Les Miserables Translations

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Les Miserables Translations

Muokkaaja: toukokuu 20, 6:51 pm

For those who love Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables, I thought I would share this commentary on the various translations available. Of interest are our two spectacular Easton Press versions which I have read.

1. The wonderful profusely illustrated 5 volume set based on the first 1887 English edition states it was translated by Joseph L. Blamire, resident translator for Routledge and Sons (London & New York) including all other volumes in that famous richly illustrated Victorian set : Dumas’s Count of Monte Cristo, Hugo’s Hunchback of Notre Dame, Toilers of the Sea, Man Who Laughs, and Ninety-three, and Eugene Sue’s Wandering Jew.

2. The current single volume Famous edition (originally 2 volumes) is reprinted from the 4 volume 1941 Heritage Club set. It is translated by Lascelles Wraxler, and is the English edition authorized by Victor Hugo. This translation is not recommended by the reviewer below for a number of reasons including: 1) The text was altered in places to fit the translator’s political opinions. Tobias Grey says Wraxall “did not hesitate to alter the meaning of Hugo’s novel whenever he disagreed with passages pertaining to Napoleon Bonaparte’s downfall.” 2) Contains scattered lines of dialogue and passages in untranslated French. 3) It handles wordplay and idioms badly. Olin H. Moore says Wraxall is “generally much inferior to Wilbour (1862), who in turn leaves much to be desired.”

3. I suspect all the French novels translated into English during the Victorian or Edwardian periods were bowdlerized in alignment with the sense of morality at that period in time. I recently compared the EP chapter 31 (Hashish trip of Franz) in Count of Monte Cristo and found it to be heavily bowdlerized compared to the modern Penguin translation by Robin Buss. I suspect but do not remember if the 5 volume Victorian set reproduced by EP and translated by Joseph L. Blamire has similar bowdlerization.

4. Marva Brennet, Victor Hugo specialist believes the recent Penguin translation of Les Miserables (2015) by Christine Donougher is the superior translation. “I find Donougher’s translation to be engaging, modern, and accurate. Reading this edition, I did not need to turn back to Hugo’s original novel in order to see what the translator was trying to express. In addition, Donougher’s detailed historical, cultural, and literary notes greatly help readers understand Hugo’s many references.

5. Realistically it comes down to did you enjoy the read when evaluating the translation? Having read the Routledge and Sons facsimile reprints (1886-1887) of Dumas (Count of Monte Cristo) and Hugo (Les Miserables, Hunchback of Notre Dame, and Toilers of the Sea) as well as their single volume editions I can honestly state I enjoyed both. Then again I did not know what I am missing until someone ruined my reading bliss by showing me what I actually missed. So what has been your experience with more modern translations of Les Miserables especially comparing them to EP editions with older translations?


Muokkaaja: toukokuu 20, 7:36 pm

>1 HugoDumas: I share your frustration with Victorian bowdlerizations of French novels. Whenever possible, I try to get a nice version of a recent translation for this reason (such as Folio Society's "Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Seas" with the last word of the title in its correct plural). Until a Robin Buss translation of "The Count" is available in Easton Press or Folio Society format, however, I will have to console myself with the knowledge that, for better or worse, the version I own is the one best known to most of the English-speaking world for the last 177 years. Flawed as it is, it could be rationalized as canon. It is conceivable that some of our great-great-great grandparents, and all of their descendants since, knew "The Count" only in the 1846 Chapman & Hall bowdlerized form that I own today.

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