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).

  4. Nobody knows anything anymore.

    And this is all the worse because most people can find out anything these days. Whenever an ordinary matter of fact is being bandied about in a conversation, I say, “If only there were a simple handheld device that allowed us to discover the truth of these matters!” Everyone laughs, but (crucially) no one reaches for their phone. (My phone is a dumb one and can’t do this.)

    It isn’t about ignorance, it’s about the will to ignorance.

  5. My God, you got Akismet to accept you sans Woldemar! Did you have to make a sacrifice?

  6. I cut the sheep’s throat this morning.

    No, I have no idea why.

  7. Leaving out the website seems to be enough now.

  8. I actually had a comment vanish when I tried to post it as you; I’ve never, ever had that happen before — it lets me post anything I want (as is only right and proper).

Speak Your Mind