L'Assommoir

By Émile Zola; Margaret R. Mauldon | Go to book overview

NOTE ON THE TRANSLATION

L'Assommoir is a notoriously difficult text to translate. No translation, however faithful its rendering of the novel's gutter slang and obscenities, could possibly recreate the impact of that language on the nineteenth-century reader. Today readers have become accustomed to slang and are no longer shocked by obscenity. It follows that much of the original power of L'Assommoir to command attention by its unorthodox and audacious language is lost forever--and lost, of course, not simply in translation but to readers of the original as well. The difficulty of appropriately translating Zola's vocabulary, however, goes far beyond questions of changing sensibility and taste. Intelligibility is an issue. Some of the working-class slang that Zola wove so methodically into the fabric of L'Assommoir created problems of comprehension even for his own contemporaries, and has long been out of currency. The glossary included in the Pléiade edition is sufficient proof that some 'translation' is needed even for French readers. But readers of an English version should not need an English slang dictionary; I have aimed at a clearer, more accessible 'read', using slang that is not, as in the French original, outmoded or obscure.

In translating slang and idioms I set out to determine as accurately as possible the meaning of the French term. I turned first to Delvau 1866 Dictionnaire de la langue verte from which Zola culled many of his more picturesque expressions, but in which the coyly periphrastic definitions often need careful interpretation. My search for precise meaning usually required further dogged detective work with other dictionaries and reference works. The next step was to look for an English equivalent of the French which, while still in current use, would preferably not be of recent vintage and would, ideally, convey the vigour of the original without introducing incompatible English or American cultural connotations. In fact, I looked for forceful, timeless, culturally unmarked slang. In this frustrating endeavour my most valuable resource was Eric Partridge's Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English, with

-xlvii-

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L'Assommoir
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Introduction vii
  • Note on the Translation xlvii
  • Select Bibliography l
  • Chronology lii
  • Preface 3
  • Chapter I 5
  • Chapter II 34
  • Chapter V 126
  • Chapter VII 194
  • Explanatory Notes 441
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