Team-Translating Ulysses.

The Paris Review posts a translated selection from the Ulysses “logbook” of “the indefatigable Bernard Hœpffner, who translated many English masterpieces into French [and] drowned off the northern coast of Wales this past May”; he was part of an eight-person team that retranslated Joyce’s Ulysses into French (quite properly, he felt “disappointment upon learning this would be a team effort” — it was a terrible idea, I don’t care how good the results may have been), and his entries make fascinating reading. A few excerpts:

October 9, 2001 – Which of the many different editions should we use? We settle on the 1922 edition with Gaskell and Hart’s alterations, with the occasional glance at Gabler’s edition. Pointed discussions over how much to Gallicize proper names (last names, geographical locations): a matter of understanding how Joyce had undone English, and how we might in turn undo French. Joyce has pulled us into a double bind: even though the unique style of each episode grants each team member a great deal of liberty, the immense number of echoes forces us to make decisions we have to agree upon. Patrick Drevet almost convinces us that the place names ought to be translated, but his absence from the next meeting allows us to renege, as it would be impossible to be fully consistent; Patrick very graciously accepts our decision. […]

December 3, 2001 – We’re having more and more trouble working with global decisions when they deviate far enough from Joyce’s original. Jacques explains how Ulysses’s literary stakes are not only varied but at times contradictory. As such, it’s hard for us to all read the book the same way and create a homogeneous translation.

March 4, 2002 – Long back-and-forths result in our replacing “Mrs” and “Mr” with “Mme” and “M.” We also decide to translate urban nomenclature: bridge, street, et cetera. (We will, much later, reverse course, without any exceptions). […]

January 16, 2003 – Gallimard consents to a communal “postface” written by the team. Tiphaine wants to try her hand at translating Oxen of the Sun, the episode that, from the start, we had agreed we would keep in Morel’s translation; she will abandon it several months later; we then decide, together, a posteriori and in bad faith, that, since this episode is a history of the English language, integrating Morel’s translation makes it a history of Ulysses’s translations—but it is still true that the echoes don’t reverberate here. We go back and forth while sending the typescript back to Gallimard, going through edits, and production.

Then the work on the innumerable echoes throughout the book starts in earnest. Each of us tries to convince the others to accept particular exceptions to the rules we’d agreed on; invariably due to puns, or neologisms. Numerous emails follow:

“So you think ‘chiasse’ is too strong. What do you say to ‘merdasse’?”

There’s much, much more (“I suggest hiring someone who doesn’t know French to proofread the translation in keeping with the spirit of the original, which had been given to compositors unfamiliar with English”), including various examples of what an unpleasant person Stephen Joyce is; read the whole thing. (Thanks, Trevor!)


  1. More than an unpleasant person, a disgrace to the family. I am ashamed he is my kinsman.

  2. marie-lucie says

    Stephen Joyce?

  3. David Marjanović says

    Mentioned twice in the article; presumably the living heir.

  4. marie-lucie says

    Thanks David.

  5. His crimes against literature, scholarship, and common civility are detailed in his New Yorker profile, “The Injustice Collector”. He is a staunch defender of his grandfather’s personal character, right to privacy, and freedom from critics, a staunchness which can be bought off with enough money. Fortunately, James Joyce’s published-in-his-lifetime work went into the public domain in most of the world (but not the benighted U.S.) in 2007, leaving Stephen mostly impotent.

  6. Destroying Lucia Joyce’s letters is pretty high on my list of reasons to not like him.

  7. Stephen Joyce is tied with Paul Zukofsky in my mind as the biggest jerk heir to a significant literary figure.

  8. Same here.

  9. marie-lucie says

    It looks like those heirs or executors are holding on to the works and related documents to give themselves some importance, out of jealousy that they are not as gifted as the deceased authors.

  10. John Sampas was another.

  11. The Kerouac/Sampas kerfuffle seems to have been mostly about the disposition and control of physical artifacts, manuscripts and typewriter rolls and what not. Sampas did not try to keep scholars away from Kerouac’s work: on the contrary, he encouraged them so that Kerouac’s copyrights would have become more valuable.

    Paul Zukofsky was certainly a hoarder, but he was also an important violinist, conductor, and composer. Stephen Joyce — mnyeh.

  12. marie-lucie says

    Wasn’t/Isn’t there something similar to the Joyce case about Nabokov’s writings?

  13. Sort of, but on a much smaller scale (literally).

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