Bonjour Tristesse part 2 – a few thoughts on the translation

Earlier this week, I wrote about Françoise Sagan’s debut novel, Bonjour Tristesse, which naturally I loved. If you missed it, you can read my review here. I had a few thoughts about the translation too, but seeing as my original post was already on the long side, I thought I would jot them down here in this second (thankfully much shorter) piece.

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I read Bonjour Tristesse in a relatively new translation by Heather Lloyd (published in 2013) which I’d bought a couple of years earlier. As it turns out, more than 100 lines of Sagan’s original text were omitted when Irene Ash translated the novel in 1955, hence the publisher’s decision to commission a new version. In part, the missing passages included lines that were considered too suggestive or too sexual for the English-speaking public at the time. However, there were other omissions and examples of editing too, most notably some of Cécile’s inner reflections and analyses were cut.

While I haven’t compared the two translations – I don’t have a copy of the Ash – I felt I’d made the right choice by plumping for Heather Lloyd’s version, particularly as Cécile’s self-reflections seemed to form such an integral part of the narrative. Or at least that was my view before I happened to see this recent piece by Rachel Cooke in The Guardian. (My reviews are lagging way behind my reading at the moment, so I’d already blazed through Lloyd’s translation of the novel by the time I chanced upon this article.) Anyway, to cut a long story short, Cooke suggests that Ash’s translation is more captivating, more luminous than Lloyd’s in its rendering of Sagan’s prose, so much so that I’m left wondering whether I should have gone for Ash’s original version instead…

Bonjour tristesse

I suppose it’s the age-old question of which is translation is best? Better to go for the one that is more accurate, more faithful to the original or the one that reads more smoothly, more engagingly? I’m not sure I have the answer to that, but Rachel Cooke’s comments left me keen to read Ash’s translation of Tristesse at some point. Her article contains a very brief comparison the two translations using the opening line as an example. Do take a look. Then there’s the question of which version of Sagan’s A Certain Smile I should read. Stick with the Lloyd as it came with my copy of Tristesse, or ditch it in favour of the Ash? Decisions, decisions…

Anyway, any comments on this issue of different translations, either in general or in relation to Ash’s vs Lloyd’s renditions of Françoise Sagan’s work, would be most welcome.

65 thoughts on “Bonjour Tristesse part 2 – a few thoughts on the translation

  1. Jonathan

    The issue of translations is tricky but interesting; I always seem to get drawn into it when it arises. I think that Cooke had a special attraction to the older translation because that was the one she first read. When I read Proust I ended up having both translations to hand, I read one but referred to the other now and again.

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    1. JacquiWine Post author

      That’s a good point about Cooke’s attachment to the earlier version – there’s a certain element of nostalgia wrapped up in her comments.

      Interesting to hear about your approach to Proust, too. Which one did you choose as your primary source in the end?

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      1. Jonathan

        Re: Proust translation – it became complicated. If you’re interested I’ll add a link to some notes of my experience – I’m on my mobile at the moment.

        I sometimes like to compare translations but try not to get too obsessive.

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        1. JacquiWine Post author

          I would be interested in hearing more about that – no rush though, whenever you get a chance. I haven’t read Proust but would like to at some point. The Scott-Moncrieff is the one that tends to come up, but I’m open to recommendations – any thoughts on your experiences with the different versions would be very useful.

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          1. Jonathan

            Well, here are some of the comments I, and other group members, made on the 2014 GoodReads Proust group, especially from message 27 or so.

            The short version is that I started with the revised Moncrieff (MKE) version switched over to the Penguin then switched back but read the last volume in Penguin. In practice I had both translations available when I was reading. Penguin was very good for notes and introductions. In the end this chaotic way of reading it worked ok but when I do a second read I shall just read Vols. 1-6 in MKE, Penguin for last vol. and refer to Penguin when required.

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            1. JacquiWine Post author

              Oh, that’s very helpful – thanks. I can see why the Penguin would be useful as a reference source for additional info. I’ll take a look at that GR thread. Cheers.

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  2. MarinaSofia

    This is such a tricky question. In certain cases I have a preference for the smoother, more engaging translation (see my discussion of the latest Genji translation, which I found very hard going, although it’s the most faithful to the original). In other cases, I prefer the more literal translation. I suppose we all find one particular one that resonates with us, which is why no translation is the ‘definitive’ one and why there is always room for one more.

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    1. JacquiWine Post author

      Isn’t it just. I recall your post about your concerns with the latest Genji translation – you included some comparisons, which are always helpful to illustrate the differences. I think I’m going to have to find a copy of Ash’s translation of Tristesse to see how I find it compared to the Lloyd. As you say, it might be a case of seeing if it resonates.

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  3. susanosborne55

    Fascinating, both in terms of social history – what was deemed acceptable in 1955 and what was not – and in terms of how a translator can influence the tone of a book. I’d love to see a comparison post, Jacqui, if you ever manage to find the time to read the two alongside each other.

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    1. JacquiWine Post author

      Interesting, isn’t it – especially as there isn’t anything terribly risque about the more intimate scenes in the novel! I way well do a comparison piece at some point, maybe later in the year once I’ve had a chance to read Ash’s version.

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  4. gertloveday

    I must say I agree with Rachel Cooke’s judgment of the two versions of the opening sentence. As well as the issue of falling in love with a book the first time you read it, there’s one of rhythm I think, and each translation sets up its own rhythm that feels like the right one to you if you’ve loved the book the first time round. There’s quite a rhythmic difference in the two versions she quotes. Re Proust, I understand why people think Proust just is Scott-Moncrieff, but I’ve read versions by a few different hands and I find as Jane Austen would say “there is always something new to be discovered”.

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    1. JacquiWine Post author

      Yes, I prefer Ash’s rendition of the opening sentence too, which is why I’m left with with feeling that I may have read the ‘wrong’ translation. Even though I didn’t feel unhappy with Lloyd’s version at any point — it didn’t strike me as sounding odd or overly protracted at the time — Cooke’s comments have cast doubt in my mind. The question of reading rhythm is an important one, not to be underestimated as you say. I think I’ll read the Ash later this year just to see how I find it compared to Lloyd’s version.

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  5. heavenali

    I have no idea which translation I read, I can’t remember that opening like though I definitely prefer Ash’s
    – you have me intrigued. However I am nervous of reading another translation because I did love it so much. As others have said the other translation might feel so different that it would change how I feel about the book. I ‘m going to assume I read the Ash translation because it was an older edition of the book – would that make sense?

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    1. JacquiWine Post author

      Yes, that makes perfect sense. I strongly suspect you read Ash’s version — the Lloyd was only published in 2013, so if you read the novel before then it would have been the original translation. (Plus it sounds like you had an earlier edition than the latest Penguin one.) I prefer Ash’s rendition of the opening line too — now I’m curious to read the whole thing.

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  6. Brian Joseph

    Choosing the right translator is important. Omitted sections of a book are just one reason for this.

    When there are multiple translations available I do some research before choosing. I am will ing to forgo a free or cheaper version and pay more money for the better version.

    Reply
    1. JacquiWine Post author

      Yes, I really wish I’d done some more research on this before plumping for the new translation. I’d seen a different article in The Guardian a year after the publication of the Lloyd which mentioned the omissions in Ash’s version, hence my decision to go for the new one. Nevertheless, re-reading that piece again, the warning signs were there – the reviewer mentions that Lloyd “is already working hard to take some of the spring out of the teenage author’s step”.

      https://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/feb/28/francois-sagan-bonjour-tristesse

      Now I wish I’d compared the two versions in a bookshop…

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  7. Gemma

    A fascinating post, Jacqui. As I commented on your review, I read the Lloyd translation, simply because I hadn’t realised there was another, earlier translation. I really want to read the Ash translation to compare but the fact that she omitted some of the original text does make me a little wary. I think I have a soft spot for the Lloyd translation because that’s the one I read and loved – and the prose was a big factor in why I love this book. Although, reading the article you link to makes me wonder if I would prefer the Ash. It’s so interesting how the translator can influence a book.

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    1. JacquiWine Post author

      Yes, it’s a real pity about those omissions, otherwise it would be a relatively easy decision to go for the Ash. Like you, I really loved the book and couldn’t see any significant issues with the Lloyd translation at the time of reading. Nevertheless, Rachel Cooke’s comments have planted the seeds of doubt in my mind. I suspect I’ll end up buying the Ash, just to see how it compares. It sounds as though she acted as a bit of an editor as well as a translator, so I can imagine the differences might be quite significant. As you say, fascinating to consider how the process of translation and the various styles of different translators can influence our impressions of a book.

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  8. Buried In Print

    Oh, I think you’d mentioned this previously, but it didn’t sink in, that there was such a relatively recent new translation. How fascinating! And to have this chance to compare with such a modern work, when that’s something I think of doing with, oh, Tolstoy or someone like that. No wonder you are so interested!

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    1. JacquiWine Post author

      Yes, it’s interesting to read about the background to Ash’s version, especially in light of the social attitudes in the 1950s. I suspect I’ll end up getting it to take a closer look!

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  9. kaggsysbookishramblings

    It’s such a difficult thing, translation – I’ve muttered on about it myself over the years. I read the older version and when I read Cooke’s article I was glad – I know there are missing bits, but I much prefer the rendering I read. I’ve had similar issues with some of my Russians, and I do agree that often the first version you read has special significance so you prefer it. But I’m not necessarily of the school of thought that you have to put a book into modern language for a modern audience. As I often say, we don’t produce versions of Dickens in modern English, so why should we have to do so for books written a while back in another language. Very, very tricky….

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    1. JacquiWine Post author

      Isn’t it just. Yes, I know you’ve grappled with this very topic in relation to the Russians, which is partly why I’m particularly interested in your perspective on this. Plus you’re read and enjoyed the Ash, so I think I need to get hold of it. Such a shame about those omissions though – 100 lines is quite a lot in a novella than clocks in at under 100 pages…

      As an aside, I’m with you on the dubiousness of putting a traditional text into current language for a contemporary audience. That seems most unnecessary to me – surely it must undermine the evocation of the setting, the particular place and time in which the narrative is rooted.

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  10. FictionFan

    It’s always a tricky question, knowing how much of one’s reaction to a translated work is due to the translation. When I read Stendhal’s The Red and the Black, I started with a translation that felt incredibly clunky, so changed after a few chapters to another which was much better. I then became intrigued and looked at a third – an older, highly regarded one – which I didn’t like at all! My French is ropey, but I dug out a small section of the original, translated it myself very literally, word for word, and then looked to see how my three translators had dealt with it. The differences were incredible! Each one had kept the basic meaning intact, but the style and tone made each feel like a different book. I came to the conclusion that it’s not really possible to know what an author is like if one can’t read the original, and sadly, I’m not fluent enough in any language to catch nuance. I often feel my general dislike of the Russians is probably actually a dislike of translated literature – it’s rare for it to flow naturally as it presumably does in the original.

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    1. JacquiWine Post author

      How fascinating! My French is pretty rusty too, but I might give that a go if I can access a sample of the Sagan’s original text, maybe via the kindle if it’s available to view there. Style and tone are so important, aren’t they? You know it’s funny – I didn’t have any problems or concerns about Lloyd’s translation when I read it last month, but ever since Rachel Cooke’s comments came to my attention I started to doubt my own responses to the novel. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a sensational book, and I can fully imagine how it must have set the world alight on its publication, but I can’t help feeling that I’ve ended up with the ‘wrong’ version. I’ve decided to buy the Ash to read later this year, and I may well borrow your approach in referring back to a sample in original French as part of the comparison between the two. Out of interest, which was your favourite of the Stendhal translations? I’ve thought about reading The Red and the Black at some point – it’s not a novel I own right now, so I’m open to recommendations.

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      1. FictionFan

        I read the Burton Raffel translation in the end. I liked the way the language flowed, but in truth I found the book had contradictions from chapter to chapter and I couldn’t decide whether that was translation or original. I really disliked the style of the Moncrieff translation although I believe it’s highly regarded. It read very like a translation to me, if you know what I mean. I only dipped into the Shaw, but if I was re-reading I might be willing to give that one a go. I don’t normally link to my own posts, but you might be interested in seeing the extract… https://fictionfanblog.wordpress.com/2013/06/21/lost-in-translation/ :)

        Reply
        1. JacquiWine Post author

          Oh yes, I do know what you mean – too literal by the sound of things. Many thanks for this – I’ve made a note of the Burton Raffel. Very happy for you to add a link to your post on the Stendhal. I’ll drop by a little later to take a look. :)

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  11. bookbii

    I think it’s really hard to make a decision on multiple translations, especially with the ‘classics’ which seem to have a regular update. When I was deciding on which translation of Genji to choose, I ended up deciding based on the version I enjoyed the best based on a sample reading of each translation. I don’t think it’s the most ‘accurate’ but sometimes it is worth sacrificing accuracy for readability, and translation seems to be as much an art as a science. I only managed the first book of Proust after switching to an alternative translation (a costly exercise) and then gave up anyway. Too impatient! I also invested in a Pevear and Volokhonsky translation of Anna Karenina and found I preferred my old one. I wonder if it’s worse to explore the alternatives; if you found a version which you enjoy perhaps it’s just best to stick to it and be happy that it was an enjoyable read. But then we are readers, and nothing if not curious (or nosey)! Great blog Jacqui. It’s such an interesting conundrum.

    Reply
    1. JacquiWine Post author

      I completely agree with you when you say that translation seems to be as much an art as a science. As others have said, different translations of the same book can vary significantly in terms of style and tone – and it sounds as though you’ve experienced similar issues with Genji, Proust and Anna Karenina. As a slight aside, I’m aware of other people who have turned away from P & V’s translations of the Russian classics, so you’re not alone on that front! Returning to Bonjour Tristesse for a mo, I’m going to try the Ash translation to see how it compares, maybe later this year once I’ve cleared a few other books on the immediate horizon. Thanks for commenting, Belinda – it’s always useful to hear your perspective.

      Reply
  12. Caroline (Bookword)

    Sometimes one gets very attached to the version one first read. For me, reading Francoise Sagan as a precocious teenager, listening to Francoise Hardy too, and enjoying all things French, I expect I will stay connected to that first translation. But after all those years I could probably stomach the excised parts.I don’t suppose I would think, I am that girl, any more (author, narrator, singer?)
    I have an old Penguin version, orange and very foxed.

    Reply
    1. JacquiWine Post author

      Oh, I can imagine that attachment, especially as you read it when you were a teenager. I only discovered Francoise Hardy when I was in my thirties, but I still listen to her music every now and again. Yes, she would be the perfect accompaniment for this novel, the very essence of a long, languid afternoon in the sun,

      Reply
  13. margecsimpson

    Am fascinated by this thread particularly as I was intrigued by a post by Lady Fancifull on a particular translation of Le Grand Meaulnes here
    https://ladyfancifull.wordpress.com/2016/04/04/alain-fournier-le-grand-meaulnes/

    After reading the Grand Meaulnes piece I had decided that what counted for me is that the translator maintained the kind of language that would have been spoken at the time of the translation hence a 1950’s translation of a 1910 book would be better than a contemporary translation. However ….

    My reading group recently did Stefan Zweig’s short story Chess Story. We had several translations and took it in turns to read out our own. The version that received universal approval was the most recent (2010 I think) which turned my theory on its head!

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    1. JacquiWine Post author

      Oh, that’s interesting! All other things being equal, I too would tend to favour a translation which preserved the kind of language and dialogue that would have been spoken at the time (ideally the period when the original book was written). I can imagine in being an important aspect of the mood/tone. Fascinating to hear of your experiences with the Zweig. I wasn’t even aware of the different translations of Chess Story. I’ve read Anthea Bell’s translation of Beware of Pity, a novel I enjoyed a great deal, partly as a result of the translation!

      Reply
  14. Kat

    Really fascinating: I read Cooke’s article and felt dismayed, because I too have the new translation. The first sentence is awkward, but now that you’ve recommended it I’ll get to it. I don’t necessarily let The Guardian sway me.:)

    Reply
    1. JacquiWine Post author

      It was a bit of a heartsink moment when I saw that Guardian article! Never mind – I still loved the book, which is the main thing in the end. It’s a brilliant story – deceptively simple on the surface, but executed with great subtlety and insight. I hope you enjoy it too. :)

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  15. naomifrisby

    Thanks for posting this, Jacqui. I didn’t realise there were lines omitted in the original translation. That does make the decision over which version to read a difficult one.

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    1. JacquiWine Post author

      Doesn’t it just. If the Ash were more complete, it would be a fairly straightforward decision between the two. As it stands, I can’t help but feel that some of those omissions play their part in giving the reader an insight into Cécile’s inner thoughts and feelings. I’m going to read Ash’s translation later this year to see how it compares to the Lloyd – it’s probably the only way to tell!

      Reply
  16. Emma

    Fascinating post, Jacqui.
    The first sentence of Bonjour tristesse is:

    “Sur ce sentiment inconnu dont l’ennui, la douceur m’obsèdent, j’hésite à apposer le nom, le beau nom grave de tristesse”.

    If I reflect on this opening phrase two things come to my mind:
    1) it sounds like Verlaine’s prose in Poèmes Saturniens
    2) it reminds me of Proust for the tiptoying around the name of the feeling (Btw, “Sagan” is a name she borrowed to one of Proust’s characters, la princesse de Sagan)

    Irene Ash translated it as

    ” “A strange melancholy pervades me to which I hesitate to give the grave and beautiful name of sadness”

    And Heather Llyod translated it as

    “This strange new feeling of mine, obsessing me by its sweet languor, is such that I am reluctant to dignify it with the fine, solemn name of ‘sadness’,”

    I can’t tell you which one is the best because it depends on what you expect from a translation.

    Ash’s translation sounds more English and gives back the musicality I hear in the French. But it erases the French syntax. It also erases the notion of “obsessed” which is definitely part of the French.

    The second translation is more literal, hence the written-by-a-robot feeling. An English speaking writer would never write like this. With my limited knowledge of English, I’d say it sounds heavy. The French language offers a different kind of liberty with words than the English. You can change the order of words more easily. You can add things one after the other. When I translate quotes, I often cut one sentence into two in English, otherwise it sounds weird. And this liberty with the syntax is difficult to translate literally.

    So it all depends on what you expect from a translation. If you really want to have everything from the original for students of French who are trying to translate a phrase while learning the language, then the second translation is for you. You can find every word and see what it means.

    If you want to hear the writer’s voice the way a French hears it, then the first one is way better.
    Françoise Sagan’s prose should never sound heavy. She writes champagne and jazz.

    To me, Sagan sounds like Francis Scott Fitzgerald. She has this mix of sadness, seriousness, lightness and playfulness.

    Of course, it’s not fair to assess a whole translation on one sentence but since it’s a short book and you enjoyed it so much, perhaps the Ash translation is worth a check.

    Re-Proust : the Moncrieff translations sound great to me. Too bad they have been bowlerised sometimes to accomodate the English public of the time. (there’s a billet about it on my reading Proust page)

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    1. JacquiWine Post author

      Emma, thanks so much for such an enlightening comment, full of insights into both the nature of the French language and the differences in translation of Sagan’s first line.

      The following points are particularly interesting: “The French language offers a different kind of liberty with words than the English. You can change the order of words more easily. You can add things one after the other. When I translate quotes, I often cut one sentence into two in English, otherwise it sounds weird. And this liberty with the syntax is difficult to translate literally.” You know I don’t think I had fully appreciated those differences between the two languages until you mentioned them here – and looking again at the two translations, I can see how they have affected the different interpretations of Sagan’s first line. Ash’s version definitely reads more smoothly, and it’s interesting to note that you feel it captures the sense of musicality you hear in the French too. By the way, that’s a great point about the comparison between Sagan and F Scott Fitzgerald – it simply hadn’t occurred to mention until you mentioned it, but I really think you’re on to something there. He is one of my all-time favorite writers – I went through a Fitzgerald phase when I was a young girl, and his books still feel relatively fresh in my mind to this day. I like what you say about Sagan’s prose too, that mix of light and shade, the different moods she conveys through her stories. I felt something akin to that on reading Tristesse – at first sight, the story seems deceptively simple, but underneath that dreamy surface it’s actually rather subtle and insightful.

      I have to read the Ash version of Tristesse – that’s pretty much a given now, I think. Plus, as you say, it’s a short book, so it won’t take long. The cover of the Ash translation is wonderful too, just the perfect image for the story – the martini glass captures something of your description of Sagan’s prose, that mix sadness, seriousness, lightness and playfulness you referred to above.

      Thanks again for such a terrific comment, Emma! I’ll let you know how I get on with the Ash – maybe I’ll write another short piece about it at some point. Thanks also for your view on Proust. I’ve made a not to take a look at your reading Proust page when the time comes. The Moncrieff definitely sounds like the one to go for.

      Reply
      1. hastanton

        Fascinating discussion . I can only add that I read BT recentlyish ( in Fr) which sparked and interest in Sagan …I’ve read a couple of others since and have Un Certain Sourire on my TBR BUT I find her incredibly difficult to read inFrench …more than almost anyone else I’ve read so far . I’ve wondered about that …the books are short and the language SEEMS simple …however the sentence construction I find v complex …the must be the poetical quality that Emma refers to.

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        1. JacquiWine Post author

          How fascinating! You know it’s funny – I didn’t have a problem with the Lloyd translation when I read it back in July, but the more I look at it again, the more protracted it seems in places. As Emma says, it seems to be a more literal translation than the Ash (well, that’s if the opening line is anything to go by.) Interesting to hear that you have found Sagan difficult to read in French!

          I’m going to try Irene Ash’s translation to see how it compares to the Lloyd. It’s on its way to me right now, although I’ll need to wait till later in the month (or possibly October depending on how things shape up over the next few weeks). #ReadingRhys will have to take priority over anything else. I’ll let you know how I get on, although I can totally understand why you might want to continue reading her in the original language especially given your move to France. :)

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        2. Emma

          Helen, I’m not surprised you find her difficult to read. Her prose is deceptive. Yes, the vocabulary is common and she won’t go into difficult arguments but her style is elaborate behind the apparent simplicity.

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          1. JacquiWine Post author

            As I think I mentioned above, I found the book more subtle, more insightful than I had expected. At first sight, everything seemed so straightforward, but there’s quite a bit of emotional depth going on under the surface. I thought it a remarkably accomplished novel for an eighteen-year-old, rather sophisticated in its insights into the dynamics of human behaviour.

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          2. hastanton

            Phew !!so glad to hear it isn’t me !!! I love her ….but take a deep breath before starting ….those sentences ! Sometimes have to read two or three times to be sure !

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      2. Emma

        In my experience, the English language has the ability to shorten things and pack a lot in a few words. The syntax allows it. It can be very difficult to translate into French because you’ll need periphrasis and you’ll lose the “gun-shot” impression of the English. I don’t have an example in mind right now. This is something I love about the English language, btw.

        In French, translators say that texts are naturally 15% longer than in English.

        Also in English, you often have two words when we have only one : maison is both house and home. The difference between leap and jump and when to use one or the other is still unclear to me. Max tried to explain it once but I’m still confused. So imagine a translator. You’ve got a French word that encompass concrete and abstract notions. I suppose that most of the time, it’s easy to pick the corresponding English word. But sometimes, the choice made by the translator guides the sense of the phrase and the reader’s perception.

        if you read Bonjour Tristesse again in the other translation, I’ll be happy to read your thoughts about it.

        I think it’s important that a writer is always translated by the same translator. You get used to their way of translating. It’s like dubbing for films. In France, it’s always the same actor who dubs a foreign actor. So for French people watching American films in French, Robert de Niro will always have the same voice and in the end, you forget de Niro doesn’t speak French.

        PS: So, you see the connection with Fitzgerald too? I loved Stories from the Jazz Age.
        PPS: the cover with the Martini glass is SO Sagan.

        Reply
        1. JacquiWine Post author

          Ah, yes – your comments about having two words in English reminded me of something connected to the translation of Madeleine Bourdouxhe’s novella La Femme de Gilles. The translator/publisher decided to keep the book’s title in French as the dual meaning of Femme (woman and wife) has a particular significance in Boudouxhe’s story. It wasn’t possible to find a single word in English to encapsulate both meanings, hence the decision to retain the French. I’m not sure how to explain the difference between leap and jump. I suppose I think of leap as being a more sudden, more forceful version of jump, but there may well be other differences between the two which dictate their correct usage.

          I agree with your point on continuity of the translator. So if I prefer Ash’s version of Tristesse when I get around to reading it, I should switch to her for A Certain Smile, too. Luckily she translated the two novellas in fairly quick succession back in the 1950s.

          Re F Scott Fitzgerald – I read the novels back in the day, but I’m not sure I ever got around to the stories. Will have to remedy that at some point – there you go, adding to my TBR again! :-)

          Yes, that cover is inspired, isn’t it? Glad to hear it fits your impression of Sagan’s style!

          Reply
  17. Shigekuni - Book Blog

    So interesting this discussion. I have last week reviewed a book that was neither accurately translated nor did it move well, but as a German, I come from a country where the overwhelming philosophy used to me “always improve on the original if possible” – thus, our Dostoyevsky was smooth and elegant. However, as Nabokov has pointed out, that is not at all the kind of writer he was. Dostoyevsky’s prose was halting and uneven – and I think a translation should reflect that. As for accuracy vs flow, I believe that it depends on how inaccurate and how much is changed. With two languages like German and French, which are fundamentally similar in many ways, I think you have more freedoms. However, with Romanian, Korean and Russian, languages that are quite severely different, accuracy (and equivalence! a text should always lose the mannerism of the original language) is king. At least that’s always been my philosophy.

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    1. JacquiWine Post author

      How interesting to hear the German perspective, especially given the focus on improvement and readability. Having read some of Dostoevsky’s work in the past, I can appreciate what you say about his prose style – and I agree that a ‘good’ translation should try to preserve that style where possible. I hadn’t even considered the different challenges of translating languages such as Russian or Romanian, and the ways in which the relative importance of accuracy vs readability/flow might vary from one group of languages (French or German) to another Russian or Romanian). Fascinating stuff.

      Returning to Bonjour Tristesse for a moment, I think I’ve reached the stage where I feel relatively comfortable to sacrifice an element of literal accuracy for the sake of readability/maintenance of Sagan’s style. Many thanks for adding your views to the discussion – I really do appreciate it.

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  18. Caroline

    I have no comments on the translation as I read it in French.
    I saw Emma mentions Verlaine but she’s actually emulating Eluard whose poem is the source of the tilte and should also open the novel. Whose translation did they use for that?
    Translations are tricky and there are no easy answers. I certainly wouldn’t want to read a censored text.

    Reply
    1. JacquiWine Post author

      Ooh, I don’t know about the Eluard as it’s not a poem I’m familiar with – I’ll have to see if it mentions anything about it in the introduction. It is a tricky question, especially given the pros and cons of both versions, I think I’m coming down on the side of the Ash in spite of the omissions. I’ve ordered a copy so I’ll see how I find it when it arrives. I thought you had probably read it in the original language – if only my French skills were up to the mark then I wouldn’t have this dilemma!

      Reply
        1. JacquiWine Post author

          No, wait – I’ve just looked at the beginning of the novel and it’s there. Oddly enough, I hadn’t noticed it before as it’s printed on a separate page (on the left-hand side of a DPS). The type is quite small, so I had completely missed it! Thanks for picking up on this point. There’s a note at the back to say it’s Heather Lloyd’s own translation of the poem.

          Reply
  19. Max Cairnduff

    I read the Ash, and afterwards had the sense of perhaps having read the wrong translation when I learned that some bits were cut out. Other than that though I loved it; it’s effervescent and elegant and probably some other words beginning with e. Also, the Ash cover is simply inspired.

    However, after reading the Cooke article I bought the Lloyd translation also and though the Ash first line is much better (I take Emma’s points on accuracy but the the Ash sentence lives while the Lloyd sentence rather clumps so my preference is for the life) I do plan to read the Lloyd and that different take. It’ll be interesting to see which I prefer, though I suspect both will have their strengths.

    One point on something Booker said, sometimes the smoother/more natural translation is the worse one. Clarice Lispector famously had her rather spiky and sometimes intentionally ungrammatical prose smoothed by translators until relatively recently. I compared several translations of The Hour of the Star and Moser’s was simultaneously the least smooth and natural and the most accurate – because Lispector didn’t aim to write smooth and natural prose. Historically some translators sought to tidy the language, often where the writer had meant it to be untidy (see also, I understand, Platonov).

    Reply
    1. JacquiWine Post author

      Interesting, isn’t it? Yes, I plan to read the other version too. So while you try the Lloyd, I’ll be reading the Ash. As you say, there are upsides and downsides to both versions, but I have a suspicion that I may end up preferring the Ash, certainly in terms of style.

      Lispector is a good example to bring up. I hadn’t fully appreciated the issue with those earlier translations of her work until you wrote about it in your review of The Hour of the Star. I was conscious that Penguin had published some new editions (possibly new translations?) a couple of years ago as part of their Modern Classics range, but I hadn’t latched onto the fact that the older versions had smoothed her out in what sounds like a somewhat detrimental way (well, certainly in terms of authenticity/preservation of her spiky style). To be honest, I need to try again with her. Near to the Wild Heart I found intriguing and frustrating in fairly equal measure (it was Alison Entrekin’s translation in the new Penguin edition – not sure if there’s a Moser translation of that one, I’d have to check). Anyway, I couldn’t help feeling that I simply wasn’t ‘getting’ her, if you know what I mean. Some of the individual passages were breathtaking, strikingly good in fact. Overall though, it left me a little cold. I guess I need to give her another try, maybe Star given your positive response to it.

      Reply
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