Last night I read Fantine Chapter One Monsieur Myriel from both versions to see which one I favoured and which I will read. Both books are whoppers of course, both extremely difficult to manoeuvre whilst reading in bed. One hard back, one paper back. The hardback Denny has a nice ribbon, but feels more chunky in the hand. Both have smallish fonts but the Donougher feels easier on the eye, which is important given that it is 1416 pages long- making it the second longest book I've ever attempted- I did a short lived attempt at a read-along of the 1533 pages of Clarissa one year. Naturally I'm much more hopeful of success with Les Mis.
And what of the translations themselves? Well there are obvious difference in style between the two, although the basic information conveyed is the same. The opening paragraph:
CD: In 1815, Charles-François-Bienvenu Myriel was bishop of Digne. He was an old man of about seventy five. He had been bishop of Digne since 1806.
ND: In the year 1815 Monsieur Charles-François-Bienvenu Myriel was Bishop of Digne. He was then about seventy-five, having held the bishopric since 1806.
From the original French according to Project Gutenberg.
En 1815, M. Charles-François-Bienvenu Myriel était évêque de Digne. C'était un vieillard d'environ soixante-quinze ans; il occupait le siège de Digne depuis 1806.
The CD translation seems the more direct, while ND uses a more formal style perhaps.
A random sentence:
CD: Monsieur Myriel had to undergo the fate of every newcomer to a small town where there are plenty of tongues given to wagging and very few minds given to reflection.
ND: He had to accept the fate of every newcomer to a small town where there are plenty of tongues that gossip and few minds that think.
I think I feel inclined to continue with the more recent Christine Donougher translation at this stage. It reads more smoothly to me, and brings out the humour more. That view may change of course. I will miss the ribbon.
Given that the first book is entitled Fantine I find it somewhat unusual that the first chapter of Fantine and indeed the entire work is about someone else entirely. I realise he's setting the scene but it seems an odd place to start. Although it is reassuring that the Revolution is mentioned on page 1 and Napoleon just over the page on page 2. Napoleon always comes up. I asked a Parisian taxi driver about the taxi system once and he started talking about Napoleon!
In my somewhat bleary New Years Day early morning state I confused Digne with Dinde! Which means that I googled dinde. Dinde of course means turkey (the bird), I had been wondering why Monsieur Myriel would be the bishop of Turkey, but he is the bishop of Digne, and digne means worthy, so he is in fact the bishop of worthy, which is no doubt obvious to French readers.
Whilst googling I found a great article from The Telegraph about the various French locations that Victor Hugo used in Les Miserables. I remembered my own visit to Musée Victor Hugo, and learnt that the 2012 movie was filmed in England.
Even given that turkey confusion later today I'm going to give Monsieur Myriel a go en français! And also check out the audio version at Librivox (which is a rather old translation, 1887! by Isabel Florence Hapgood). Allons-y!