Not-so-escapist reading, Take 2

And this time, I ran into trouble with an English translation of Simone de Beauvoir.
I bought the book The Woman Destroyed(1), which is a collection of three long short stories: The Age of Discretion, The Monologue, and The Woman Destroyed. So far, I've only read the first.

It's a good story, no doubt about that. But I had difficulty reading it because the translation was bumpy. I could feel the French trying to break through the contrived-sounding English. There is something to be said for a translation sounding a bit "quaint"; it adds to the foreign flavor. Obviously, I don't want to read a work of fiction by an eminent French writer, featuring distinctively French protagonists and a plot that takes place in Paris and environs, but sounding like something from the pen of Fay Weldon or Eudora Welty

Some people claim they can identify a film as being French even without hearing the dialogue, because of its special air; I often feel the same about French fiction – vive la difference.
So, it's okay for a translated story or novel to feel French… it's not okay for it to be bumpy or unclear.

The first bump was already in the title. Since I haven't yet read the third story, I don't know how "destroyed" the woman is. But my eldest, who recommended the book to me, said the Hebrew translation is called Isha Shvura(2), literally "a broken woman", while the original French is La Femme Rompue. I don't remember encountering the verb rompre in my 5 years of French way back in high school & university, and the dictionary definitions in French and in English weren't much help:

French:
1° cesser d'entretenir des relations amicales avec quelqu'un.
2° briser, enfoncer par une forte poussée.
3° se séparer, se briser.
4° séparer, briser.

French/English:
Broken, snapped, tired out, overwhelmed, etc.

According to the explanation of my colleague A.R., in this context "shvura" was probably closer to the writer's meaning than "destroyed". I don't know. But this mere not-knowing bothers me and gets in the way of my enjoyment of the text.

Further bumps quickly ensued. I just couldn't help feeling that the translation was lacking; not smooth; occasionally even jarring. There were quite a few unnecessary its littering the text, that seemed to stem from the French use of y. One of those things an editor should have ironed out.

An example that had me baffled is the following:
The unnamed protagonist, a woman who has just turned sixty or is in her early sixties, is talking about her mother-in-law, whom her husband just phoned: "She is sound in wind and limb and she is still a furious militant in the ranks of the Communist Party;"
I stopped dead in my tracks. Sound in wind and limb? Perhaps the translator meant spirit? Or mind? As in "sound in body and mind"? How on earth could he use "wind" instead of mind or spirit? What does the French source say?

Since I couldn't find the answer online, I wondered what the prolific Hebrew translator, Miriam Tivon, made of it.
Surprise, surprise. The Hebrew makes no mention either of wind or of mind or spirit:

"היא עומדת איתן על רגליה וראייתה תקינה; היא פעילה נמרצת בשורות המפלגה הקומוניסטית
..."
[Transcription: Hee omedet eytan al ragleiha u-re'iyata tekina.]
What does good eyesight have to do with wind?... Can the French be so ambiguous, that one translator saw fit to translate it as eyesight and another thought that "wind" fits the bill?...

If any of you can solve this mystery for me, I'd be grateful.
Meanwhile, I will eventually read the other two stories in this volume, when I need a break from my usual escapist reading… After all, I recently got back from London, where I picked up two Darwins and a Ward/Brownlee that are waiting for me…

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(1) Translated by Patrick O'Brian, Flamingo Publishers, 1984
(2) מצרפתית מרים טבעון, זמורה, ביתן - מוציאים לאור, 1984

3 comments:

moragsmum said...

The idiom "sound in wind and limb" is drawn from the animal world - referring for example to a horse that's fit to work/be ridden. I googled the whole phrase and it gives quite antiquated references (a John Buchan book from the
1930's). Certainly not the best choice of idiom!

Nina R. Davis said...

Many thanks!
I suppose if we're talking about horses, good eyesight is more relevant than a sound mind :-)

Jennifer said...

The connotation of "femme rompue" for me is more like "Girl Interrupted" (remember the movie?) as in a woman unravelled... Of course I have no idea if this 'fits', as I didn't read the book...

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