Thursday, May 12, 2011

The Return of Emma Bovary

There is a new translation of Gustave Flaubert's masterpiece, Madame Bovary. It sounds atrocious. According to Taki's Magazine:
Madame Bovary: A New Translation by Lydia Davis sounds exactly like what it is—a book written in 21st-century America. Hollywood period movies can be dated by the hairstyles; here the turn of phrase is a dead giveaway. There is “give me a hug” in place of “embrace me,” “deep in her soul” instead of “at the bottom of her soul,” and “waiting for something to happen” rather than “waiting for an event.” Little things, little things, though some would say that even a comma is big when it comes to translation and that a translator should be a slave to the original as the Slav Nabokov was to Pushkin, as the poet Baudelaire was to Poe—“servilely attached to the letter” at the risk of producing baroque and even painful results.

There is no pain for the reader in Madame Bovary: A New Translation by Lydia Davis—just smooth, easy, up-to-date, democratic Americanness. It’s a choice, but it’s a shame, because it doesn’t do justice to Flaubert’s style, and however one may dislike what he chose to write about, Flaubert knew how to write. (Read entire article.)


Stephanie A. Mann said...

When Flaubert agonized over every word! 21st century "dynamic equivalence"--it does sound dreadful.

elena maria vidal said...

When we studied MADAME BOVARY in French Lit in college we learned that every word and every turn of phrase was latent with meaning. So much is lost even in a good English translation much less a bad one....