20 August 08 | Chad W. Post

In reading the new translation of Proust’s In Search of Lost Time, Levi Stahl came across a really interesting translation issue. In “The Prisoner,” when Madame Verdurin suggests inviting Comtesse de Mole to a party, the Baron de Charlus insults her:

“Well, well, there’s no accounting for tastes,” M. de Charlus had replied, and if yours, dear lady, is to spend your time with Mrs Todgers, Sarah Gamp and Mrs Harris I have nothing to say, but please let it be on an evening when I am not here.”

Fans of Dickens will recognize these three women as characters from Martin Chuzzlewit—and their names, you can surely imagine, were quite a surprise coming out of the Baron’s mouth.

A note accompanying the line explains:

M. de Charlus’s reference in the original is to Mme Pipelet, Mme Gibout and Mme Joseph Prudhomme, minor creations of hte nineteenth-century writers Eugene Sue and Henri Monnier. They are chosen as examples of women utterly lacking in social distinction: Mme Pipelet, for example, is a concierge. Three comparable characters from Dickens have been substituted.

As Levi points out, this isn’t a huge issue, but it is sort of weird, since in either case—leaving the names as were, or using ones from Dickens—an explanatory note is necessary . . .


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