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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
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    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
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    @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
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    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
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    As I remarked in my first comment, I don't see any reason for a translator who uses Remembrance of Things Past to stick with something close to the Franklin quote. And Googling, the Finding Time Again title, which as you say is really close to Time Found Again, seems to be the only one associated with the overall English title of In Search of Lost Time.
    – Peter Shor
    Jan 9, 2018 at 22:34
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    @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

3 Answers 3

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TLDR: Why is the last volume of Proust's masterpiece Le Temps retrouvé not consistently titled Time Found Again in English? Essentially, because if you change the title of the series from In Search of Lost Time to (say) Remembrance of Things Past, then there's no point to titling the last volume Time Found Again, because this title only makes sense in conjunction with the main title of the series being In Search of Lost Time.

Before I can explain this, I need to say a few things.

First, a deleted answer claimed that Franklin's aphorism “lost time is never found again” has nothing to do with Proust's title. This seems very unlikely. By looking at Google Ngrams, one can see that when Proust wrote the book, the adage “le temps perdu ne se retrouve jamais” was a current saying in French, and this is clearly Franklin's aphorism in French. And further, both the series title and the title of the last book are a play on words referencing this aphorism.

So Proust based his titles on the French adage le temps perdu ne se retrouve jamais. Was this a translation from Franklin's adage? It's not clear. In French, the adage has evolved. From the Ngram, it started in the early 18th century in the form

le temps perdu ne se recouvre jamais,
wasted time is never recovered.

(In French, “temps perdu” can mean either “wasted time” or “lost time”.)

It then evolved to

le temps perdu ne se retrouve jamais,
wasted (lost) time is never found again,

which has a nice play on words with “lost” and “found”.

And it is now most often found in the form

le temps perdu ne se rattrape jamais,
wasted (lost) time is never found again,

which is maybe a slightly nicer play on words, since “rattrape” can also mean “made up for”.

Was Franklin's aphorism translated into French, or did the French saying Le temps perdu ne se recouvre jamais evolve into Le temps perdu ne se retrouve jamais independently, or did Franklin simply steal his aphorism from the French? I don't know. The earliest I can find the exact saying le tems perdu ne se retrouve jamais in French on Google books is in the book Le Grelot, by Paul Baret, Part 1 which was published in 1754, several years after Franklin printed it in Poor Richard's Almanac in 1747, and which makes no reference to Franklin. Furthermore, you can find similar expressions in French (with “retrouver”) well before Franklin. However, it didn't become widely known in French until shortly after it had appeared in Franklin's book La Science du Bonhomme Richard in 1795 and in the French translation of Franklin's autobiography, in 1797.

The overall title of Proust's series, À la recherche du temps perdu, contains a bit of wordplay, with “temps perdu” meaning either “wasted time” or “lost time”. If you're a translator, and the title you're translating contains a play on words, it is generally impossible to translate it faithfully, so translators often replace titles containing plays on words with completely different titles. The original translator, C K Scott Moncrieff, did this with Remembrance of Things Past, which is a quote from Shakespeare's Sonnet 30.

Furthermore, once you've changed the main title, translating the title of the last book, Le Temps retrouvé as Time Found Again is kind of pointless, because if the main title doesn't contain the words “Lost Time”, it makes it difficult for the readers to associate Time Found Again with Franklin's aphorism. Scott Moncrieff died before he could translate the last volume, but two translations of the last volume came out shortly after he died, and these were titled Time Regained, by Stephen Hudson, and The Past Recaptured, by Frederick Blossom. I think these are both reasonable translations of Le Temps retrouvé.

It wasn't until 2003 that an edition was titled Finding Time Again, which I hope is a title the OP would find satisfactory, as it references Franklin's aphorism; this was translated by Ian Patterson as part of a Penguin edition of Proust titled In Search of Lost Time. See Wikipedia for the various editions and titles of English translations.

Finally, let me note that the OP's suggestion for the title: The Search for Lost Time, is an incorrect translation. This would be correct if the title of the French was La Recherche du temps perdu, but the actual French title is À la recherche du temps perdu. With the preposition à being the first word of the title, a more accurate translation is In Search of Lost Time, which is indeed the title of the 21st century Penguin translation.

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  • Such deductions from the Ngram in question are not justifiable or logical. See my answer. Jan 27 at 13:26
  • Could you provide a link to your finding concerning "Le Grelot" (Paul Baret)? I looked on Google Books but couldn't find it. Jan 27 at 13:55
  • @mikerodent: It's here.
    – Peter Shor
    Jan 27 at 14:16
  • Thanks. Now that is intriguing! 1754, compared to 1747, it appears, for Franklin's Almanack. So that to me quite strongly suggests that Baret borrowed that phrase, and I reasonably surmise that the precise phrase, expressed in that precise way, may have grown in France from that point. However, I question the Franklin's originality. In particular I'd point to many people in many cultures expressing similar ideas: from Vergil to a French writer such as Villon ("Les neiges d'antan"). Jan 27 at 14:34
  • In fact, if that is how this phrase entered French, for me it is so banal as an idea that I think Baret was well within his rights not attributing it to Franklin at the time. He probably assumed that Franklin got it from someone else. Or indeed that it was expressing a commonplace. And Franklin may have got it from someone else. We'll probably never know. Jan 27 at 14:45
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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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  • I so love Lit.SE! Where else would you find the expression "the grammatical intrication of the Proustian sentence"? Even better, to suggest – without a hint of irony – that such intrication is "very difficult to convey in the English language"? Donc: À la recherche des mots durs. Jan 27 at 5:18
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"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"

It may seem that way to you, but what proof do you have that more than 5 French people ever read that book Feuillets du Bonhomme Richard? Let alone Marcel Proust.

The phrase "le temps perdu ne se retrouve pas/plus/jamais" is a rather banal one(1), and the Ngrams alluded to by another answerer show firstly that at the time Proust was writing the rattraper version was already more common, and secondly and more importantly that the retrouver version is attested in French well before Feuillets was published in France, in 1845.

Which leads logically to the probability that the person who produced that book Feuillets simply grabbed hold of quite a banal expression which was already common in France at the time.

"Seems to me" is simply not good enough. You don't even produce any proof that this book Feuillets was widely known and read in France after its publication.

I also know of no reason to suppose that Proust had ever heard of Feuillets du Bonhomme Richard, or ever knew that Benjamin Franklin ever wrote anything. Proust left quite a lot of correspondence, and also his contemporaries spoke of him and his literary tastes. It is known, for example, that in terms of English-language writers Proust was keen on Ruskin, George Eliot and Dickens. A demonstration, or at least the slightest inkling of proof, from such sources would be necessary to support your, er, view.

NB Time Regained (for example) is indeed a preferable translation for the title of the final book but, until someone comes up with some actual proof that French people were avidly reading through and taking notes on this turgid-looking and obscure translation of an obscure book in great numbers, this for me has nothing whatsoever to do with Benjamin Franklin.


  1. vast hordes of examples, from literature of all ages and cultures, e.g. Virgil's "fugit inreparabile tempus", as alluded to in a comment to the question. Or indeed a French poet such as Villon, "Les neiges d'antan". Or Omar Khayyam, "when Time lets slip a little perfect hour, O take it - for it will not come again. Like the autumn leaves; breath by breath, they're falling off". Or Chaucer, Introduction to the Man of Law's Tale:

Wel kan Senec and many a philosophre
Biwaillen tyme moore than gold in cofre;
For 'Los of catel may recovered be,
But los of tyme shendeth us,' quod he.
It wol nat come agayn, withouten drede,
Namoore than wole Malkynes maydenhede,

... where Chaucer says this has been a common theme since Antiquity. Ruminations on the irretrievability of time didn't start with Franklin.

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  • Given that the title of the last volume of Proust's work is Le Temps retrouvé, how can you believe that Proust was intending to reference any version of the aphorism but Le temps perdu ne se retrouve jamais/plus/pas? which was still current when Proust wrote (and still is).
    – Peter Shor
    Jan 27 at 13:41
  • Strange. You can't have read my answer very carefully. Specifically the bit in bold. Phrases to this effect were already common in French texts before the book was translated into French. Jan 27 at 13:44
  • My comment was merely pointing out that the fact (which you mention in your answer) that the rattraper version was more common when Proust wrote A la recherche du temps perdu is irrelevant, given that his titles clearly refer to the retrouver version, which was still quite common at the time.
    – Peter Shor
    Jan 29 at 14:45

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