The Gods Are Athirst

Often underestimated is the influence of a translator on the literary quality of a written work of art. It seems to me that the translation of the Englishman, Richard Allinson, must have been significant in producing the version of Anatole France’s ‘The Gods Are Athirst’ in such simple, poetic prose as is presented in The Bodley Head’s first illustrated edition of 1927 which I finished reading today.
The author, winner of the Nobel Prize for literature in 1921, has produced a masterly novel set during the reign of terror in the aftermath of the French Revolution. We have a perfectly crafted tale of love, fear, poverty, mistrust, political intrigue, mismanagement, breakdown of law, and ultimate tragedy with what I think is historical accuracy. Sensitive characterisation, poetic imagery, and a keen sense of the dramatic are evident in this work. I particularly like the skilled descriptions of environment, place, and weather, all of which set the scene and have symbolic significance. Above all, this is any easy book to read. As usual, I will not give details of the story.
Having earlier embraced the flowing line exemplified by Aubrey Beardsley in his book illustrations, by the time he came to produce the illustrations for this volume, John Austen, an excellent and prolific artist, had become influenced by Art Deco, a style, although popular, which I dislike for its geometric angularity. Nevertheless I can but admire

the colour plates

and the black and white vignettes that decorate this publication.

I had trouble presenting these pages directly from the scanner, so Elizabeth photographed them while I held them down then loaded the results into the computer, taking care to crop out my fingertips.
This evening the three of us tried Rokali’s, a comparatively new Indian restaurant in Ashley. It was a good one. The food was very good, as was the friendly, efficient, service. I chose Bengali prawn; Jackie, chicken shaslik; and Elizabeth, chicken tikka bhuna. We shared special and sag rices, a plain paratha, and onion and cauliflower bahjis, and all drank Kingfisher.


  1. That’s a glowing review for another unread book Derrick. I feel the same way about Art-Deco in all its forms. I know some who love it though. Even so, it is enjoyable to see all these illustrations that accompany the novel. It’s a pity we don’t get our modern books illustrated in the same way they once were, we’d get the twofer that you exemplify so well here.

    1. Thanks very much, Pauline. This set by Anatole France (36 vols) cost 7/6d each. The thick pages were originally uncut. This one has been honoured by the retention of one of your bookmarks.

      1. I love uncut pages. I only ever had one book, purchased from a second book shop back in the late 80’s. The paper was such good quality there was no foxing and only the first couple of chapters had been opened. It was a collection of the myths and legends of Rome and was quite wonderful. If memory serves me correctly I splurged and paid $2 or $2.50 for it. I am so pleased this book holds one of my book marks!

  2. I admire people who are willing to undertake the huge task that translating a novel is, with all the doubts and worries that come with it about making sure you translate as well as one can what the author was trying to convey, a very difficult balancing act.

  3. Translations can range from being simple to simply difficult to well nigh impossible. Sometimes no matter in how many words one tries, the connotations and emotions of one language do not yield themselves to the diction and stream of the other. This is because language is mostly an extension of a culture and its attendant universes, both internal and external. The pictures though have a different appeal and often have a direct impact on the viewer. Your presentation of the book in question is a veritable feast.

  4. I think these illustrations are superb! I find the details interesting! And the faces are fun to look at! 🙂
    Sounds like you and The Gals had a wonderful meal!
    HUGS!!! to all of you!!! 🙂

  5. I think you are correct about translators of literature to convey the nuances. I read a recent article about Emily Wilson’s new translation of The Odyssey, and how she chose the language (carefully naming slaves as slaves, for example). The illustrations are so lively in your book. Thanks for sharing–with Elizabeth’s help.
    Dinner sounds delicious. What is gas rice?

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