In which we gladly retreive the gauntlet thrown by the Asylum
In a recent post on Asylum, John Self reviews Vivant Denon's novella, Point de Lendemain, which we recently published in Lydia Davis's translation as No Tomorrow. He, however, had only the Penguin Syren edition, which was translated by David Coward, to quote from. We were struck by the difference between the two translations, particularly in the very first line of the story. Now, David Coward has a Scott Moncrieff prize to his name, so we think he won't mind a friendly comparison between the two translations.
First up, the first sentence, which is is among the best of any work we've published (right up there with Hartley's "The past is a foreign country, etc. etc"):
I was desperately in love with the Comtesse de —— ; I was twenty years old and I was naive. She deceived me, I got angry, she left me. I was naive, I missed her. I was twenty years old, she forgave me, and, because I was twenty years old, because I was naive—still deceived, but no longer abandoned—I thought myself to be the best-loved lover, and therefore the happiest of men.
I doted on the Countess ______; I was twenty, and I was naive; she deceived me, I was incensed; she deserted me. I was naive, I missed her; I was twenty, she forgave me; and because I was twenty, was naive, and, though still deceived, no longer deserted, I believed that lover was never more loved than I and I was therefore the happiest man alive.
J’aimais éperdument la comtesse de ——; j’avais vingt ans, et j’étais ingénu; elle me trompa, je me fâchai, elle me quitta. J’étais ingénu, je la regrettai; j’avais vingt ans, elle me pardonna; et comme j’avais vingt ans, que j’étais ingénu, toujours trompé, mais plus quitté, je me croyais l’amant le mieux aimé, partant le plus heureux des hommes.
Exhibit 2 contains, at least in Coward's translation, an eye-catching phrase, one that's become a catchword for a certain type of literature. Can you spot it? It doesn't figure in the Lydia Davis translation:
When lovers are too ardent, they are less refined. Racing toward climax, they overlook the preliminary pleasures: they tear at a knot, shred a piece of gauze. Lust leaves its traces everywhere, and soon the idol resembles a victim.
Unbridled passion murders niceness of feeling. We run toward pleasure and ride roughshod over the delights which precede it. A ribbon is snapped, a bodice is ripped: desire leaves its mark in its wake and soon the idol of our heart looks uncommonly like its victim.
Trop ardent, on est moins délicat. On court à la jouissance en confondant tous les délices qui la précèdent: on arrache un nœud, on déchire une gaze: partout la volupté marque sa trace, et bientôt l’idole ressemble à la victime.
We leave it to the reader to decide which edition he'd rather spend time with. Of course, the Syren edition is no longer in print, and the brand spanking new NYRB edition comes with an engaging introduction by Princeton professor Peter Brooks (an introduction that almost makes us wish we were back in school, just to take a class with the man, who must be an astonishing lecturer) as well as the complete French text.
We can't tease John Self too much, because we'd never even heard of the Syren classic series before he pointed it out (much less gone about collecting them obsessively, as he has). As he rightly says, Syren was doing the art of the novella in the mid-90s, well before Pushkin and Melville House began their own like-minded projects.