Gilbert, (Arthur) Stuart Ahluwalia Stronge
(18831969), Indian civil servant, translator, and literary scholar
, was born on 25 October 1883 in Kelvedon Hatch, near Brentwood, Essex, the only child of Major Arthur Stronge Gilbert, retired army officer, and his wife, Melvina, née
Rundiher Singh Ahluwalia (18601919), daughter of the rajah of Kapurthala and his Anglo-Indian wife, also Melvina. His father was born in Dublin about 1833 and served in the Donegal Militia Artillery, the 36th foot (in which he served during the New Zealand Wars of 18634), and the 70th foot before transferring to the reserve list in 1870; he took up various directorships, and married Gilbert's mother in 1883 in Epsom. In the 1891 census the family was listed as living at Kelvedon Hatch with two servants. They later moved to Cheltenham.
Gilbert was educated at Dean Close Memorial School, Cheltenham, at Cheltenham College, and at Hertford College, Oxford, where he took a first in classical moderations in 1904 and a second in literae humaniores
in 1906. In 1907 he joined the Indian Civil Service and was posted to Burma, where he served as an assistant commissioner and postal censor and then, after war service as a lieutenant in the no. 3 Burma Ford Van Company (191619), a judge in Moulmein and Rangoon. He took early retirement in 1927. Meanwhile, he had in 1919, while on leave, married a Frenchwoman, Marie Agnès Mathilde (Moune), née
In 1927 Gilbert and his wife settled in Paris, where they remained (with the exception of the Second World War years, when they lived in Wales) for the remainder of their lives. It was soon after moving to Paris, when strolling past Shakespeare and Company, the bookshop founded by Sylvia Beach on the rue de l'Odéon, and a favourite meeting point for Anglophone authors, that their lives changed permanently. The window display included some pages from Ulysses
, in a French translation by Auguste Morel and Valéry Larbaud, in which Gilbert noticed a number of errors and interpolations. Beach recommended that Gilbert leave his contact details and said that Joyce would contact him. He did, and a lifelong collaboration ensued, leading not only to Gilbert becoming a literary translator (initially helping to translate Ulysses
into French; later, unusually, he translated both from English to French and from French to English) but to the publication of Gilbert's seminal work James Joyce's Ulysses: a Study
in 1930 and the first volume of Joyce's Collected Letters
The Gilberts and the Joyces became close friends and Richard Ellmann's biography of Joyce documents numerous holidays taken together in Salzburg, Le Havre, and Dublin, or staying at the Imperial Hotel in Torquay. Moune and Stuart Gilbert were also instrumental in persuading Nora Joyce not to leave her husband on repeated occasions. The Joyces were regular visitors at the salon the Gilberts established in their gracious top-floor apartment at 7 rue Jean du Bellay on the Île Saint-Louis, with its spectacular views over the Seine. Guests were treated to what Peter du Sautoy called uninhibited comments on the literary figures of Paris from their host (The Times
, 14 Jan 1969). Ernest Hemingway, Ford Madox Ford, Samuel Beckett, and D. H. Lawrence visited, as did a number of Gilbert's professional acquaintances, the company reflecting the close relationships between writers and publishers of the period.
Gilbert's reputation as a literary translator was based less on his translations of Joyce into French than of contemporary French authors, most of whom he knew personally, into English. He presented a heterogeneous mix of innovative newcomers, including Albert Camus, Jean Cocteau, Jean-Paul Sartre, Georges Simenon, and Antoine de Saint-Exupéry; André Malraux became a particularly close friend. In practice, Mouneas the native French-speakerwas an active co-translator but what Ellmann described as her husband's conscientious and wittily sceptical temperament (Ellmann, 600) was fundamental. Together with Moune, Stuart Gilbert was almost single-handedly responsible for introducing a whole generation of contemporary French authors to a new readership. He translated not only well-known works of fiction but the plays of Camus, the memoirs of Saint-Exupéry, the art history of Malraux, and the philosophy of the existentialists. In the last decade of his life he translated many texts to accompany art books, notably those published by Albert Skira of Geneva.
and, to a lesser degree, Finnegan's Wake
remained closest to Gilbert's heart. In his preface to the first edition of James Joyce's Ulysses: a Study
, Gilbert wrote:
In writing this commentary I have borne in mind the unusual circumstance that, although Ulysses is probably the most discussed literary work that has appeared in our time, the book itself is hardly more than a name to many. I have therefore quoted freely from the text, so that those who are unable … [to] acquire the original may, despite the censorial ban, become acquainted with Mr. Joyce's epic work. (p. 9)
The revised edition was published twenty years later in a wholly altered social context, and Gilbert accordingly noted:
I have not tried to alleviate the rather pedantic tone of much of the writing in this study. For one thing, Joyce approved of it … Moreover, in those early days most readers and many eminent critics regarded Ulysses as a violently romantic work, an uncontrolled outpouring of the unconscious mind … it was necessary to emphasise the classical and formal elements … and the minute attention given by the author to detail, each phrase, indeed each word, being assigned its place with pointilliste precision. (Preface, 1952 edn, 12)
Thus Gilbert's degree in classics and detailed knowledge of the ancient world stood him in good stead in rooting the voyage to Ithaca. He took issue with the stream of consciousness form of modernism and its use in interpreting Joyce. In his foregrounding of the conscious mind, his primary acknowledgement was my indebtedness to James Joyce himself, to whose assistance and encouragement this work owes whatever merit it may possess (ibid., 13).
Gilbert and Joyce invented puns and traded epithets, from the facetious to the sardonic. Joyce claimed to have obtained some words from the Burmese grammar compiled by Gilbert which he borrowed and did not return (Ellmann, 600). When Lady Chatterley's Lover
competed with Ulysses
as the erudite Parisian tourist's must-have, Joyce asked Gilbert to read him some pages from it. He listened carefully before summarizing his response in one word: Lush. He then instructed Gilbert: That man really dresses very badly. You might ask instead for something from his friend Aldous Huxley, who at least dresses decently (ibid., 615). The diaries, notebooks, typescripts, manuscripts, letters, postcards, photographs, and other items kept by Gilbert, and now in the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas, Austin, bear witness to the extent to which this was not simply a working relationship and to the fun the Gilberts and Joyces enjoyed in each other's company. Gilbert outlived Joyce by twenty-eight years, dying at his home in Paris on 5 January 1969. Moune died in 1985.