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Thursday 19 December 2013

Not lost in translation – 1 - German and French

An earlier FaceBook discussion about the paucity of foreign language books translated into English prompted me to check out my own library.  Below are two images of a quarter of the library.

The other shelves are elsewhere… These books here are in the main fiction, with some reference and art books and Jen’s Spanish tomes. I must admit that the majority of translated works on the shelves are not modern authors, after all, and some I have yet to read (among several hundred others!)

Here you’ll find Dumas, Simenon and Verne – the most popular novelists translated.

Others are, in no particular order:

Allain & Souvestre’s Fantomas, the first of a series, originally in French, published in 1911. There were 31 sequels. Souvestre died of the Spanish ‘flu in 1914, while Allain fought in the trenches, survived, produced eleven more Fantomas novels plus six hundred novels, and married Souvestre’s widow. Fantomas was an antihero, malevolent, a genius of crime, waging war on bourgeois society, masked and wearing evening clothes, a dagger in hand. He ‘violated society women and left their delicately slashed bodies for the servants to find…’
And of course the collected works of Guy de Maupassant, which I actually picked up during a visit to Canada! Also, Count Jan Potocki’s The Sargasso Manuscript. This last is a selection of stories written in the tale within a tale style, describing the adventures of a young Spanish captain reared in France who, on a visit to his country, sleeps in a haunted inn and finds his life turned into a gothic nightmare. Originally written in French and first published in St Petersberg in 1804. The original only in Polish contains stories for 66 ‘Days’; this English translation covers only the first fourteen days. Potocki was a Polish nobleman, traveller, diplomat, soldier, ethnologist, archaeologist and balloonist.

Another ‘Frenchman’ is Claude Izner. This is actually the penname of two sisters, Liliane Korb and Laurence Lefevre. They’re booksellers on the banks of the Seine and experts on nineteenth century Paris. Izner’s hero in The Murder on the Eiffel Tower is a young bookseller, Victor Legris, who witnesses the death. As he investigates further, more deaths occur… Legris’s follow-up adventure is The Pere-Lachaise Mystery (2003,2007).

Thomas Mann is considered the most important figure in German literature in the first half of the twentieth century. His prose is of his time, omniscient with author intrusion, but soon you get lost in his often monumental tales. The Magic Mountain (1924), Death in Venice (1911), Confessions of Felix Krull (1955) and Buddenbrooks (1901) which drew on autobiographical material. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature in 1929.

Some years ago I went through a Hermann Hesse phase and found his collection Stories of Five Decades as a good introduction to his work, ranging from 1899 (he was born in Germany in 1877) up to 1948. He is known for, among others, The Prodigy, Rosshalde, Demian, Siddhartha, Steppenwolf and The Glass Bead Game. He got his Nobel in 1946.

Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past is a marathon 7 volumes and I haven’t finished it yet. Its new title is In Search of Lost Time (revised translation in 1992). My copy is a translation by C.K. Scott Moncrieff and Terence Kilmartin (1981), and it flows beautifully.

‘… so strong an element of hypocrisy is there in even the most sincere people, who lay aside the opinion they actually hold of a person while they are talking to him and express it as soon as he is no longer there…’ – Swann’s Way, p163.

‘There are mountainous, arduous days, up which one takes an infinite time to climb, and downward-sloping days which one can descend at full tilt, singing as one goes.’ – Swann’s Way, p424

Zola was remarkably prolific. He gained immediate notoriety with Therese Raquin (1867), the book being labelled ‘pornography’ by critics, whose comments Zola referred to as ‘a churlish and horrified outcry’, thus ensuring its sure-fire success. The novel is a grim tale of adultery, murder and revenge and is still powerful today.

Next, I’ll look at the Spanish and other language translations in my library…

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