The Written Image: Swann's Way

It might seem impossible to transform Marcel Proust’s elusive, expansive, and syntactically complex Swann’s Way into a graphic novel, but that’s just what French artist Stéphane Heuet has done. From 1998 to 2013, Heuet published his illustrated adaption of the work in six installments, all in French. This month, Norton has released all six together, in English, for the first time. Translated by Arthur Goldhammer, the graphic novel is meant to be an introduction to Proust’s work, Goldhammer says, not a substitute. “Both Stéphane Heuet and I have tried to preserve the ‘flavor’ of Proust—or, as they say in Combray, his ‘fragrance’—as un ménu de dégustation, or [a] tasting menu, tries to give a full sampling of the dishes in the repertoire of a great chef,” he writes in the book’s preface. “Those who find the taste to their liking will want to return often to savor fuller portions.” The text is a stripped-down version of the original, with many passages omitted and sections of narration adapted into dialogue. Goldhammer found an upside to this “ruthless compression,” writing, “It sheds a revealing light on the book’s armature, on the columns, pillars, and arches that support the narrator’s resurrected memories….” As such, this new translation might make Proust’s masterpiece accessible to more readers. When Heuet embarked on the project in 1998, he told the New York Times, “Proust has been kept in a ghetto of snobs as a sort of precious gold and diamond object. For me, any effort to democratize Proust is valid.”