Just in time for the Jellyfish Review‘s Bad Sex issue, I stumbled upon this, a new translation of Honore de Balzac’s Illusions Perdues by Louis Roddan Leggett! To jump to the story, click here.
Leggett is certainly a suave student of literary subtext, perfectly matched to the ever-punning Balzac. Leggett, in his lifetime, did a considerable amount of translation from the French, yet, sadly, very few of his notebooks survived. I continue to hope and search.
I often wondered, when parts of Lost Illusions gave me pause with their sexual overtones, how much of that was originally intended by Balzac, and how much was attributable to the translator? This is something to seriously consider. I just finished reading Joy Williams’s Ninety-nine Stories of God, and she ponders translators, too. Her micro story, “Transition,” goes like this:
“Jesus spoke in Aramaic, but His sayings were translated in Greek, a generation after His time on earth. Aramaic and Greek are different languages. Very different. The differences are profound. This fact cannot be emphasized enough. But none of Jesus’s teachings were written down in Aramaic.”*
I’m not suggesting Balzac is Jesus, only pointing out that translators have their biases and boundaries affecting their work. I was especially taken, having some knowledge of printing presses and print production, with the passages involving offset presses in Balzac’s novel. I realized that Leggett would do a proper botch of a translation. His previous writings had already proven himself to be ready with the insult—and a sailor.
On Leggett’s behalf, I thank the Project Gutenberg for its excellent library of masterworks. I also apologize to Balzac scholars and translators everywhere, and hope that they enjoy this little parody of his genius. Leggett’s praise of Balzac comes in through a side door.
If this terrible slap in the face of French literature infuriates you, please remember that Leggett, in his own lifetime, took great pains to insult another literary legend, Joseph Conrad. Joseph Conrad gave Leggett his just desserts in a short story. More of Leggett’s backstory can be found here. Leggett’s grandson, in his turn, also stepped on some literary toes. You can read about his exploits, and how author John O’Hara seeded his revenge, here.
This tale marks my third appearance (and LRL’s second!) in The Jellyfish Review, and I can’t let this milestone pass without saying how much I thank editor Christopher James for taking a chance on my stories, always quick with a laugh and a bit of encouragement. I look at the authors who fill the first issues of Jellyfish Review, and I am so honored and happy to be in this fit and fine company.
Each of the three stories I’ve published at JFR, “F.Scott, Remember Me,” “Joseph Conrad Took Twenty-five Years to Bust My Balls, That Twit,” and now “Hard Pressed,” are all tribute pieces that play upon, and pay homage to, literary giants: Fitzgerald, Conrad, and now Balzac.
So, thank you for stopping by my blog. Now, go see what horror Leggett has wrought, and pay a visit to The Jellyfish Review. I hope you enjoy, “Hard Pressed,” a new translation from the French of Honore de Balzac’s classic tale of a printer in Paris, Illusions Perdue.
Illustration is from my Pocket Pal Printing Guide
* Joy Williams’s “Transition” reproduced with permission of Tin House Books