What’s the best translation of Madame Bovary?

The original Eleanor Marx-Aveling translation is still widely read, if the number of revised editions and reprints available are anything to go by. The relatively recent Lydia Davis translation from 2010 is also widely read, if the amount of media attention is anything to go by.

No one seems to have much to say about the Bantam translation by Lowell Bair or the Signet translation by Mildred Marmur; concerning the Oxford edition translated by Margaret Mauldon, I could only find negative comments. Lesser known brands Hackett and Alma published translations by Raymond N. MacKenzie and Christoper Moncrieff in 2009 and 2010, respectively.

Editions that seem to have or have had a larger number adherents are the 1957 translation by Francis Steegmuller, the 1992 translation by Geoffrey Wall, and the 2011 translation by Adam Thorpe.

To see for yourself what these translations sound like and what people have said about them, visit We Love Translations: World Literature in English, where you will also find cover images, ISBNs, pagecounts for hardcovers, paperbacks, and ebooks from different publishers.

» What’s the best translation of Madame Bovary?

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What’s the best translation of Don Quixote?

For a long time all I knew was what everyone knows by cultural osmosis: we are ridiculous when we tilt at windmills.

Published in 1620, Don Quixote is a foundational book in the history of Western literature. Unsurprisingly, therefore, it has been translated more than a dozen times. Different translators had differing amounts of financial and literary success; some translations have aged well and others have been forgotten—or misremembered: the “Jarvis” translation was actually done by a man named Jervas whose name was printed incorrectly.

The translation by Smollett has a particularly interesting history: it did well in its time, but later Smollet was accused of plagiarism (of the Jervas/Jarvis translation), and/or using a team to do the work because he didn’t know Spanish. Someone wrote a book called Smollet’s Hoax, with data supporting the idea that his translation was not his own. A recent scholarly reprint exonerates him and upholds the unique and positive qualities of the work.

Apart from Jervas/Jarvis and Smollett, there have been translations by Thomas Shelton, John Phillips, Pierre Antoine Motteux, Alexander James Duffield, John Ormsby, Henry Edward Watts, Robinson Smith, Samuel Putnam, JM Cohen, Walter Starkie, Burton Raffel, John Rutherford, Edith Grossman, Tom Lathrop, and James H. Montgomery.

The Grossman translation is the trendy one; if you don’t want one that sounds modern, you’d be in good company picking the public domain Ormsby text.

For a heck of a lot more detail on all the translations—cover images, extracts for comparison, ISBNs, pagecounts, and links to relevant articles—visit We Love Translations: World Literature in English:

» What’s the best translation of Don Quixote?

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What’s the best translation of The Brothers Karamazov?

Is this just another chapter in the ongoing Garnett vs. Pevear & Volokhonsky debate? Well, there are three other in-print translations of The Brothers Karamazov.

The MacAndrew translation is thought to be too loose, and the McDuff translation is even more literal than the Pevear & Volokhonsky translation, which makes it even harder to read. The Avsey translation appeals to some, but he’s also on the loose end of the spectrum, having gone so far as to change the title to “The Karamazov Brothers” to make it sound more idiomatic in English.

To read about these translations, and the ones that are now out of print, visit We Love Translations: World Literature in English, where you will also find cover images, extracts for comparison, ISBNs, and pagecounts.

» What’s the best translation of The Brothers Karamazov?

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Which translation of The Plague by Camus should I read?

The book was originally published in 1947 under the French title La Peste. There are three English translations:

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.

Buy paperback from Amazon

Continue reading Which translation of The Plague by Camus should I read?

We Love Translations

I am pleased to present the new home of whichever of my posts are dedicated to English translations of books originally written in other languages. Posts on the site also focus on a couple of collections of translations of books across several languages, whatever language they were originally written in, and books about translation, language, and culture in general.

Visit welovetranslations.com!

The Sense of Style by Steven Pinker

I cannot wholeheartedly recommend Steven Pinker’s style-guide / usage manual, but it does have a couple of important things to say about written English.

Respect Your Tools
Language has its own internal logic. Good writing respects that logic. Writers should study grammar explicitly rather than rely on intuition in order to communicate clearly, show respect for their readers, and inspire confidence in their work. Good writers are those who read widely enough to absorb good practices from a longstanding written English tradition. They know the rules but also when to break them.

Break the Rules
The Ancient and Venerable English Teachers’ Code—beloved by Grammar Nazis, Prescriptivists, Fussbudgets and Curmudgeons—is more what you’d call guidelines than actual rules, and some of the guidelines will lead you astray because (a) Some were written by people who didn’t understand English and (b) Thanks to natural and inevitable language change, the English we use today differs from the English of the past.

See below for more details about what I liked and what I didn’t like about Steven Pinker’s The Sense of Style.

Continue reading The Sense of Style by Steven Pinker

When and Why I Read The Sense of Style

I bought this a while back. Finally getting around to it.

Genre: writing
Date started / date finished: 22-Nov-20 to 01-Dec-20
Length: 368 pages
ISBN: 9780143127796
Originally published in: 2015
Amazon link: The Sense of Style

30 Days to a More Powerful Vocabulary

This book was printed in 1950. It’s in decent condition, although the pages are a little brownish. It has a pleasant smell, like an old library. The content as well as the paper, the fonts, and the typesetting make for a kind of armchair time-traveling experience.

Continue reading 30 Days to a More Powerful Vocabulary

When and Why I Read 30 Days to a More Powerful Vocabulary

My dad dug this book up out of a box in the house. The text was first was published in 1942; my copy is apparently the eighteenth printing (October 1950). I am not the least bit worried about the strength of my vocabulary, but when I opened the book at random and landed on "Seventh Day: Words About Theories", a chapter which defined and explained atheism, agnosticism, fatalism, egoism, altruism, stoicism, chauvinism, jingoism, liberalism, conservatism, and epicureanism, I decided this was perhaps not just another dime-a-dozen book about words. That the book stayed in print until at least the 1970s says something about its enduring appeal.

Genre: Reference (Language)
Date started / date finished: 23-Mar-20 to 29-Mar-20
Length: 242 pages
ISBN:
Originally published in: 1942/1950
Amazon link: 30 Days to a More Powerful Vocabulary

Preliminaries to Linguistic Phonetics by Peter Ladefoged

I know where the book came from, but not how it ended up where it did, in the West Elm home furnishings store in Ponce City Market in Atlanta, Georgia, where along with two other books it was resignedly decorating a console table.

Continue reading Preliminaries to Linguistic Phonetics by Peter Ladefoged

When and Why I Read Preliminaries to Linguistic Phonetics

If you have ever doubted the forces of coincidence, doubt no more, for they conspired to an almost inconceivable degree to ensure that I came into the possession of this particular book.

Genre: Linguistics
Date started / date finished: 08-Mar-20 to 21-Mar-20
Length: 111 pages
ISBN: 0226467864
Originally published in: 1971
Amazon link: Preliminaries to Linguistic Phonetics

I don’t think it means what you think it means.

Carousell is a fantastic classified ad platform. It embodies one of my favorite proverbs, “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.”

However, to find the treasure, you have to hunt. There are clues, but sometimes the clues are misleading.

In particular, I’ve noticed that people use words for different kinds of furniture in surprising ways.

There are people who use the word cabinet to describe a piece of furniture when it is clearly a shelf—and vice versa!

Deciding what to call something is hard. Especially if you’ve got more than one language rattling around in your brain.

See below for proof.

Continue reading I don’t think it means what you think it means.