Terence Kilmartin

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Terence Kevin Kilmartin CBE (10 January 1922 – 17 August 1991) was an Irish-born translator who served as the literary editor of The Observer between 1952 and 1986.[1] He is best known for his 1981 translation of Remembrance of Things Past by Marcel Proust.[1]

Early life[edit]

Kilmartin was born on 10 January 1922 in the Irish Free State. Moving to England as a child, he was educated at Xaverian College in Mayfield, East Sussex. His limited knowledge of French developed when, at the age of 17, he was recruited to teach English to a French family's children.

During the Second World War, Kilmartin was keen to serve in the armed forces, however, with only one kidney he was deemed medically unfit.[1] Instead he served in the Special Operations Executive (SOE).[1] He worked in London under Colonel Maurice Buckmaster.[2] Kilmartin defied orders from Buckmaster in 1944 to take part in a parachute jump into France as part of Operation Jedburgh.[1] He subsequently earned medals for his military service.[1] During his time at SOE Kilmartin became acquainted with David Astor.[3]

Writing career[edit]

His first post after the war was as a radio journalist, before he joined the staff of The Observer in 1949. Initially, he worked in the foreign affairs office of the newspaper, becoming assistant literary editor in 1950 and literary editor in 1952. During this time, Kilmartin also began translation work of French literature, starting with the major works of Henri de Montherlant: The Bachelors, The Girls, The Boys, and Chaos and Night. He also translated works by Malraux and Sagan. It was he who performed the first revision of the Scott Moncrieff translation of Proust's Remembrance of Things Past.

As literary editor of The Observer, Kilmartin procured the freelance reviewing services of Anthony Burgess from 1960 onwards.[4]

A Reader's Guide to The Remembrance of Things Past[edit]

Kilmartin compiled a comprehensive Reader's Guide to the Remembrance of Things Past (1983). The Guide comprises four separate indices: an index of characters in the Remembrance; an index of actual persons; an index of places; and an index of themes. The reader is thus enabled to locate almost any reference, e.g. Berlioz, or The Arabian Nights, or Madame Verdurin in any particular scene or setting, or Versailles. The volume and page numbers are keyed to the 3-volume Remembrance of Things Past of 1981, translated by Scott Moncrieff and revised by Kilmartin himself. They do not apply, of course, to other editions of the Remembrance or the Search for Lost Time, as it is now frequently called.


Kilmartin died on 17 August 1991 of cancer. He was beautifully eulogized by Clive James. The following is an excerpt from James' address read at Kilmartin's memorial service in the Stationers’ Hall on October 28, 1991:[5]

Your good looks never spoiled you for the cruel reality of the rolling dice and when pain came you were a Stoic. We who remain would like to think that we are stoic too but would prefer a version that didn’t hurt. We would prefer a life from which you were not gone. But your influence is alive and will last for a long time, passed on to the young ones as an example and a name: the name of a hugely impressive — all right, an impressive — man we once met, and who is all ours now.

Anthony Burgess remembered Kilmartin as one of the "great literary editors".[6]


  1. ^ a b c d e f "Terence Kilmartin". The Times. 19 August 1991. 
  2. ^ "Terence Kilmartin." Daily Telegraph, 19 Aug. 1991, p. 17. The Telegraph Historical Archive, http://tinyurl.galegroup.com/tinyurl/5fheK6. Accessed 14 Dec. 2017.
  3. ^ A LITERARY LIFE The Observer (1901- 2003); London (UK) [London (UK)]28 Dec 1986: 15.
  4. ^ Confessions of the hack trade Burgess, Anthony. The Observer (1901- 2003); London (UK) [London (UK)]30 Aug 1992: 41.
  5. ^ http://www.clivejames.com/pieces/dreaming/kilmartin In Memoriam Terence Kilmartin, October 1991
  6. ^ Confessions of the hack trade Burgess, Anthony. The Observer (1901- 2003); London (UK) [London (UK)]30 Aug 1992: 41.