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Lost In The Translation

June 19, 1988

I enjoyed your article, "What Is the American for Maman ?" because it was from a translation of "L'Etranger" that I first realized that translators of novels can often stray far from the literal.

I read the Stuart Gilbert translation in the spring of 1967 and liked this sentence in Chapter IV (I really don't know why, as Meursault would say):

"She looked sad for a bit, but when we were getting our lunch ready she brightened up and started laughing, and when she laughs I always want to kiss her."

A year or so later, my wife gave me the Pleiade Camus, and I found the original to be quite different:

"Elle a eu l'air triste. Mais en preparant le dejeuner, et a propos de rien, elle a encore ri de telle facon que je l'ai embrassee."

In a single sentence, Gilbert manages two significant changes in Meursault's character: Not only does he help his girlfriend make lunch (not implied in the original), but, rather than just kissing her, he explains why he wants to kiss her. Clearly, Gilbert is not empathetic with existentialism.



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