misssylviadrake (misssylviadrake) wrote,

Feneon's Catherine, Austen in French and Italian: first thoughts

Dear Friends.

I've decided to separate this part of my blog two weeks ago out because I want to read it separately and work out some more thoughts on Feneon, and later this week add a few more.

I've been reading  Felix Fenelon's delightful French translation of Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey, which he titled Catherine, signalling to the reader he didn't mean it to be a crib of the first, but a world in its own right, all the while dialoguing in his mind with Austen -- and us.  From there  I go on to Austen as she appears in two different series of French translations and finally the history of translations of her texts in Italian.

Vanessa Bell, Her granddaughters reading: it is in genre a girls' book, but written with high maturity and sophistication

I turn to Fenelon, a figure from the 1890s (when he did this translation) first because his text is so cheering. 

I have found this wonderful text I can dive into this summer which is not Austen, well, not quite Austen.  Over on WWTTA (my small women writers through the ages list on Yahoo) our summer is not just an Austen summer, but a translation one, and we've been discussing translations and everyone invited to read whatever translation she (or he) wanted.  Most who have posted to the list are trying Austen in translation (not just French; one woman donig Swedish, another trying German).

I've tried the Pleiade P&P and S&S, dipped into the Christian Bourgeois ones of these and also read into Montolieu's 1815 translation of S&S. I don't give the names of the translators as I see they have followed a kind of house aims in what they did.

You can read about the provenance and origins of the Pleiades in Valerie Cressy's "Austen and her French readers: Gender and GEnre again" in Re-Drawing Austen, edd. Battaglia and Saglia.  Basically it's a scholarly and prestige driven enterprise where the paratexts erase Austen as a woman writer. By contrast the paratexts in the Christian Bourgeous books overemphasize her as chick-lit from the covers -- not respectable and Austen has a curious non-position in French circles where the faultline is class.

Well I finally turned as I meant to to Felix Fenelon's translation of NA as Catherine, and discovered that what I'd been told is true: it is just delightful. It is head and shoulders above what's in the Pleiade or Christian Bourgeois texts of S&S and P&P I've read thus far.

It's alive, with feeling, amusement, thought.

And it's so difficult to say quite why except in large generalities that Fenelon has found the right words in his brain and soul to deliver an analogous experience, closely analogous to Austen's, but with this difference: he is outside Catherine in a way Austen is not so that the accent is on the touching delight and pain of all this. Austen's Catherine is not touched by her experience, though we may be -- remember I'm at the book's opening.

When I compared any particular passage I did often see he went off literal translation.  This is not metaphrase (using Dryden's definitions) which in a way the Christian Bourgeois texts are), nor paraphrase (the Pleiade which are scholarly I fear -- so much careful thought put into how to translate key phrases in both early books), nor imitation, but poetic true translation.

My book is in feeble condition: it's an old yellowing orignially cheaply published copy from 1946, and I'm reading it in my front room at night (relaxing to it) and am unwilling to underline the sentences lest I do damage to the pages and this morning it's hard for me to pick out a couple of paragraphs which really impressed me. One I know is Fenelon's translation of Austen's opening paragraph on Mrs Allen: there is much acid in Austen's paragraph, particularly malice as she thinks about how intelligent men marry fools (Chapter 2, paragraph beginning "Mrs Allen ws one of that numerous class of females ...")

Fenelon has gotten Austen's meaning perfectly and yet he has included a little less hatred for Mrs Allen than is intermixed in Austen's amused controlled and tolerant paragraph. His closing line is "Elle avait un tres naif plaisir a etre belle."

There's a kind of throbbing delight and anxiety in the passages given Catherine in Chapter 2 and the French is so light and lucid; it seems to weigh nothing.

I am half-hoping, slightly planning to try another proposal for the JASNA for Portland in 2010 and the topic is NA. Probably I'll think of something having to do with my favorite (beloved) Anne Radcliffe's gothic novels and poetry, but this book is certainly stirring me once again -- or say Charlotte Smith's Ethelinde which I also own in the contemporary French translation (I xeroxed it all).

And I've not come near the gothic passages in Fenelon as yet!

As an aside I was galvanized into more curiosity and began and read the first two chapters in French of Pride and Prejudice that I have in my house: Jean-Claude Zylbertein's Orgueil et prejuges for Christian Bourgeois and Jean-Paul Pichardie's Orgueuil et Prejuge for Pleiade.

Both were able to convey the humor of these opening chapters: they are very much in the ironic heroic couplet mode and one can see the links between Austen's mindset and that of comic dramatists of her era.

But there was this parallel similarity with the S&S French texts.  Montolieu, as I said, was closest to Austen's sentence structure. One might put this down to her being of the same era (as the 1808 English translation I read of Stael's Corinne seemed to me to sound like Radcliffe), but it is also true that the Christian Bourgeois translation of S&S as Raison et Sentiments also by Jean-Claude Zylberstein translates S&S much closer to the structure of English sentences than does the new Pleiade by Pichardie.

So here's Austen's

        "IT is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in
possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.
However little known the feelings or views of such a man may be on his first entering a neighbourhood, this truth is so well fixed in the minds of the surrounding families, that he is considered as the rightful property of some one or other of their daughters ..."

        Pichardie opens with
        "Il est universellement admis qu'un celibataire nanti d'une belle fortune a forcement besoin d'une epouse.
         Si mal connus que soient les sentiments ou les opinions d'un tel homme, des lors qu'il parait dans une certain societe, cette verite is si bein ancress dans l'esprit des familles du voisonage, qu'il est considere come propriete legitime du l'une or l'autre de leurs filles ..."

         Zylberstein opens:
         "C'est une verite universellement reconnue qu'un celibataire pourvu d'une belle fortune doit avoir envie de se marier, and si peu que l'on scahe de son sentiment a cet egard, lorsqu'il arrive dans une vouvelle residence, cette idea est si fixee dans l'esprit de ses voisons qu'ils considerent sur-le-champ comme la propriete legitime de l'une ou l'autre de leurs filles.

Well I find a parallel comparison with the P&Ps. The Pleiade by Orgueil et Prejuge by Pichardie changes the syntax of the sentences to adhere to French constructions and French rhythms while (again_) Zylberstein has opted for sentences whose internal constructions and choices of words that seem closet to Austen's original word terrains.

What to think of this I don't know. A house style at work?  A greater willingnesss to make the French idiom take in the book in the more prestigious volumes?

To conclude, whatever may be said in mockery (and the article on Montolieu was about as misoynistic a piece as one can come across -- feminism has at least most of the time in the academia stopped this kind of automatic sneering) of Montolieu, her version of S&S is really felt. She really puts feeling into the text which I don't feel that strongly in Joubert. He's workmanlike and conveys the meaning and feelilng accurately but no more. I rather like the idea of bringing Eliza Williams into the story -- which is no more than Davies does in his 2009 film, only he makes Brandon the great carer and protector still.

Fenelon is really consistently ironic, humorous and yet has feeling. The text is close to Austen in vocabulary and the movement of the sentences and yet feels like French, not pastiche and alive.

Like Montolieu, Fenelon ought to be republished in a modern edition and made available to French readers. I've begun reading the last third of Re-drawing Austenland which contains a number of articles on Austen in other countries and languages and hope to report back -- as I eventually will on the articles on Austen film adaptations (including Lake House and Lost in Austen) in Persuasions 30.

I thInk I shall have to give up getting near Austen in Italian this summer, and I had originally hoped to read Possession in French, even bought myself the beautiful French text (based on the full British text in English).


Duncan Grant, Vanessa Bell's partner, The Coffee Pot, a feminine painting

I am surprized to have to report from an essay in Re-Drawing Austen by Mirella Agorni and Elena di GIovanni that Jane Austen came to Italy for Italian readers very late.  While the first editions of Austen in French begin just about the same years as the first in English, the first Italian text of Austen appeared in 1932.  It was Pride and Prejudice.  Only in 1945 did the first Sense and Sensibility in Italian appear, and then another in 1951. Emma appeared for the first time in 1945, and then (highly praised no doubt becasue of his fame and because he is a man) Mario Praz did an Emma (! -- you would not think he would spend time on such a non-gothic book).  NA first emerges in Italian in 1959, and we don't get a Persuasion until the 1960s.

Lastly except for Praz and a couple of others, all the translators have been women, and the books placed in women's novels -- not put up for greatness by men and placed with male authors and discussed as if male values were universal as in the French Pleiades (but that's only recent we should remember).

Further in most cases the titles have either been Italianized (and sometimes the terms reversed from the original) or changed a great deal:  Persuasion becomes Riterono a Te.  More:  there have been a huge number of either translations or editions of Pride and Prejudice in Italian since the first in 1932, and these have way outnumbered all others texts. Also frequently the texts are cut or abridged.  (Abridgement often means rewriting to hollow out the specifics.) 

All this suggests to my mind the average (not the more intelligent or small number of perceptive people) that average Italian readers really don't like what is most typical or deepest about Austen.  Trollope is not much in evidence in Italy either.

Against this we can remember that Italian readers have a long tradition of reading books in French and that Austen wuld have been available and read in French.  Many English texts were disseminated this way (French and German ones too).  Manzoni's I Promessi Sposi was available and read in French as well as Italian dialect and Tuscan from the very beginning of its first publications. But the French reader is an elite reader.  Going into this in detail shows the thinnness or shallowness of real penetration of Austen's texts despite the enormous advertisement and heritage and romancing campaigns we see everywhere.

The Article to read is Mirella Agorni and Elena di Giovanni's Pride and prejudice in Italy (not JA in Italy) and it's in Re-drawing Austen, edd. B. Battaglia and D, Saglia.


Tags: jane austen novels

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