C. K. Scott Moncrieff (1889 - 1930)
In national LGBT History month, we look at the life of gay writer C. K. Scott Moncrieff, the twice-graduate of Edinburgh who became famous for his English translations of Proust.
Scott Moncrieff was born in Stirlingshire and spent his early years there, before gaining a scholarship to the independent Winchester College in 1903.
It was there that he showed signs of being a young genius, choosing the renowned Oscar Wilde bibliographer Christopher Sclater Millard as his mentor, and publishing a short story, 'Evensong and Morwe Song', in New Field, a magazine that he also edited.
The story itself caused a mild sensation at the time, and points to both Scott Moncrieff's latent homosexual desires and the hypocrisy of the age. In it, two boys engage in a sexual act, only for one of them, on becoming headmaster of a school, to punish the other's son for the same offence.
After leaving Winchester, Scott Moncrieff enrolled at the University of Edinburgh. He studied for two degrees - the first in Law, followed by English Literature. He then placed himself under the supervision of the eminent George Saintsbury, the writer, literary historian, critic and wine connoisseur, studying Anglo-Saxon and winning the prestigious Patterson Bursary.
Graduating in 1914 with first class honours, Scott Moncrieff soon applied his expertise to translations of Beowulf.
During the First World War, Scott Moncrieff was given a commission in the Kings Own Scottish Borderers, serving on the Western Front from 1914 until 1917. There, he converted to Catholicism, and was seriously wounded by a shell explosion which tore into his left leg, leaving him permanently lame.
Afterwards, he worked in the War Office in Whitehall while also writing reviews for the literary magazine New Witness.
Moving in literary circles, it was at the wedding of writer Robert Graves that Scott Moncrieff met the war poet Wilfred Owen, attempting and failing to secure him a position at the War Office, and it is believed the pair had a briefly sexual relationship.
Scott Moncrieff also developed a fierce rivalry with Owen's other close friend Osbert Sitwell, who portrayed him unflatteringly in 'All at Sea'. Scott Moncrieff duly responded with the pamphlet 'The Strange and Striking Adventure of Four Authors in Search of a Character', a satire on the Sitwell family.
Around this time, he also befriended a young Noel Coward, and worked for a year as private secretary to Alfred Harmsworth, Lord Northcliffe, owner of The Times.
In 1923 he moved to Italy in an attempt to improve his deteriorating health, and divided his time between Florence, Pisa and Rome. It was here that his work moved into the realms of literary translations.
'Remembrance of Things Past'
Scott Moncrieff is best known for his translations of Proust's 'A la recherche du temps perdu', renamed in English as 'Remembrance of Things Past'. He published the first volume in 1920, eventually resigning all other employment to dedicate himself to translation. Although well received, the accuracy of the translation was questioned by several of Scott Moncrieff's contemporaies, including Proust himself (although he was generally pleased with the overall work).
Scott Moncrieff died of cancer in 1930, aged only 40, and leaving the translation of the final volume of the Proust translations to others.