In praise of translators

I have read Madame Bovary, honest gov, I have. Except that it was in French, so I haven’t really read it.

At one time my French was worth a B grade at A’level in the days of yore when hardly anyone  got A grades and results day never made the national news, with pictures of pretty girls jumping for joy. So I was reasonably accomplished and I ploughed my way through Madame B as an extra on the reading list. It took me forever and the feeling was of walking through thick Victorian fog. I got the gist of it but the reality of it? Non. So now I have a £1.00 Collins classic from the co-op (how utopian is that) waiting for me in what looks like a very clear and readable translation. Except it doesn’t tell me who the translator is.

Collins Classics - Madame Bovary

This strikes me as monstrously unfair as it can’t be an easy book to translate.

But maybe that is the way of translators. They are unsung heroes and we should laud them more. I do know that they have a Society and probably an annual dinner and a few awards knocking about but that isn’t quite enough when you consider the time and trouble they save us. How could we have enjoyed the recent Scandi crime boom if it had not been for the ranks of so often un-named translators bringing us our Jo Nesbo and Stieg Larsson? I have a particular vote of thanks for the wonderful work of Elizabeth Porch who brought the delights of the Moomins to me as a child. And the only reason I have read Proust is because Messrs Scott Moncrieffe and Kilmartin did such a spiffing job of making Proust feel as if it had been written in English in the first place. Then there is Asterix and Tintin, just as funny and fresh in translations. The stuff of miracles, in short. It looks effortless but I am sure it is not.

So if you come across a lonely, humble translator, remember to tell them how wonderful I think they are.


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