C K Scott Moncrieff born 25 September 1889 (d. 1930)
Charles Kenneth Scott Moncrieff MC 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. Scott Moncrieff's Proust translation (volumes one through six of the seven) has earned him a place as one of the greatest translators of all time.
He attended Winchester College and while still a schoolboy, became associated with the Wildean circles of Robert Ross and Christopher Millard, with whom he began a sexual relationship which was to last into his twenties.
In 1907, he published a short story, 'Evensong and Morwe Song', in the pageant issue of New Field, the literary magazine that he edited, while at Winchester College. The story deals explicitly with sex between boys at public schools. The magazine was hastily suppressed, although not before copies of the offending edition had been mailed to parents. The story was republished in 1923 in an edition of fifty copies for private circulation only. It was never published again in the author's lifetime. Although it is commonly claimed that Scott Moncrieff was expelled for this act of rebellion, this fact is disputable: Scott Moncrieff's letters, published posthumously, mention his returning there before the war as an 'old boy', which would have been unlikely had he left in disgrace.
After Winchester, Scott Moncrieff attended Edinburgh University, where he undertook a degree in English Literature, a novel and somewhat flamboyant choice for the son of an eminent magistrate. Thereafter, he began an MA in Anglo-Saxon under the supervision of the respected man of letters, George Saintsbury. He graduated in 1914 with first class honours, winning a prestigious prize for his translation of Beowulf.
During his time at Edinburgh, Scott Moncrieff made the acquaintance of Philip Bainbrigge, a schoolmaster at Shrewsbury and the author of miscellaneous homoerotic odes to Uranian Love. He was also a close friend of Vyvyan Holland, younger son of Oscar Wilde.
He fought in the World War I, serving on the Western Front from 1914 until 1917, when he was seriously wounded in the right leg after being thrown into the air by a shell explosion from behind. He walked with a limp for the rest of his days.
While convalescing in London in 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 the great man of letters G K Chesterton. During this time he befriended the young poet Robert Graves. He also succeeded, inadvertently, in earning the life-long enmity of Siegfried Sassoon whose The Old Huntsman he had given a mixed review.
It was at the wedding of Robert Graves in January 1918 that Scott Moncrieff met another poet, Wilfred Owen, with whom he maintained a difficult relationship for several months. Biographers of Owen disagree over whether or not this relationship was sexual. Coded sonnets by Scott Moncrieff, addressed to a 'Mr. W. O.,' suggest that his love for Owen was unrequited. However, rumours of an affair were enough for Graves to cut off correspondence with both men.
On the day of Graves' wedding Scott Moncrieff testified as a character witness at the trial of his erstwhile lover, Millard, at great personal risk to himself.
The last months of the war dealt a cruel blow. His closest friend, Bainbrigge, was killed in September 1918, and another ex-lover, the poet Ian Mackenzie, died of pneumonia the following month. Owen was killed in action on 4 November 1918, Scott Moncrieff arriving at the Front too late to be reunited with his beloved.
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 Sassoon. Sitwell reportedly told one biographer that Scott Moncrieff had 'as good as murdered' Owen. Scott Moncrieff was subsequently cut out from the attempt by Edith Sitwell and Sassoon to publish Owen's poetry, despite being in possession of some original drafts. During the 1920s, Scott Moncrieff maintained a rancorous rivalry with Sitwell, who depicted him unflattering as 'Mr. X' in All At Sea.
In 1919, Scott Moncrieff published a translation of The Song of Roland, dedicating it to his three fallen friends. The poem addressed to Owen, the last in his series of sonnets, expresses a hope that their 'two ghosts' will 'together lie' in the next life.
During this time, he also developed an interest in spiritualism after an experience at Hambleton, the country home of Lady Astley Cooper, to whom he dedicated the first volume of his translation of Proust.
After the war, Scott Moncrieff worked as private secretary to the press Baron, Alfred Harmsworth or Lord Northcliffe, owner of The Times, until Northcliffe's death in 1922. Soon after, his health compelled him to move to Tuscany, Italy, 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.
Scott Moncrieff died of cancer at Calvary Hospital in Rome in 1930 and was buried in that city. He has no grave since his remains were interred in a communal ossuary.
Although his translations of Proust's masterpiece have been revised and updated in subsequent years there is debate in literary circles as to whether these have actually improved on Scott Moncrieff's originals.
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