takethewatch: (Default)
[personal profile] takethewatch posting in [community profile] les_miserables
Does anyone have Opinions and/or Advice about translations to share? It's been a few years since my initial read-through of the Brick, and now that I have relapsed with a vengeance into this fandom, I am about due for another one (as soon as Life permits). I know not to read Denny--but I would love to see some discussion of the other translations out there (especially the new Donougher one) and their relative merits.

Date: 2014-03-31 06:14 pm (UTC)
tenlittlebullets: (tl;dr)
From: [personal profile] tenlittlebullets
As a translator, I love Donougher; as a fan, I find myself frequently giving her the stink-eye. She pays scrupulous attention to word choice, to not inflating the ponderousness of Hugo's prose with unthinking calques on the French, and to either footnoting the wordplay or trying to render it in English, but her campaign against artificially inflating the register often comes at the expense of Hugo's more lyrical passages. So some of the most striking sentences from the original can end up dull as ditchwater. I recommend her translation if only because it's the most thoroughly-annotated one that exists in English, and because she's got a knack for getting the gist of a turn of phrase that would be a non-sequitur if translated literally, but if you've got favorite Brick quotes that you're attached to then be prepared to slam your book shut and go "Goddammit, Donougher" from time to time.

Fahnestock/Macafee is a nice, reliable, readable, mostly-faithful translation. It suffers from some of the problems Donougher was trying to eliminate--excessive ponderousness and occasional non-sequiturs especially in the wittier dialogue--but it's solid and not obnoxiously archaic like the public-domain translations, or obnoxiously modernized like Julie Rose.

Date: 2014-04-01 02:13 am (UTC)
tenlittlebullets: (tl;dr)
From: [personal profile] tenlittlebullets
Actually, one of the effects of Donougher's approach is that she's intensely readable--just, as mentioned, sometimes at the expense of the beauty of the prose. There's this translation pitfall where a word that was simple in French got borrowed into English and took on much fancier or more formal connotations, so if you pick the quick and easy translation when going French-to-English, the prose gets artificially puffed up with ten-dollar words. Donougher takes some pains not to do that; she goes for English syntax (possessive "'s" isntead of "of," etc) and less pretentious/more Anglo-Saxon vocabulary whenever she can, except for the occasional moment where she goes "fuck this" and drops something clunky and pretentious on you because it's more accurate. So it comes off simpler and more readable most of the time, and I actually went through it at a decent clip (a couple hundred pages per day) until I hit the parts that made me go "NOPE nopenopenopenope" and put the book down to cry about barricade boys. Which is Hugo's fault, not Donougher's.

(And since I am forever and always a shameless enabler of people who are interested in the original French: it's not going to get less slow and painful until you've plowed through a bunch of text with cheerful disregard for how patchy your reading comprehension is, and you might as well do that with something you already like and know well enough to not get totally lost. Sheer quantity is the only way I know of to stop deciphering and build up some reading flow, and quantity is definitely one thing the Brick doesn't lack. *enable enable enable*)

Date: 2014-03-31 09:48 pm (UTC)
melannen: Commander Valentine of Alpha Squad Seven, a red-haired female Nick Fury in space, smoking contemplatively (Default)
From: [personal profile] melannen
I will speak up in favor of Hapgood, the version on Gutenberg, if only because it's the standard translation in current online fandom - it's not necessarily the best translation, and it is a bit dated (but then again, so is Hugo's French) but it's tolerably good, and it's the one people seem to fall back on for quotations and excerpts and so on - even if they've read other versions, that's the easy-access one when you're messing around on the internet - so that one will get you the familiar wordings.

Date: 2014-03-31 10:46 pm (UTC)
tenlittlebullets: (tl;dr)
From: [personal profile] tenlittlebullets
Yes, but it's TERRIBLE, and I will fight you on this. *g*

(I've always wondered why there don't seem to be any versions of Wilbour floating around the internet. Wilbour's kind of fussy and archaic, but he's a damn sight better than Hapgood.)

Date: 2014-03-31 11:31 pm (UTC)
sophia_sol: drawing of Combeferre, smiling and holding up a finger like he's about to explain something (Default)
From: [personal profile] sophia_sol
What's so terrible about Hapgood in your opinion? I obviously don't have as much familiarity with different translations (or the original text) as you so I am probably missing something! I read Hapgood for my first time around and found her perfectly readable - and I mean, yes, there were bits where she was obviously missing the point with some wordplay or something, but I found it serviceable.

Date: 2014-03-31 11:39 pm (UTC)
tenlittlebullets: (Default)
From: [personal profile] tenlittlebullets
All the archaism of Wilbour and then some, plus a generous helping of over-literal clunkiness that often crosses the line into outright inaccuracy. (My favorite has always been her rendering of Cosette saying to Valjean, "Avec ce machin-là sur la tête, j'ai l'air de Madame Chien-Fou!"--no, Hapgood, it doesn't mean 'machine.' The French have a breathtaking assortment of words for 'thingamawhatsit.')

Date: 2014-03-31 11:43 pm (UTC)
sophia_sol: drawing of Combeferre, smiling and holding up a finger like he's about to explain something (Default)
From: [personal profile] sophia_sol
Hah, fair enough! I don't personally look on archaism as a negative, but over-literal and inaccurate is definitely a fault. And oh dear, that translation to machine...!

Date: 2014-03-31 11:52 pm (UTC)
tenlittlebullets: (Default)
From: [personal profile] tenlittlebullets
My issue with the archaic-sounding translations is that Hugo doesn't write like that--he's very direct! I can put up with it when it's about par with the general levels of fussiness in Victorian-era English prose, but stuff like Hapgood's awkward use of 'thou' drives me right up the wall.

Date: 2014-03-31 11:56 pm (UTC)
sophia_sol: drawing of Combeferre, smiling and holding up a finger like he's about to explain something (Default)
From: [personal profile] sophia_sol
And again I will concede the point! I do not know nearly enough french to be able to judge Hugo's levels of archaism for myself, and if Hapgood goes too far beyond him then that is another point against her, yes.

I'd forgotten about the way she uses thou! The thing about thou is that if only she were CONSISTENT in her usage it would be a useful way of translating tu vs vou, BUT SHE IS NOT CONSISTENT. So it just comes across as awkward and makes things more confusing instead of less.

Date: 2014-04-01 12:09 am (UTC)
tenlittlebullets: (Default)
From: [personal profile] tenlittlebullets
Yeah, I guess it seems like kind of a snotty reason to have such a hate-on for Wilbour and Hapgood, BUT I CANNOT GET OVER IT. It's the ugly flip side of my unbridled joy at diving into the French version of the Brick and discovering how much cleaner and more elegant Hugo's prose was than I'd thought: an eternal grudge against the translators who'd led me to believe otherwise. (Which is dumb, because F/MA was my first translation, but I think F/MA is about as good as you can get without going the Donougher route--my issue with Wilbour and Hapgood is that they make it worse than it has to be, and IIRC Wilbour was much more popular for Brick quotes in fandom back in Ye Olde Days Of Yore when I was forming ~opinions~ than it is now. So I get irrationally hacked off about both of them, but more so Hapgood because she's not even accurate a lot of the time.)

Date: 2014-04-01 12:17 am (UTC)
sophia_sol: drawing of Combeferre, smiling and holding up a finger like he's about to explain something (Default)
From: [personal profile] sophia_sol
No, it doesn't seem snotty to me. I mean, from what you say, these translators are misleading the readers about an essential aspect of how the book reads!

I own FMA and enjoyed that translation too - though I had my nitpicks with it as well iirc. And of late I have been eyeing Donougher in a "do I really need to own multiple copies of the brick" "but FOOTNOTES" sort of way. And given your comments in your first reply to this post I am finding myself more curious to check out what Donougher's translation is like.

Date: 2014-04-01 01:08 am (UTC)
esteliel: (Les Mis)
From: [personal profile] esteliel
This translation discussion is so fascinating and helpful to me! When I let a friend drag me into this fandom, I asked him what translation he would recommend since I was kind of overwhelmed by the ~500 ebooks on amazon, and got Hapgood as a recommendation for a start. And I don't actually have any complaints reading it - I've genuinely enjoyed it, and the archaic language hasn't bothered me since I obviously didn't have anything to compare it to, but when I started writing fic and reread chapters for that, I've also looked at the original French of whatever scene I was looking at, and was struck by how easy it was to understand that. It would make sense though if the original is a lot less archaic sounding than the translation. (I read French every day for work, but that's just bug reports - it's probably been 15 years or more since I read a French novel in school. /o\)

I wonder if there is any sort of French "school edition" that comes with a ton of footnotes and vocabulary lists for the more unusual words? (And I love how this fandom makes me actually want to go and buy a French novel after so many years of being glad that I wouldn't have to do any more French.)

And I hear you on the use of "thou". On the one hand, I really really love that distinction in speech between a formal and a familiar address - German does the same as French there so it feels natural to me and I love the way you can theoretically use it to use direct speech to denote respect/disrespect and shifts thereof without any further explanation. I've tried to go with her use of "thou" in one story and found it just very painful amd awkward an experiment, and it left me with the decision to not try that again because I just can't see it working. How do other translations handle that? Do they simply go with footnotes or with explanations in the narrative like "...had switched to an informal address?"

Date: 2014-04-01 01:26 am (UTC)
tenlittlebullets: (Default)
From: [personal profile] tenlittlebullets
If there's a school edition, it's probably abridged. :( The Bibliothèque de la Pléiade edition is heavily annotated, but mostly with historical/classical references and errata from the rough drafts. It's also gorgeous, leatherbound and printed on Bible paper, and predictably expensive.

I guess what I'd recommend for getting into the French is to find an online edition and read the scenes you already know pretty well in English, which should allow you to get back into the swing of the grammar and vocabulary enough to start on the less-familiar scenes + a WordReference tab. Then gradually wean yourself off the dictionary tab and move to a print edition. That, plus translations of short scenes from the rough drafts that had never existed in English before, was pretty much how I learned French (so I am biased in recommending it, but hey, it worked for at least one person!).

Donougher, which is the translation I'm currently reading, handles T/V distinction both via footnotes and in text, with phrases like "...was no longer being insultingly familiar with him." It's awkward, but it's impossible to make it not awkward, so I'm glad she's at least being thorough about it.

Date: 2014-04-01 07:49 pm (UTC)
esteliel: (Default)
From: [personal profile] esteliel
Oh my god, you shouldn't have mentioned that - that edition looks gorgeous! And it's only 57€ on amazon.fr, and there are a few auctions on ebay.fr... Maybe something that gorgeous will be incentive enough to get me to read a French novel again after 17 years - or at least the chapters most relevant to whatever I'm writing at the time.

And the Donougher way still sounds somewhat awkward, but like the better alternative - after all, I am already aware that I am reading a translation, so just give me all the footnotes!

I've been thinking about this quite a bit because I really do like the way vouz/tu is at once so simple and so powerful in the way it denotes shifts in respect - going from the formal to the informal is such a slap in the face if it is done without invitation to do so or as a sign of affection. And usually with fic in English there is no need to think about that at all for me, but since I enjoy the way Hugo utilizes it so much, I also don't want to ignore it, which leaves the same sort of problem all of his translators face, I guess. But I experimented with Hapgood's "thou" once, and that's just not an alternative, I think it's really the most awkward way of dealing with it (maaaaybe, if it is just one sentence... but an entire conversation? Never again). In the end, the Donougher way of using phrases to describe changes in the mode of address probably is the least awkward you can get in a text.

Date: 2014-04-01 02:52 am (UTC)
cahn: (Default)
From: [personal profile] cahn
On my last reread I did most of it in Hapgood (because it was free to put on my kindle, which is much lighter than my Fahnestock/MacAfee), hit Javert Off the Track (which I, uh, may have had virtually memorized off the F/MA translation), noped out of there, and finished off the last piece in F/MA. And I was shocked and dismayed by how much more readable F/MA was; it was really surprising to me. I agree, Hapgood is serviceable, but F/MA was way easier to get through, and I'm a bit bitter because I think some of the parts I thought were hard slogging would have been much less of a slog in F/MA.

Date: 2014-04-01 02:56 pm (UTC)
sophia_sol: drawing of Combeferre, smiling and holding up a finger like he's about to explain something (Default)
From: [personal profile] sophia_sol
...all of a sudden I'm making a connection with my own experience. My first read was Hapgood and I found it tough going in places but enjoyed it anyways. My second read a year or so later was FMA and I found it a much easier read - but I assumed it was just because I'd done it once before and also had spent a year in the fandom, and those combined factors made it easier. I'm thinking I didn't place nearly enough emphasis on the difference in translation!

Date: 2014-04-01 06:05 pm (UTC)
melannen: Commander Valentine of Alpha Squad Seven, a red-haired female Nick Fury in space, smoking contemplatively (Default)
From: [personal profile] melannen
But maybe I *like* translations that are archaic-sounding and overly literal! :P (That's actually sort of true? I like translations that are sort of.. transparent, where you can see the bones of the original underneath, if you know how to look. Which doesn't necessarily make for a *good* translation, per se. It's pretty good at motivating me to look at the French too, though.)

I'm curious too as the why Hapgood is basically the only one the internet goes to! There are several more old ones available through Google Books if you know how to look, including multiple printings of Wilbour, but I think Hapgood is the only one with a manually-edited, OCR'd version available. I suspect everybody who's considered taking on another one has looked at how long it is and then gone "eh, Hapgood's good enough."

A new project for the fandom? :D If everybody took a chapter or two, it wouldn't take that long to do. Do we have any Gutenberg editors around?

Date: 2014-04-01 11:39 pm (UTC)
sophia_sol: drawing of Combeferre, smiling and holding up a finger like he's about to explain something (Default)
From: [personal profile] sophia_sol
I know that I went with Hapgood because it's what's on gutenberg, and I wouldn't be surprised if I'm not alone in that. I'm just used to gutenberg - I've never taken the time to get the hang of google books. You say there are multiple available on google books "if you know how to look" and I don't. I just tried actually, and it took me an embarrassingly long time even to just find the text to a copy of Wilbour!

Also you can copy-past text from the Hapgood in a way you can't as easily from the pdfs on google books, which makes things much more convenient for quoting bits of the brick in online discussions.

And also you can download the Hapgood from gutenberg in multiple convenient ebook formats.


I think it would be a really useful resource if people WERE to go through and ocr and manually edit the texts of other old translations! I would certainly volunteer to help if this project took off.

Date: 2014-04-01 11:57 pm (UTC)
melannen: Commander Valentine of Alpha Squad Seven, a red-haired female Nick Fury in space, smoking contemplatively (Default)
From: [personal profile] melannen
Yeah, we'd basically have to either get another one up on Gutenberg, or at least get a Gutenberg-quality file up on chanvrerie or somewhere (it looks like it's gotten more complicated to get stuff up on Gutenberg since last I checked...)

And it would have to be manually copyedited, but individual chapters aren't actually that long, so it seems doable if split up among even a few dozen people - the hard part would be quality control and coordinating.

Date: 2014-04-02 12:03 am (UTC)
sophia_sol: drawing of Combeferre, smiling and holding up a finger like he's about to explain something (Default)
From: [personal profile] sophia_sol
Yeah, either would be good, though it would be best to get it on gutenberg where more people would be likely to see. I just checked the gutenberg site and it doesn't look overly complicated to me to get stuff up. According to the FAQ:

There are acres of words in this FAQ about that, but it all boils down to 4 simple steps:

Get an eligible book — pre-1923, or one of the exceptions. Pull it from your attic, borrow it from a library or a friend, buy it in your local bookstore, in a flea-market or on-line. We don't care which.
Send us a copy or the front and back of the title page so we can file proof of copyright clearance.
Copy the text from the book into a computer text file. We don't care whether you type it, scan it, voice-dictate it, or think of some totally new way to do it. Just get it into a file.
Send us the computer text file.
That's all there is to it!


Which seems fairly straightforward to me, unless I'm missing something.

It would totally be doable as a project! Possibly for quality control we'd want someone with a good eye to read through the whole thing once everyone was done, to make sure there aren't any glaring errors, which would likely be the most time-consuming part for any of the people participating. And by the way I call NOT IT for coordinating...!

Date: 2014-04-02 12:10 am (UTC)
melannen: Commander Valentine of Alpha Squad Seven, a red-haired female Nick Fury in space, smoking contemplatively (Default)
From: [personal profile] melannen
Oooh, apparently I failed to find the FAQ this time. (link for future reference) Yeah, totally doable! Somebody should coordinate. Maybe someone who hates Hapgood more than me, though. :P

Date: 2014-04-02 12:12 am (UTC)
sophia_sol: drawing of Combeferre, smiling and holding up a finger like he's about to explain something (Default)
From: [personal profile] sophia_sol
Hah, yes. Paging tenlittlebullets....?

Date: 2014-04-10 09:12 am (UTC)
kerrypolka: Contemporary Lois Lane with cellphone (Default)
From: [personal profile] kerrypolka
I'd be up for helping with this!

Date: 2014-04-03 03:57 pm (UTC)
needsmoreresearch: (Default)
From: [personal profile] needsmoreresearch
How do people feel about Wraxall as a translation? I ended up with a copy that I wasn't expecting, and obviously it's a treat with the illustrations and I've enjoyed the overall feel of the passages I've looked through--but I haven't really sat down with it scrupulously.

...also, they cut the joke about Joly's 4 Ls, which is clearly a great crime against the entire history of literature.

Date: 2014-04-04 06:29 am (UTC)
thjazi: Sketch of goofy smiling Enjolras (Default)
From: [personal profile] thjazi
I adore Wraxall, I read through to the convent with it in the early days of the Brick club-- but it is Super Not the most accurate translation. But it's...it's, like, Wrong With Feeling. Like a fan who was sort of teaching themselves French through translation made a REAL SINCERE effort.

It gets a lot wrong. Like, just straight up incorrect. But it's weirdly enjoyable to read--really, WEIRDLY, the language is archaic in a very strange way. And it adds in weird helpful bits like explaining the pun with Bossuet's nickname, and there are just a lot of little touches I like, but I would not be the one to try and defend it on Actual Quality.

The illustrations, though. Those are WONDERFUL.


(Also am I the only person who doesn't have copies of this book materializing at me, what the HECK.:P Did you get the 1 or 2 volume set?)

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