesame and Lilies.

Prestwich's book throws fascinating sidelight on the three characters during all the years they knew and corresponded with each other. Nordlinger herself is worth studying - the talented, artistic daughter of the typically liberal, hard-working Victorian middle class living in Manchester at that time achieved recognition as an artist and sculptor. She also became the agent for a wealthy American collector who gave her carte blanche to travel around in America buying and selling on his account, only marrying when she was 35.

The book gives a wonderfully clear and intimate insight into Proust's work and pre-occupations during the years before he finally published Á La Recherche, as also of Hahn's development as the eminent composer and conductor he eventually became.

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