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Customer Review

395 of 434 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Another wretched "translation"..., July 19, 2009
This review is from: Les Misérables (Modern Library (Hardcover)) (Hardcover)
When a publisher announces the first unabridged translation of a world classic in over a hundred years, one has to get excited. But then you see it is by the same Julie Rose who recently mangled Dumas' LE CHEVALIER DE MAISON-ROUGE. Ms. Rose makes so many obvious mistakes in LES MISERABLES that one really doubts her fluency in French. But more seriously (!), it is her approach to the craft of translation that is really the problem. Ms. Rose is of the hip and groovy school. Nineteenth century peasants should of course sound like Paris Hilton. This makes the book less "stuffy" and more palatable to the "general reader". For example Hugo's Tholomyès is "un viveur de trente ans, mal conservé"; that is, a bon vivant of thirty, in bad shape. Rose's is "a wasted high roller of thirty". The MTV phrase "wasted" would be bad enough, but then she has to throw in another anachronistic expression "high roller". This means a serious gambler, not the same thing at all.

Graham Robb, the biographer of Hugo, found numerous serious errors in this translation incl. that the Duke of Clarence was drowned in a butt of malmsey ("une tonne de malvoisie"), rather than Rose's ridiculous "a tun of marsala" and that the "sacre" of Charles X was his coronation not his "consecration". Marius was not "fierce" with pretty girls (Rose) but "shy" ("farouche"). And on and on. An amateur but arrogant production all the way, and a real disgrace.

The original Wilbour translation, which was quite respectable, was revised and corrected by Lee Fahnestock and Norman MacAffe for Signet some years ago. It is still available and is by every standard superior.

August, 2012 note: Penguin has announced a new translation for the fall to be published in an attractive hardcover:
Les Miserables (Penguin Classics).

November, 2012 note: Just received the Penguin hardcover. Although they announced a "new translation", it is merely a reprint of Norman Denny's "free" and abridged adaptation.
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Showing 1-10 of 42 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Jun 28, 2010 7:05:50 PM PDT
Thank you.

Posted on Jun 29, 2010 10:02:35 AM PDT
A. Stevenson says:
Thanks for this. Appears to be more of a modern paraphrase than a translation. Shame.

Posted on Jan 10, 2011 12:50:33 AM PST
Marulina says:
Tank you!

Posted on Feb 4, 2011 9:18:21 PM PST
. says:
Great review. Thanks for taking the time.

Posted on Feb 16, 2011 10:43:21 AM PST
This is a question pertaining to two translations. I recently bought the Signet translation noted by you at the bottom of your review. I was reading another translation, by Isabel F. Hapgood, and it seemed less "dumbed-down." It made Hugo sound more deep and intelligent than the Signet version did. When I was reading the Signet version, I felt as if they had cut out all of the "higher" words and used more simplistic words for the average man. Now, my question is who remains more true to the orginal text and style of Hugo and whether or not Hapgood's translation is accurate or not? If you could please answer my question, I would be very grateful.

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 16, 2011 3:26:13 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Feb 16, 2011 3:33:09 PM PST
rater25 says:
I don't actually know the Hapgood translation. But I remember reading somewhere that it is somewhat abridged (so is Denny). It is from the 1880's and has not been revised. It is said to be very "Victorian" and full of euphemisms. The Signet is a revision of the translation done while Hugo was still alive. He is supposed to have approved it. But it was revised (70s?) and the language was "modernized", which is what you are probably objecting to. It is hardly ideal, which is why the Rose translation is such a disaster. When will a major publisher commission a new translation now?

P.S. I see another reader - "phlyphish" has posted a review of the Hapgood translation. He only refers to it as the public domain translation. He compares two passages, so you might find it interesting.

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 16, 2011 6:12:21 PM PST
Bronte says:
Hapgood's translation was published in 1887. I have read several parts of it over and over, comparing it with Charles Wilbour's 1862 translation as well as the revised version of Wilbour's work by Fahnestock and MacAfee (Signet Classics), and of course comparing them both with the original. Hapgood's English is more 'Victorian' and more poetic than Wilbour's though they are both nineteenth-century. On the other hand F & M's revision is, as you say, modern, readable, not at all flowery, but it does say, in a no-nonsense way, what Hugo said. It's possible to compare several translations online, including the new one by Julie Rose, by typing a phrase in the box at the 'Search inside this book' prompt. I compared p. 10 of the Signet edition with p. 10 of Rose's edition (last 2 paras of Chap 3, Book 1), as well as the Hapgood and Wilbour. Each of them has a different tone. If you do this exercise of paragraph comparison, I'd be interested to hear your thoughts. But, to answer your question, the Signet edition appears to be the most accurate of them all, though written for what you call the 'average man'.

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 16, 2011 3:47:47 AM PDT
Bronte says:
Dear rater25, I've noticed that one of your comments on Rose's translation is not correct. You say 'one sentence could be literally translated: "She (i.e. the City) does so through her entrails, that is to say, her sewers"'. This cannot be a literal translation as it is already a paraphrase written by Norman Denny. Rose's version is in fact literal, translating every word, and while it's true she does add phrases in other parts of the novel, nothing is added here. So, we get the second part of your quote: "By means of what organ? By means of its bowels. What do you mean, its bowels? Its sewers." That is, Au moyen de quel organe? au moyen de son intestin. Quel est son intestin? c'est son égout. You made some good points in your critique, but it's good to be fair to translators who work long and hard and receive little recognition.

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 16, 2011 2:09:31 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Mar 16, 2011 2:10:36 PM PDT
rater25 says:
It's been quite a while, but I believe I was quoting Graham Robb on that one. It's always good to check oneself.

Posted on Apr 9, 2011 2:57:11 PM PDT
Temporary says:
Thank you for the review!

A comment: it appears that the edition I am reading about right now (Signet Classics), with this review, is in fact a translation by Fahnestock and MacAfee. This would mean that one should look carefully at the listed translators? (I would rather not read about "totally wasted" in a Hugo novel. A personal preference, of course.)
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