Writing On Literature

  • When I set up this blog (see left sidebar) I made half a promise to translate a little known book by Henry Miller called J'suis pas plus con qu'un autre. And I would probably have started before now, if I hadn't attempted to disprove Miller's title: some people are more idiot than others.  I lost my copy of the book.  It is a small book.  In the Domaine Etranger edition there are 79 pages, and it had somehow slotted in with my other slim volumes, on the poetry shelf.  This explains why it took me many months to find it.  And when I did spot it among the poetry, I immediately reclaimed it because it was prose. The curiosity of I'm

    Oct 01,
  • I was reminded about this because I was thinking about the translator Marie Rennard, who came up with the title Le Rugbyman Nomade. In French, ‘le rugbyman’ is a commonly used term for those lucky souls with a passion for the sport of rugby. However, it means more than that, just as ‘le cricketman’ would be someone with more than a casual interest in cricket. ‘Le rugbyman’ is a rugby nutter. He’s mental about rugby. This is because the ‘man’ in ‘le rugbyman’ comes from the wide-eyed man in maniac. I’ve always liked this false-friend aspect of ‘Le Rugbyman’, as if everyone who plays rugby is indeed a superhero, with a big R in a shield across the front

    Sep 09,
  • For some time I've been gearing up to translate a short and little-known book by Henry Miller called I'm no More of an Idiot than Anybody Else.  Maybe.  Despite the fact that Henry Miller is American, and wrote in English, he made an exception for Je Ne Suis Pas Plus Con Qu'un Autre. There in the title lies the first dilemma.  'Con' is perhaps the most common French curse word.  Certainly, it is a word that most Anglophones will hear at some stage on any visit to France, often prefaced with 'espece de'.  However, your French antagonist may be calling you something more or less rude than you think - the exact equivalent in English is unclear.  Strictly speaking, a

    Sep 05,
  • The Last Word is the final chapter of Conseils a un Jeune Francais Partant Pour L'Angleterre by Andre Maurois, Editions Bernard Grasset, 1938.  If you want to read this short book from the beginning, scroll down to the first post and read upwards.  It's the modern way.   Above all, be joyful about the way England looks.  You will love the countryside that seems to have been drawn by Constable or Gainsborough.  You will love the hills, the valleys and the dunes.  You will love the amiably wild gardens and the mown and ordered lawns.  You will love London, which in its grey and gold fog, with the red stains of buses and the black stains of policemen, looks like an immense Turner. 

    Aug 10,
  • Since the war, at the Saint-Cyr Military College, there has been an English teacher who also prepares our young Frenchmen for their journeys to England.  He takes them to one side and explains certain infinitely detailed little mores.  These may seem minor, but to know them is to avoid distressing new English friends.  I’ll give a brief example of the kind of thing he teaches:  ‘Never forget that it’s a delicate compliment to your host not to smoke while you’re drinking his Port; it shows that you wouldn’t want to risk masking the flavours of such a rare wine with veils of smoke… Be polite by preparing to smoke a cigar by first smoking a cigarette … An English private soldier

    Aug 09,