A New Translation of L’Étranger + A New View of Meursault

Etienne R. just sent us a review by Claire Messud of a new English translation of L’Étranger. It’s big news because, as the reviewer wrote, it’s “One of the most widely read French novels of the twentieth century.” The reviewer trumpets the latest translation, from 2012, comparing it favorably to the the original 1946 one and to three more recent ones, two from the 80s.

Whereas she correctly points out that “Each translation is, perforce, a re-envisioning of the novel: a translator will determine which Meursault we encounter, and in what light we understand him,” we, who read the classic year after year in its original French with our intermediate classes, are left to our own interpreting devices. We perceive him from our own perspectives, probably somewhat tarnished from the repeated readings.

I would love to hear opinions from other French teachers. In the meanwhile, I must say that where Claire Messud, sees Meursault’s nature” to be “accommodating,” I find it to be “indifferent.” While she finds him “painfully without pretense,” I find him indifferent and passive.

She gets the essence of everything else she points out, all the points that we French teachers highlight in our classes, but I’ve spent too much time with the character to find him anything else but apathetic.

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