Gail Armstrong recounts a variety of interactions between authors and translators, ranging from open hostility to endless love. (The former, of course, makes for better reading.) She opens with this classic quote: “When told by a reader that his stories read better in French, James Thurber replied, ‘Yes, I tend to lose something in the original.'” I recommend the whole entry. And I have to say that if I, like Alan Bennett, were to receive these queries from my translator:

‘For a long time I used to go to bed early.’ This Proust quote, where?
Ivy-Compton-Burnett: who or what is that?

I would tell the publisher to find another translator.
My favorite anecdote from my own professional career is when I had to use all my powers of persuasion to change a proposed Spanish translation of Christmas disease as “enfermedad de Navidad.” (The disease was named for Stephen Christmas, who suffered from it.)


  1. So what did you have them change it to?

  2. Enfermedad de Christmas.

  3. Ivy-Compton-Burnett *does* sound like a rare disease of the urinary tract.
    Nobody knows anything anymore. (I know, I know, preaching to the pope).

Speak Your Mind