bouffées d’affadissement
September 20, 2010 10:13 AM   Subscribe

Lydia Davis is blogging on translation during the lead-up to her forthcoming Madame Bovary. You can also read Davis discussing style, Beckett, Proust, and translation with The Believer here.
posted by shakespeherian (14 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
Thanks for this, great find.
posted by Fizz at 10:16 AM on September 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

I figured Steegmuller had this market locked down. Has she identified any particular shortcomings in his version? Or is there a new standardized text to work from?
posted by Joe Beese at 10:23 AM on September 20, 2010

Ha. I literally just finished reading Madam Bovary for the first time yesterday.

I was surprised with how funny and mean it was.
posted by The Whelk at 10:29 AM on September 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

Yeah I'm very interested to see if she'll say anything in particular about Steegmuller's translation. Davis also wrote fairly extensively about the process in her introduction to Swann's Way, which you can read by digging through the More Inside! here, but of course there was only one extant English translation of Proust. It's possible that she won't call him out by name in this blog, but as his is the generally accepted translation, you can probably read most of her remarks about extant translations as at least partially referring to Steegmuller.
posted by shakespeherian at 10:40 AM on September 20, 2010

Does she maintain the original rhyme scheme?

(That was a joke.)
posted by Sys Rq at 12:18 PM on September 20, 2010

Sweet! I'm reading her translation of "Swann's Way" right now, and it's truly wonderful.
posted by freshwater_pr0n at 12:29 PM on September 20, 2010

Bravo for titling this post "bouffées d’affadissement."

I'm in awe of Davis's Swann's Way, and I'm sure her translation of Madame Bovary will be the new gold standard. (Also check out her heroic work on Michel Leiris.)

In regards to other translations, I read and loved Steegmuller's Bovary just a few months ago (after Mauldon's Oxford translation nearly killed the book for me).
posted by ajourneyroundmyskull at 1:01 PM on September 20, 2010

I don't know much about Steegmuller's personal views on translation, but it's worth bearing in mind that Davis's ethic w/r/t translation is that it is the translator's duty to capture the style of the original prose more than to approximate the same story in fluid English prose, so it's possible she finds nothing wrong with Steegmuller's outside of the fairly narrow bounds of her version of faithfulness.
posted by shakespeherian at 1:42 PM on September 20, 2010

but of course there was only one extant English translation of Proust

Scott Moncrieff's, Kilmartin's, plus Enright's makes three by my count. It could be argued that the Kilmartin is a rereading of Scott Moncrieff, and that the Enright is a revision of both; there are, however, real and substantial differences between the three, including new material unavailable to the original translator.
posted by Wolof at 5:39 PM on September 20, 2010

Kilmartin was definitely revising Scott Moncrieff, and Enright was revising both. But, Wolof, I think you may be right in considering them like three full separate translations - the changes in the volume titles alone says a great deal. ("The Sweet Cheat Gone"? Really? WTF?)

Having read the Enright version just last year, I have to say I found it quite fine. When I set out to read Proust I did do some reading about the new translations and all the assorted problems with the whole process of translating anything - in the end I opted to stick with the Enright, both because the stupid changes in U.S. copyright law meant the final two volumes of the new editions can't be published in America for a few more years (thus the Enright is really the only game in town for the U.S. if you want the whole set), and also because in the end I just have misgivings over the whole "six different translators" idea. I certainly understand that any single translator might have to be slightly mad to attempt re-translating the whole of Proust on their own, but nonetheless I can't get over the feeling that to maintain real consistency of tone and style over the whole thing, that's really what ought to happen. And actually it seems to me that multiple revisions of the same "base" translation doesn't seem like such a bad idea. Finally, while I've heard nothing but praise for Davis's translation of Swann's Way, I have heard a few less than stellar comments about the other volumes (mostly, I think, about volume two, In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower)

(I've also recently put a fair amount of study into questions of translation of Tolstoy, because I've resolved to make War and Peace my next literary "summit climb," and just this afternoon ordered the Pevear and Volokhonsky translation.)
posted by dnash at 6:17 PM on September 20, 2010

you wanna know what kinda nerd I was in college?

I was the kinda nerd who crashed a lecture class when Lydia Davis was the guest speaker.
posted by dogwalker at 12:11 AM on September 21, 2010

*Seethes with jealousy*
posted by shakespeherian at 4:46 AM on September 21, 2010

Update for Joe Beese:
The Joan Charles translation (an abridged Garden City Book Club edition from 1949) follows the original very closely—she wouldn’t dream of adding or omitting material with the self-confident and rather presumptuous writerly flair of, for instance, Francis Steegmuller (American, 1957) or Gerald Hopkins (English, 1948), authors of the two “classic” and popular translations of Madame Bovary—one for each side of the Atlantic. Nor does she rearrange the sentences much. (from here)
So Davis does have some specific problems with the Steegmuller translation after all.
posted by shakespeherian at 10:41 AM on October 4, 2010

NY Mag review which talks a bit about Davis's process.
posted by shakespeherian at 10:43 AM on October 4, 2010

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