Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Sunday, July 26, 2015

The Horla by Guy de Maupassant (trans. by Sandra Smith) - A Post for Paris in July # 6

Paris in July # 6. , hosted by Tamarra of Thyme for Tea, a blog I have followed for years,is one of my favorite book blog events.  It covers much more than literature and there are lots of wonderful participant posts online.

Paris in July # 6. has motivated me to read some very interesting works.

1.  "Baum, Gabriel, 1935" by Mavis Gilbert - A wonderful set in Paris short story

2.  "Two Friends" by Guy de Maupassant- Paris in July # 6. Requires reading de Maupassant!

3.  "Mildred Larson" by George Moore- What Paris Meant to the Irish

4.  "The Parisian Stage" by Henry James - an illuminating essay

5.  "The Man Who Could Walk Through Walls" by Marcel Aymé- a new to me writer I will return to

6.   Lovers at the Chameleon Club, Paris, 1932 by Francine Prose - interesting 

7.  Shocking Paris Soutine, Chagall and the Outlaw Art of Montaparrne by Stanley Meisler-a 
     Well done account of Yiddish emigre artists in Paris

8.  Short Stories about Cats by Three Classic French authors 

9.  Suite Francaise by Iréne Némirovsky- a true masterwork. Paris under the Germans

10.  The End of Evil Ways by Honoré de Balzac

11.  Mademoiselle Coco Chanel and the Pulse of History by Rhonda K. Garelick- brilliant bio.

My second post for Paris in July # 6 was on the a short story by Guy de Maupassant, "Two Friends", set in Paris during the Franco-Prussian War.  At that time I did not realize that the translator Sandra Smith was responsible for the magnificent works of Iréne Némirovsky being available to English language readers.  I have so far read three of her Némirovsky works and loved the beautiful elegant prose. This made me realize how lucky I was to be given a review copy of her soon to be published The Necklace and other Stories - Maupassant for Modern Times.  I had previously only read his work in sometimes 100 year old public domain translations.

For your review I have quoted Sandra Smith's Translation of a paragraph followed by a public domain translation (translator attribution not given in my source, The Delphi Edition of the Complete Works of Guy de Maupassant.  To me Smith's prose is a pleasure, the public domain version gets in the way.

                                                                          Two Translations

"May 18 I HAVE JUST COME FROM SEEING MY DOCTOR FOR I COULDN’T SLEEP any more. He found my pulse racing, my pupils dilated, my nerves on edge, but with no alarming symptoms. I have to take showers and drink potassium bromide."  Translation by Sandra Smith

"May 18. I have just come from consulting my medical man, for I can no longer get any sleep. He found that my pulse was high, my eyes dilated, my nerves highly strung, but no alarming symptoms. I must have a course of shower baths and of bromide of potassium." From public domain translation

I have no ability to judge which translation is more faithful to the original but for sure that of Smith reads more pleasantly, smoother, and does not feel old fashioned.  Her translation does not get in the way of savoring the story.  

Smith in her introduction to the collection says she thinks de Maupassant is not much read anymore, and most who do read him do so because they feel they should, because the vast bulk of his stories are available in English only in sometimes 100 years old translations.  Maupassant as a living writer used the language of contemporary Paris and I think Smith has achieved her goal of bringing out a version of some of his best stories that are a pleasure to read, not a chore to get through.

Smith includes a number of stories in which the supernatural plays a big part.  The most famous of these is his "The Horla".  The story is structured as a journal.  A man begins to feel he may be losing his mind.  He imagines he sees intruders in his room at night.  He goes to his house in Paris hoping he will recover.  He gets worse, he begins to see things moved around in his locked bedroom.  He consults a priest who tells him there are many things that are real that we cannot see.  At first we think the man is just having mental issues, and we never throw off this idea completely.  He sees the being, he calls it "The Horla".  He begins to see it as part of an invading army coming from the spirit world to take over from humans.  

Maupassant does a great job closing the story, he adds plausibility to the suggestion The Horla is real but we do not know for sure.  I enjoyed reading this story.

Spiritualalism in various forms was very big in France, and elsewhere, in 1870 and Maupassant's story makes use of these themes.

I hope to read two more stories about life in Paris before Paris in July # 6.  ends.

Mel u


Jonathan said...

I've just (re-)read Le Horla in the Penguin collection A Day in the Country translated by David Coward.

Just for comparison his translation for the 18th May entry was:

18 May - I've just been to see my doctor because I was not sleeping. He said my pulse was rapid, my pupils dilated, my nerves on edge, but found no symptoms which gave grounds for concern. He recommended regular showers and told me to take potassium bromide.

Mel u said...

Jonathan- thanks very much for sharing this third translation. No clear reason to see this or the Smith as better. Smith more in active voice and present tense, maybe