a newspaper man adjusts his pen

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Camus' strange translations

By Scott Beveridge

If ever there was a book that changed my perspective on life it was Albert Camus' "The Stranger."

It caught my eye on a roommate's bookshelf while I was down with the flu at college in 1979 for no other reasons than it having been thin and had the appearance of being really easy to read.

The novel first published in 1942 ended up being so fascinating that I finished it within the course of a day. At first, I was mortified that the title character, Meursault, was tried and executed in France in a murder for reasons that had more to do with his seemingly emotionless existence than the circumstances surrounding the revenge killing.

The author also had me romanticizing about wanting live out my life as an existentialist without having to conform and react to drama in the normal patterns accepted by society.

Little did I know then that this book was considered a classic by academia. That revelation would soon follow after I heard student after student at Indiana University of Pennsylvania complain about how much they hated the book.

Suddenly I felt as if I belonged to a secret society whose members understood that great literature was being ignored for no other reason than it having been required reading for a college class.

Years later, I decided to read the book again, only to find a much different modern translation, which was supposed to be closer to the words Camus originally penned in the book also known as "L’√Čtranger"

Meursault had suddenly been transformed from a likable character into a cold-blooded killer who, at the end, exhibited emotions that would have made a Roman Catholic priest cringe with pain.

Yet, I was able to forgive the earlier translator who had given America a sanitized version of the book. It still had enough of Camus in it then to reawaken in me a passion for reading that might have otherwise died with those damned, dull books I had to read that summer in a civics class.


Alison said...

I have read The Stranger, but for the life of me, I can't remember if I read it in English or French. If it was in French, it was one of the first books I read in that language, not because I had to for a class, but because I was there (in France) and the book was there, and I knew it had some significance, and that I should read it for my own edification. (The fact that I can't remember it says a lot about my state of mind at the time, and/or said edification.

Your post makes me want to read it again, in English first, to see which translation it is!

Amanda Blu said...

I always thought "Great Expectations" was one of those damned, dull books. I liked "The Stranger," which was required reading in my AP English class (the teacher was a tortured artist type, of course). I'll have to read it again.

Mohamed Mughal said...

If you read the English version, I prefer Ward's translation to Stuart's. The expressions of the former has a deeper beauty and lyricism.