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cover of the book The Trouble With Diversity

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Happy Trails to You

What’s an Encyclopedia These Days?

Encyclopedia Britannica to Shut Down Print Operations

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Feynmann, John von Neumann, and Mental Models

Support Michael Sporn’s Film about Edgar Allen Poe

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Nazi Rules for Regulating Funk ‘n Freedom

The Early History of Modern Computing: A Brief Chronology

Computing Encounters Being, an Addendum

On the Origin of Objects (towards a philosophy of computation)

Symposium on Graeber’s Debt

The Nightmare of Digital Film Preservation

Richard Petti on Occupy Wall Street: America HAS a Ruling Class

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Nick J. on The Valve - Closed For Renovation

Bill Benzon on Encyclopedia Britannica to Shut Down Print Operations

Norma on Encyclopedia Britannica to Shut Down Print Operations

Bill Benzon on What’s an Object, Metaphysically Speaking?

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Bill Benzon on A Dirty Dozen Sneaking up on the Apocalypse

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Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Zola’s La Curée

Posted by Adam Roberts on 04/21/09 at 11:41 AM

I’ve been reading through a stack of Zola’s Rougon-Macquarts recently (for an academic project about representations of Napoleon III) and I have just finished La Curée: the second in the sequence (I’m not reading them in order).  A thoroughly good read it is too: dripping with vividly rendered decadance, financial corruption and incest.  The novel is broadly about the Haussmann redevelopment of Paris, or more particularly about the enormous financial bubble, greed and dishonesty this redevelopment entailed.  Saccard is the property developer, wheeler-deelering in the multimillions; Renée is his bored, rather neurotic and oversexed young wife; Maxime is his grown-up son from his first marriage.  Maxime and Renée have an affair; Saccard finds out about it and isn’t too bothered because all he cares about is money-money-money.  It is, in other words, a rather obviously inverted retelling of Euripides Hippolytus (or Racine’s Phèdre); in the original myth, and despite Phaedra’s claims otherwise, mother and stepson don’t have an affair, and the (misinformed) father Theseus does care.  But rather than go into a detailed critical reading, I’ll note three things that, in particular, struck me.

1.  Though his translation throughout is excellent, I don’t see why Brian Nelson has rendered the title as The Kill.  ‘La Curée’ means (I open my Collins-Robert) ‘the scramble for the spoils’, which is what the developers are doing with Paris in the book, and how Renée feels she is being treated.  What’s wrong with The Scramble for the Spoils as a title?  Or if Nelson doesn’t like translating a two word title with five, why not The Spoils?

2.  More interestingly, I love that the novel contains two splendidly early mentions (possibly first ever mentions) of things.  Here’s Saccard drooling over the money to be made redeveloping Paris: ‘His brain teemed with extravagant ideas.  He would have proposed in all seriousness to put Paris under an immense bell-glass, so as to transform it into a hothouse for forcing pineapples and sugar-cane.’ [98] The idea of a city underneath an enormous dome is, of course, a standard trope for twentieth-century science fiction.  Zola’s novel appeared in 1872.  Is this the earliest mention of this notion?  Can anybody think of an earlier one?

3. Probably not the earliest mention for this, but again a little startling in a novel published in 1872.  Our three main characters are at a society ball: ‘under the electric light ... the guaze, the lace, all those light, diaphanous materials mingled so well with the shoulders and tights that the soft pinks seemed alive.’ [213]


Surely those are gas lights and not electric, no?

By Sisyphus on 04/22/09 at 12:27 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Great review, Adam.  I was particularly struck by your comments on the translation of the title.  I didn’t think to look it up when I read the book, and had quietly assumed it was a literal translation.  As you say, ‘The Spoils’ would have been much better.

Interestingly, OUP didn’t translate ‘La Bete Humaine’ for the latest edition, which is just as well, as earlier editions used ‘Beast in Man’ or ‘The Human Beast’, which are both frightful.

I’m now inspired to find out whether there are earlier examples of cities under domes!

By Catherine Pope on 04/22/09 at 05:33 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Definitely electric ... ‘le rayon électrique’ (it’s in Chapter 6):

Et sous le rayon électrique, ingénieusement dirigé sur la scène par une des fenêtres du jardin, la gaze, les dentelles, toutes ces étoffes légères et transparentes se fondaient si bien avec les épaules et les maillots, que ces blancheurs rosées vivaient, et qu’on ne savait plus si ces dames n’avaient pas poussé la vérité plastique jusqu’à se mettre toutes nues.

By Adam Roberts on 04/22/09 at 05:44 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Catherine: thanks.  I can just about squint-and-I-see-it understand ‘The Kill’ (as it might be, ‘in at the kill’) as a hunting term.  But the novel isn’t about the kill; it’s about after the kill (after Louis Napoleon’s coup d’etat) and about dividing up the, um, spoils.

Interesting post on La Bête Humaine on your blog, there.  I’m in the middle of Germinal at the moment (that novel is a bag of laughs, I can tell you).  Nobody in their right mind would translate that title as Spring, now, would they.  (Nor as March-April, neither).  Of course with those two novels the titles, in French, are so famous even to an English audience that they hardly need translating.  By that logic ‘La Curée’ couldn’t stay in the original, I suppose.

By Adam Roberts on 04/22/09 at 07:06 AM | Permanent link to this comment

[Previously on Roberts-reads-Zola: La Débâcle (1892); Le Ventre de Paris (1873)].

[Wouldn’t Roberts-reads-Zola be a rubbish name for a TV serial, though?]

By Adam Roberts on 04/22/09 at 07:19 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Ha, yes, Germinal is hardly cockle-warming!  I wish L’Assomoir hadn’t been translated, as ‘The Drinking Den’ isn’t right, either.  I guess Nana didn’t pose much of a problem.

If you haven’t seen it already, Zolarama might amuse you.

By on 04/22/09 at 07:44 AM | Permanent link to this comment

That Zolarama link is excellent.

By Adam Roberts on 04/22/09 at 10:22 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Do you mean translators generally decide the titles of books they publish? I would have guessed they rarely did so.

By David Weman on 04/22/09 at 04:06 PM | Permanent link to this comment

I’m sure they have input into that, in most cases.

By Adam Roberts on 04/23/09 at 11:16 AM | Permanent link to this comment

"curee” doesn’t mean “the scramble for the spoils”, it means “the kill” or, more accurately “the quarry”; “se ruer a la curee” is translated as “to scramble for the spoils”.

But spoils and quarry aren’t the same thing. Spoils are what you despoil someone of - the fruits of plunder or theft. But “curee” is the ancestor of ‘quarry’ in English - meaning now “the animal which is hunted”. “The Kill” would be a bad translation too, because it’s ambiguous; it could mean “the thing that has been killed” or “the action of killing”. “A good clean kill”, for example.
‘Quarry’ nowadays is taken to mean ‘the animal that is hunted’, but that’s not its original meaning; the quarry is the reward of entrails, served on the skin of the animal, which is given to the hounds after the beast has been brought down. (from which, possibly, curee, via ‘cuir’ for skin). From AR’s description, this is exactly what the book is about - the gutting and portioning out of a dead animal.
But then calling it “The Quarry” would make people think of stonemasons…

By on 04/24/09 at 12:27 PM | Permanent link to this comment

That’s interesting, ajay; I take your point.  Turning the title’s a tricker crux than I was giving it credit.  The HuntedThe PrizeThe Prey?  None of those sounds right, somehow.

By Adam Roberts on 04/26/09 at 01:48 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Also, the problem is that there isn’t a word that unambiguously describes the object of a hunt after the hunt is over, which is what “curee” does; “quarry” and “prey” and “hunted” could all - in fact, frequently do all - refer to an animal that is still alive and trying to evade, which isn’t the image you want. And “kill” is ambiguous for other reasons. “After the Kill”?

To be honest, I’m coming round to “The Spoils”, and ditching Zola’s image of hounds round a carcase for the image of thieves dividing plunder.

By on 04/27/09 at 06:50 AM | Permanent link to this comment

If I can butt in, I think The Game would be a perfect title for this novel. Yes, it doesn’t accurately translate ‘Curée’, but it uses the hunt symbolism present throughout the novel (and in La Fortune des Rougon), and offers an interesting double meaning. Aristide’s speculation is, after all, much like gambling.

By on 02/22/10 at 02:23 PM | Permanent link to this comment

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