"Longtemps, je me suis couché de bonne heure."
That’s how this famous first line appears in the original French. It’s a line that has been translated a number of different ways throughout the years:
"For a long time I used to go to bed early." (C. K. Scott Moncrieff)
"For a long time I would go to bed early." (D J Enright)
"For a long time, I went to bed early." (Lydia Davis)
Then again, it’s from a book whose translated title is still the subject of some debate. It’s an interesting first line, in that it serves as the opening salvo for the novel Swann’s Way, as well as the introduction to Proust’s seven-volume masterpiece, In Search of Lost Time (or Remembrance of Things Past, if you prefer that title).
In either case, it’s a deceptively short and straightforward opening into a work whose later sentences can seem like veritable labyrinths to an overwhelmed reader. You’ll feel like a world-class hurdler as you learn to work your way over dependent clause after dependant clause, keeping your eye on the subject and racing in search of its main predicate ten lines down the page. Frankly, it’s a bit of a mess before you get used to it.
Still, I don’t know if I’ve read many books that reached me on quite so deep a level, or many authors who are quite so precise or so thorough in getting their meanings across. And I think the extremely personal nature of the prose starts in that very first line.
Anyone read it? Did you like it? Hate it? Toss it of with ambivalence? I’d be interested to hear.