Archive for January 2nd, 2013


Dear friends and readers,

This past few weeks I’ve been carefully reading and comparing the extant French translations of Ann Radcliffe. I’ve discovered there’s an interesting history of translation of her books, much of it almost wholly unknown, in the case of French incompletely covered (or mentioned) by Dorothy Medlin, Deborah Rogers and others. I mean to review this and let others interested in French and the transmision of the novel, gothic and Radcliffe too, know that at least three of these are to be taken seriously; that is, translations which convey her text very well and which stand up as creations in their own right. All three were published in the same banner year (1797) for translation of Radcliffe into French, and by the same publisher, Maradon in Paris:

1) Francois Soules turned The Romance of the Forest into La Foret ou l’Abbaye de Saint-Clair; this text has been recently published in good edition by the great critic-biographer of Radcliffe, Pierre Arnaud; showing the usual lack of respect for the integrity of a translator’s text, Arnaud changed the title into Les Mysteres de la foret and says he lightly corrected the text. Arnaud does provide a fine introduction. I selectively compared Arnaud’s text with the first volume of a facsimile of Soules with Arnaud’s slightly corrected text and actually found no difference.

2) Victorine de Chastenay turned The Mysteries of Udolpho into Les Mysteres d’Udolphe. This text has also been recently published (1998) in a fine edition by the great critic and historian of the gothic, Maurice Levy. The way you can tell your text is Chastenay’s and the whole of it is to see if Levy is the editor. If he is, you’ve got the right text.

I’d like readers to be aware that what looks like an oddly slenderish Udolpho published in the last quarter of a century (1966) is by Narcisse Fournier and first published in 1864, this skinny Radcliffe one is a “modernizing translation and abridgement of Chastenay (Fournier probably did not consult Radcliffe much at all.) In the same year Fournier also modernized/translated and abridged an already cavalier translation of Radcliffe’s The Sicilian Romance called Julia Ou Les Souterrains De Mazzini by Moylin. (The Nabu facsimile of Julia available on the Internet is Moylin’s).

3) Andre Morellet translated The Italian or the Confessional of the Black Penitents into L’Italien ou Le Confessional des Penitens Noirs. The only way to get Morellet’s text is download a google text or buy the first volume of a Nabu facsimile.


As far as I can tell there has been no recent edition of Morellet, only an edition of a (bad) text (1974 and 1977) by (again) Narcisse Fournier, and just as his others a loose “modernizing” (according to mid-19th century tastes) translation based on an abridgement of Morellet (possibly without ever looking at Radcliffe). One way to recognize this inferior text is when the introducer is Tony Cartano, and the year 1977.

On the three translators:

Victorine de Chastenay

It is a tribute to Radcliffe and the genuineness of her political thought in her books that all three serious translators were themselves republicans, involved in Enlightenment thought and activities. Chastenay left a three-volume memoir, translated Goldsmith’s poem “Deserted Village,” was herself a saloniere, a Girondist. She took on the task of a work of love. See my Found in Translation.

Like Chastenay, Soules was a republican thinker, in his case he was something of a professional translator; that is, he looked to make money this way. He also translated Tom Paine’s response to Burke’s famous book on the French revolution, some of Arthur Young’s travel books, that part of G. Bligh’s travel book, Voyage to the South with includes the famous story of Mutiny on the Bounty, and two more serious anthropological and cultural studies of Great Britain (he lived there for some years) and one Reflections on Emigration (Chamberlain). Soules met Thomas Jefferson. The liked one another, they wrote, their correspondence is extant. These are the sister-brother books of Radcliffe’s done by Soules.

Andre Morellet is a still well-known serious original thinker, translator (and student of translation — he wrote a sharp critique, careful and studied of the then popular Le Tourneur’s translation of Shakespeare’s Othello). He translated Beccaria, the first important treatist against torture, and original enlightened works. He didn’t translate as much as Soules; he had income of his own otherwise; he did it when desperate for money.

Some notes on the translations compared: I am using the criteria and outlook of Bellos’s Is There a Fish in Your Ear?

While Chastenay’s text has been carefully studied and praised by Dorothy Medlin, Soules’s text has not been written about. I began it and found it resembles Feneon’s Catherine (a brilliant translation of Northanger Abbey), possibly the best translation into French of Austen). Feneon was an anarchist and (possibly) intuited a kindred spirit (not that Austen would have been conscious of this). Feneon and Soules write living forceful texts which contain in them a genuinely lived experience of the story closely analogous to that of Austen and Radcliffe respectively. Some might feel that Soules writes a more forceful text to Radcliffe’s, partly because he is more aware of the archetypes beneath the particulars of Radcliffe’s own text: he reads a paragraph say, lives the experience then turns it into French. Soules brings out these archetypes, makes the text move more quickly; he does lose the delicacy of Racliffe’s interwined text much richer in qualifications and content. He will use French words where there is no English equivalent and obtains an equivalent precise meaning.

Reading Soules’s translation of Radcliffe’s Romance of the Forest deepened my appreciation of Radcliffe herself and my understanding this is one thing reading a creative fine translation can do.

For example, people say that Radcliffe has a strong death wish. It’s not explicit, is it? When Pierre is considering staying at the abbey, Radcliffe writes: “Perhaps, some wretched wanderer, like myself, may have here sought refuge from a persecuting world; and, here, perhaps laid down the load of existence … ” When he thinks of mingling his dust with the man he surmises was here we feel Radcliffe’s death wish (Oxford English, Ch 2, p 24). In Soules we find three concise sentences, they do convey the denotative meaning more concisely and at the center we have this more existentially neutral comment: “Ici peut-etre il aura depose le fardeau de l’existence” (French Folio p. 93). There is no real sense of movement from sentence to sentence driven by desire for death. He’s more pragmatic: “Peut-etre quelque malheureux figutif common moi aura cherche dans ces lieux un refuge contre la persecution. … [aphorism] … Peut-etre aussi n’ai-je suivi ses pas que pour meler ma cendre a la sienne”.

When Peter so delayed, Radcliffe writes Adeline experiences “silence anxiety” (p. 25) that La Motte is “restless and uneasy,” (p. 26), while Soules writes for Adeline “une muette inquietude” (p. 94) “dans les transes cruelles” (p. 94).

I enjoy how Soules finds his own French words to convey the experience. And he has a sort of French gift for aphorism. This is what I found true of Feneon’s translation of Austen’s Northanger Abbey. Soules’s text teaches us why the wrong question of a translation is, Is it accurate (and its corollary, I can’t read that text unless I know the original as if the reader were about to sit and carefully cmopare). The question to ask is: is this a livable fine text? Then, how is its poetry related to its source text in the other language?

I suggest that Soules can make a reader who is not fond of Radcliffe like her better — rather like the French translators of Poe. There is a modern Italian translation (1998) of Udolpho by Lidia Conetti and I’ve read into it quite far (well into the last part of volume 1). Conetti similarly seemed to me could make Radcliffe better liked than she does herself or Chastenay — Chastenay had real social knowledge Radcliffe seems to have lacked, but does not go into the true subversive disquiet of Radcliffe’s mind. Conetti sees into all of this.

I’ve made a foray into Morellet’s translation, L’Italien and my preliminary finding is this: Soules’s Les Mystere de la foret (I use Arnaud’s title) is more the forceful, passionate, and therefore better text. Both of them do not follow the lines and twists and turns of Radcliffe’s grammar or thought but substitute a French syntax; Morellet is also reliving the experience but he is not reliving it with the same intensity. He keeps an intellectual distance. Like Soules Morellet substitutes a more forceful abbreviated French which still contains all the central meaning of the original, but there is a sense of following her rather than re-enacting and feeling. The intellectual sense is there and again like so many others of this era translating these picturesque texts, he’s good on description.

OTOH, Morellet also makes the text his own and comes out more distinctly, thoughtfully than Soules. He has his own particulars (so to speak). Morellet consistently avoids more “effeminate” words and opts for more forceful aggressive for Vivaldi: not anxious, not trembling, not transient looks, but troubled and steathily (see the Nabu facsimile. p 23, the Oxford English, p 16); both have eager good young man meaning well, proud but with some violence on behalf or pride. Morellet’s “l’insensible” for obdurate is a good change on Ellena’s apparent lack of response (facsimile French, 40; Oxford English 17)

Morellet also conveys Radcliffe’s peculiar sense of humor. She does have one. For example, in Chapter 1 at Vivaldi’s expense as an over-enthusiastic romantic Romeo. What is particularly effective is Morellet’s use of French to conjure up the sounds of the scenes, the murmurs of the bay, the lights, and he is alive to the importance of music in this particular novel (see the Nabu facsimile, p 39-40): “la voix de Vivaldi etait un beau tenor …” He goes on more about the voice than the surrounding background feel. But he fudges and goes too quickly or summarily over the description of the bay (cf Radcliffe in the Oxford English, p 16): her inward turns and precision is just magnificent and would take a lot of work to recreate.

Morellet’s syntax is wholly French – the way phrases are pulled out of order for emphasis: Compare Morellet (facsimile, bottom of p 7 and into top of p 8): ” … qui tient a une histoire que m’ont rappelee, et la vue de l’assassin, et votre surprise a le voir demeure libre;” with Radcliffe (Oxford p 3): the sight of the assassin with your surprise at the liberty which is allowed him, led me to a recollection of the story.

At the same time all three translators have idiolects which reflect the nature of the language and a style indicative of an era. A translation reflects the language inside an era, and its culture. That’s why new translations can be equally good and yet so different. Smith’s translation of Prevost’s Manon turns the direct simple French into turns and twists within language (rather like Radcliffe), producing an impression of subjectivity which she hen uses to make the book have far more presence of the heroine. There is a sense in which any writer must follow the genius of the receiving language.

A final note about the problematic nature of readers reading translations not from the original:

Morante’s Menzogna and Sortilegio [A Lie and Witchcraft]

Mensonge et sortilege

A sobering truth for someone who loves to translate (as I do) and read good translations: sometimes Fournier with all his lack of integrity produces a readable text analogous enough to Radcliffe’s through Moylin. Moylin’s translation of The Sicilian Romance includes wholescale abridgements, substitutions of say a physical description of a character where Radcliffe offered something ethical or psychological, and then again translate in the word-for-word in a metaphrase way. What do I mean by enough: Fournier picks up on elements in Radcliffe through Moylin and conveys them generally, more briefly and perhaps for a careless reader more easily. Fournier is reliving the experiences Moylin offers through his Radcliffe; Fournier’s text is not translationese, it’s not a dead text. He writes in mid-19th century living French, and thus conveys something of the core of a text which he cares little for and perhaps never read. A reader reading Fournier could easily be fooled into feeling she has come in contact with Radcliffe and in a way she has.

The thought that comes to mind is that many of our modern texts we read as substitutes for classics are really Fournier style texts. For example, the American English translation of Morante’s Menzogna and Sortilegio made her very unhappy. It’s 200 pages shorter than hers, has a different title (The House of Liars); we cannot know if the translator didn’t use the complete unabridged good French translation which is available and never went to Morante. People here might not care about Morante, but I once tried to read the English translation of Eco’s Il nome della rosa and discovered it was again and again ruthlessly slashed, often not accurate and yet conveyed some core of the essential experience of Eco’s text, was a living effective text in its own right. I have read her La Storia in Italian, having been told that the English cavalierly abridges and does not translate it with accurate attention.

Note: My proposal was turned down. I think probably most unfairly. To do myself justice and also keep my thoughts where I can find them again and share them with others, I’ve put my proposal on my website. “To translate seemed to me a beautiful thing to do: Translation as Matching Creative Act”. I’ve at least done myself that much justice. (Freedom the press and speech belongs to the woman who has a website.)


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