Marcel Proust wrote a seven-volume French novel called A la Recherche du Temps Perdu. The original French title of the last volume was Le Temps Retrouvé.

It seems to me that in these titles Proust intended an allusion to one of the aphorisms that Ben Franklin included in his book Poor Richard’s Almanac:

Lost time is never found again.

In the French translation of Franklin's book, Feuillets du Bonhomme Richard, this aphorism is translated as:

Le tems perdu ne se retrouve jamais.

All of the important words in this translation also appear in Proust’s titles, and the meaning of the titles seems to resonate the meaning of the aphorism. This supports the conclusion that Proust was alluding to Franklin’s words as they appeared in the Feuillets du Bonhomme Richard.

If that’s right, and Proust intended to allude to Franklin’s words, then it would seem natural that the English translations of the titles should revert to Franklin’s words. The titles should be translated The Search For Lost Time and Time Found Again.

Why should they be? Suppose that a French author wrote a book called The Sound And The Fury, and that an English translation was to be published. It would be common sense to call the English translation The Sound And The Fury rather than Noise and Rage, even if Noise and Rage was an equally accurate translation of the French title. The reason it would be common sense is that the French title suggested to French readers some connection to Macbeth's lines, and the best English title would preserve this suggestion, as The Sound And The Fury does, but as Noise and Rage fails to do. Of course other titles might actually be chosen, and perhaps for good reason; but common sense would suggest The Sound And The Fury.

In the case of Proust’s books, common sense did not prevail. In English translations published over the years Proust’s last title, Le Temps Retrouvé, has been rendered variously:

This strikes me as strange. Why did the English translations not use Franklin’s words?

One possibility is that they did not believe, and perhaps did not even consider, that Proust was alluding to Franklin. Another possible reason would seem to be that they did believe that Proust was alluding to Franklin but thought other phrases made better titles.

Apparently, evidence relevant to this question might include:

  • logical reasoning
  • the words of Proust and his editors, translators and publishers, perhaps expressed in diaries, correspondence or even advertising
  • similar words attributed to other authors before Franklin's time, or contemporary with him, suggesting that the idea (that lost time cannot be found again) was already a commonplace and that the similarity in wording (between Franklin’s aphorism and Proust’s titles) is a meaningless coincidence
  • If you change the title of the whole series to "Remembrance of Things Past," haven't you already jettisoned the Ben Franklin quote (if that's what the title was based on) and doesn't "Time Found Again" stop being meaningful?
    – Peter Shor
    Jan 8, 2018 at 22:24
  • Is there any chance that Franklin was paraphrasing something from Seneca? Jan 8, 2018 at 23:27
  • @Peter Shor Yes, that original English title was deliberately different from the French one. It's a quote from Shakespeare (whom Proust loved, by the way) with resonances all its own. Personally, I think it was a good title, apparently chosen by Scott-Moncrieff. The English titles of the last volume, though, seem to be literal translations of the French, which is in turn a literal translation of the English words of Franklin.
    – Chaim
    Jan 9, 2018 at 12:53
  • 3
    I think you need to have a stronger case that Proust was alluding to Franklin before you are allowed to be surprised. Jan 9, 2018 at 22:25
  • 1
    @Chaim Before I accept the premise of your question, that P was quoting F, I'd like to have such possibilities as the one I threw up put to rest. There is a sly rhetorical trick, of converting a hypothesis into a fact by restating it in various ways until the audience is lulled into acquiescence and then into belief. As in, "Why haven't you stopped beating your wife? Wife-beating is a widespread practice, deplored by all people of good will..." Insinuation, I think it's called, and I'm trying to use it here. Jan 10, 2018 at 13:02

1 Answer 1


The translation of "A la Recherche du Temps Perdu" by "Rememberance of things past" is not so bad as well as your proposition "The Search For Lost Time". On the other hand, the translation of the seventh volume "Le temps retrouvé" by "Time Found Again" is a bit disputable in particular with respect to the actual content of that last volume.

In the first place "Le temps retrouvé" is a terrible shock with that party of people wearing masks which in fact are not masks but simply wrinkles and manifestation of time on their old faces. It seems to me that there is notion of relief in your proposition "Time Found Again", and that relief is not present in the book. I would agree with you that the current state of translations is not good either, but I would bluntly conclude that Proust is impossible to translate: somehow, it would be shorter to learn French than to provide a decent translation of the whole book, in particular because of the grammatical intrication of the Proustian sentence, which is very difficult to convey in the English language.

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