The book was originally published in 1947 under the French title La Peste. There are three English translations:
- I have not read the 1948 Stuart Gilbert translation of The Plague.
- I read the 2001 Robin Buss translation of The Plague. (Previously, I read the Robin Buss translation of The Count of Monte Cristo.)
- There is a new translation by Laura Marris being published by Knopf later this year.
What is the BEST translation of The Plague by Camus?
I know some French—but not, like, a lot—and I haven’t read both the existing English translations. Still, you asked, so here’s my answer.
I recommend the Buss / Penguin translation of The Plague:
It’s got a nice afterword by Tony Judt. See below for other reasons.
Comparison of the English translations of The Plague
|1.||Stuart Gilbert||1948||Hamish Hamilton|
|2.||Robin Buss||2001||Allen Lane|
As is traditional, the second translation was hailed as an improvement over the first; Gilbert’s translation has been criticized for inaccuracy, while Buss’ is said to follow the original more closely. Perhaps the difference reflects a change in the philosophy of translation: In fifty years, it’s definitely possible there’s been a change in translators’ view of their role in bringing works to new audiences, and/or in the audience’s view of their role. The Buss translation is also said to sound smoother to the twenty-first century ear, a circumstance for which Gilbert can hardly be blamed.
One presumes that the 2021 translation will again attempt to remedy the perceived errors of previous editions and make the text more relatable to contemporary audiences. The Laura Marris translation is characterized as American, in contrast with the Robin Buss translation, which may be said to have a British flavo(u)r. We English-speakers are, as the saying goes, one people separated by a common language.
Preorder the Marris / Knopf translation of The Plague:
The Plague: The perfect coronavirus lockdown novel?
I read The Plague because it was selected by Rachel of the Singapore Hungry Hundred Book Club for April of 2021.
People have been reading Camus’ novel in droves because Covid. I’m glad, because I think it’s a worthy book, but I think that the book’s recent success is something in the nature of an accident, and I worry that people may be missing the point.
The book can be read on more than one level: as a story about a town suffering from an epidemic, as a metaphor for Nazi occupation, and as an examination of the problem of evil. The author’s genius is in weaving these three layers together in a subtle but sensible way.
I hope that those who pick up The Plague because “it’s about an epidemic” will appreciate the historical and philosophical layers that make the work a classic.
For more on the different available translations and editions (and related resources), visit my post “Which English translation of The Plague by Camus should I read?” at my other website, We Love Translations.
Also check out my Review of The Plague by Camus at We Love Translations.