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Customer Review

285 of 292 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Norman Denny Translation is Readable, July 2, 2006
This review is from: Les Miserables (Penguin Classics) (Paperback)
I have both the original Wilbour translation and the Norman Denny translation of this book, and I'd say that the Denny translation is the more readable of the two. Graham Robb, in his award-winning biography of Hugo has called Denny's translation "swiss cheese" and "translation as censorship." However, it's well-written, and the "excised" sections are included as appendices to which any reader can turn. In places where Denny edits the prose, he captures the spirit of the novel.

But the best comparison is made by reading:

here's Wilbour from the beginning of Part Two, Book Four:

"Forty years ago, the solitary pedestrian who ventured into the unknown region of La Salpetriere and went up along the Boulevard as far as the Barrier d'italie, reached certain points where it might be said that Paris had disappeared. It was no longer a solitude, for there were people passing; it was not the country for there were houses and streets. It was not a city, the streets had ruts in them, like highways, and grass grew along their borders; it was not a village, the houses were too lofty. What was it then? It was an inhabited place where there was nobody. It was a desert place where there was somebody. It was a boulevard of the great city, a street of Paris, wilder at night than a forest and gloomier by day than a graveyard. It was the old quarter of the horse-market."

Denny's version of the same passage

" A stroller forty years ago penetrating beyond the Salpetriere by way of the Boulevard de l'Hopital as far as the Barrierr d'italie, would have come to a region where Paris seemed to disappear. It was not a wilderness, for there were inhabitants; not country, for there were streets and houses; not a town, for the streets were rutted like country roads, and grass grew in them; nor was it a village, for the houses were too high. What was it then? It was an inhabited place where there was no one, a deserted place where there was someone, a city boulevard, a paris street, wilder by night than the forest, more melancholy by day than a graveyard. It was the anciet quarter of the horse-market, the Marche-Aux-Chevaux."
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Showing 1-10 of 11 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Feb 12, 2010 7:33:00 PM PST
Though my aesthetic sense may prefer the Wilbour in this single passage, I thank you so much for providing this comparison.

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 13, 2011 1:58:04 PM PST
Pam says:
I agree. I am only a sophomore in high school, but even I can understand the importance of preserving the way writers wrap their words around ideas.

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 2, 2012 11:43:53 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Dec 3, 2012 12:31:39 AM PST
Sam says:
The problem, of course, is that word-for-word translations are often meaningless. For instance, if you had the following sentence in an English novel, "This is for the birds," would "C'est pour les oiseaux" be the best way to translate that into French? Somehow, I doubt most French readers would find that very effective. ;) The author's intent is usually more important than literal accuracy.

It's true that the Denny version may take a few too many liberties, but I think it's the most forceful, readable version out there. The Fahnestock version is strong in accuracy, but comes across as much more mundane. I've read them both, and prefer the Denny version.

The Wilbour version of this passage isn't bad (and I even prefer a couple of things from it), but overall I think the Denny version sounds more modern and packs more punch.

Posted on Jan 8, 2013 5:38:08 AM PST
A. Carmack says:
Just from this extract alone, I can tell why I am greatly enjoying the Wilbour edition (unabridged audio). Which makes the point that there should be less griping about translations and for a perspective reader to choose one and read and/or listen to it. Although I have to say that the Rose translation jolts the reader's sensibilities by her unfortunate, jarring, too informal choice of words... Still if hers were the only translation available, I would read it--or hasten my efforts to read the original French. I do think Denny should have left the text alone and not subjugated some passages to an appendix. Isn't the reader smart enough to be able to skip or skim certain passages? Lastly, all translations are interpretations, so again, just choose one and read it. Or read the same several chapters in two or three translations and make a choice. Or read all the major translations! Well, probably not, as I would rather have learned enough French by then!

Posted on Apr 20, 2013 8:58:48 AM PDT
LG says:
I agree. The Denny translation is more readable than Wilbour. It is definitely true to the spirit of the original, and manages to convey the beauty of Hugo's original prose more effectively than some more literal translations I have looked at.

Posted on Feb 11, 2014 9:53:58 AM PST
J. Stanbury says:
Based on these excerpts, I would prefer a combination of the translations. I prefer the flow of the Denny translation, but I appreciate the word choices and aesthetics of the Wilbour translation. Interesting comparison. Now, to choose which to read first.

Posted on Mar 3, 2014 6:37:35 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Mar 3, 2014 6:38:07 PM PST
ALK says:
:)Here's my preference:
Forty years ago, the solitary pedestrian who ventured into the unknown region of La Salpetriere and went up along the Boulevard as far as the Barrier d'italie, reached certain points where it might be said that Paris had disappeared. It was not a wilderness, for there were inhabitants; not country, for there were streets and houses; not a town, for the streets were rutted like country roads, and grass grew in them; nor was it a village, for the houses were too high. What was it then? It was an inhabited place where there was no one, a deserted place where there was someone, a city boulevard, a paris street, wilder by night than the forest, more melancholy by day than a graveyard. It was the ancient quarter of the horse-market, the Marche-Aux-Chevaux.

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 25, 2014 9:31:35 AM PDT
[Deleted by the author on Mar 25, 2014 9:39:34 AM PDT]

Posted on Mar 27, 2015 11:57:49 PM PDT
Wasn't the Wraxall translation approved by Victor Hugo? How does it compare?

In reply to an earlier post on May 29, 2015 11:19:37 PM PDT
[Deleted by the author on May 29, 2015 11:20:35 PM PDT]
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R. Hill
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Location: Brooklyn, NY USA

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