Academic journal article Dickens Quarterly

Terror Foreign or Familiar-Pleasure on the Edge: Translating A Tale of Two Cities into French

Academic journal article Dickens Quarterly

Terror Foreign or Familiar-Pleasure on the Edge: Translating A Tale of Two Cities into French

Article excerpt

As a tutor, whose attainments made the student's way unusually pleasant and profitable, and as an elegant translator who brought something to his work besides mere dictionary knowledge, young Mr. Darnay soon became known and encouraged.

A Tale of Two Cities, Book 2, chapter 10. (1)

It is quite telling to have one of the characters in the novel work as a translator and be praised for his "elegance." This quality is not always deemed positive in translation studies circles nowadays, but it is representative of a nineteenth century trend, though elegance may as well qualify Darnay's own elegance, foreshadowing a justification for his marital future. So in this short and single extract devoted to translation, the reader is informed that what is regarded as unquestionable in his art is that it goes beyond mere dictionary knowledge, as if, at the time, there were only two possible postures as a translator: to reinvent the text or to stick to mere slavish word-for-word translation; but in both cases, we may express doubts as to the faculties of understanding of the so-called translators. There certainly is an aesthetics of suffering apprehended quite differently by the two cultures represented in the novel. Moreover, the nature of the social and political system the French Revolution imposed on France over two centuries ago has strengthened the nation and is unconsciously present in French society today, as Dickens himself forecast in Carton's closing words at the end of the novel. Thus it cannot be denied without denying the foundations of the French Republic. In these circumstances one may wonder whether the French translators of the novel stuck to the principle of "elegance" and brought something "more" to the text or attempted to respect Dickens's own principles and tried to reflect an outsider's observations in their work. Consequently, we might ask, what type of images have French readers of A Tale of Two Cities perceived in the last 150 years and how far do these images correspond to the original, to the readers' idea of a Dickens novel and to their own understanding of the Terror?

Charles Dickens had a good knowledge of France and he had read extensively on the subject of the revolution for the completion of his novel. Unfortunately, A Tale of Two Cities, his only novel dealing with the most significant and violent moment of French history, is certainly the least known of his works in French though it was first published in French in 1861, soon after its publication in English (1859), under the title Paris et Londres en 1793. In her title, the translator, Henriette Loreau, (2) (or her publisher) apparently wanted to foreground the part of the book dealing with The Terror, with its effects on the French capital and its repercussions on London, as if the core of the novel were Book 3, starting in the autumn of 1792, The Terror having raged in 1793--4. (3) The first translation was nonetheless reprinted in 1873, under the Third Republic, not long after the Paris Commune, a two-month popular insurrection, bloodily crushed at the end of May 1871; it was again reissued in 1881 after the 14th July, Bastille Day, was voted National Day on 6th July 1880 and La Marseillaise (4) was voted the National Anthem on 14th February 1879. These last steps (5) attributed a leading role to the French Revolution in the history of the French Republic, despite the violence of The Terror, as if The Terror were abstractly part and parcel of the making of our nation while the Revolution was acquiring the status of a national symbol. Several translations followed: a much shortened version, Un drame sous la revolution, in 1914 comprising only 44 pages; in 1936, a more interesting translation appeared in installments in the French magazine Regards between 9th July and 22nd October, after Jack Conway's Hollywood version produced by David O. Selznick was released in 1935. Not only is the renewed interest in the novel through Hollywood worth mentioning, but several other factors in France certainly lead to its publication. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.