giovedì 21 settembre 2017


The Penguin marches on 

Avanti Penguin 
Penguin en marche 

In 2003, the British publishing house Penguin celebrated the centenary of Simenon’s birth with the reissue in its Modern Classics series of fourteen Maigret novels, including five from the Fayard period. The choice of titles and translations was eclectic to say the least. Penguin now held rights to the Geoffrey Sainsbury translations of La Tête d’un homme and Le Fou de Bergerac from Routledge but changed the title of the former from A Battle of Nerves to A Man’s Head, the first time the novel had appeared in Britain under its original title. Robert Baldick’s Penguin-commissioned 1963 translation of Le Charretier de ‘la Providence’ was reissued with a change of title from Maigret Meets a Milord to Lock 14, still far from Simenon’s original but very close to the title of the first English-language translation (The Crime at Lock 14) by Anthony Abbot in 1934. For Le Chien jaune, Linda Asher’s 1987 translation Maigret and the Yellow Dog was used, now titled simply The Yellow Dog. Finally, La Guinguette à deux sous appeared in a new translation by David Watson as The Bar on the Seine, a title in which precision (a guinguette was much more than a simple bar) is sacrificed to accessibility for anglophone readersthe introduction of the geographical location (‘on the Seine’) providing information which would have been superfluous to a French public. 
Penguin’s most recent and ambitious Simenon project – the reissue of the entirety of the Maigret saga as Penguin Classics – began in 2013, the novels appearing in their original order of publication with the result that all of the Fayard texts are now available in English for the first time as a complete and unified series. With the exception of Linda Asher’s 1987 The Yellow Dog and David Watson’s 2003 The Bar on the Seine, retitled The Two-Penny Bar, all of the translations were newly commissioned. In a break with Penguin’s earlier practices, each novel has been given a title that is a literal translation of Simenon’s original. This approach presents certain difficulties in terms of the cultural specificity – both historical and national – of some of the titles. The practice of canal transport using horse-drawn barges, requiring a carter to manage the horses, has now virtually disappeared, so what will modern readers make of The Carter of La Providence (Le Charretier de ‘la Providence’)? The Grand Banks of Newfoundland were historically of less importance to British commercial fishing than to the French economy, so how will The Grand Banks Café (Au Rendez-vous des Terre-Neuvas) be construed? 
As has already been remarked, the translation of guinguette as bar (La Guinguette à deux sous/The Two-Penny Bar) poses a problem in its attempt to translate an institution particular to contemporary France: if no exact British equivalent existed in reality, then there can be no single lexical translation.
The literalism of Penguin’s current translations represents a difference in orientation to Simenon’s texts. Rather than selecting titles that might provide greater linguistic familiarity for contemporary anglophone readers, the texts are treated more in the manner of cultural artefacts, presented as they would have appeared in their own historical context. In short, considerations of accessibility are sacrificed to authenticity. Nevertheless, Penguin remains a commercial publisher, rather than a public curator of literary history, so it is to be assumed that the project leaders have calculated that this change of approach may be financially compensated by its attractiveness to other potential markets. 
This series of posts has addressed the question of how the titles in English translation of Simenon’s first nineteen Maigret novels have evolved from 1932 to the present in response to commercial and other considerations along with the implications of differences between the translated titles and the author’s original choices. In an interview with the Swiss journal l’Illustré in October 1971, cited by Murielle Wenger in her post of 17 June, Simenon stated that ‘I always begin with the title because I attach as much importance to it as to the names of the characters, because the title should give the atmosphere of the novel’; the success or otherwise of successive generations of translators of the Maigret series, from the most literal translations to the most “recreative” interpretations, will necessarily be a matter for their readers to decide.  

William Alder 

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