Friday, 28 October 2011

Haydn to Nothin'

   The only fiction I seem ever to read is “The Journal of Edwin Carp”, to the extent that I've almost memorised it. However, I've recently discovered a way of expanding my reading without straying from my obsession; I came across a copy of Richard Haydn's masterpiece that was translated into French by Henry Muller.

I intend to search the Internets for versions in other languages; surely others have translated this important work?

Whether other versions are any good is another matter. Literary translations can never be exact, they can only detract from or improve on the original, and given that I think “The Journal of Edwin Carp” is perfect I suppose I am doomed to disappointment. Here is an extract, it describes a scene where Maude, Carp's fiancée of eleven years, helps out in Carp's boarding house;

“The happy willingness with which she performs her self-imposed duties is a joy to behold. Indeed, yesterday, when I entered the kitchen and discovered her ironing our paying guests' personal laundry, I was so affected by her flushed, smiling face that I could not refrain from taking her in my arms and kissing her. My impulsiveness caused her to scorch Mr. Murke's dickey. Fortunately it is reversible.

This is rendered by Henry Muller as;

“La bonne volonté avec laquelle elle s'adonne à ces travaux fait mon bonheur. Et, pas plus tard qu'hier, en entrant à la cuisine et en la voyant repasser le linge personnel des hôtes, je fus si touché par son souriant visage que je ne pus empêcher de la prendre dans mes bras et de l'embrasse. Ce geste impulsif provoqua une brûlure sur le caleçon de M. Murke; il est fort heureusement réparable.”

Muller obviously felt that plastron (in this case “replaceable shirt-front”) lacked the comic potential of “dickey” and so replaced it with caleçon (under-shorts) incurring in doing so the inevitable and detrimental loss of “reversible/réversible. A valiant effort, but the result could never be as good as the original whose comic brilliance, intensifying as it does in the last sentence - down to the very last word - is inimitable.