I have previously stressed the importance of the translator in a book rendered into English, or any other language for that matter. None more so than The Forest Giant by Adrien le Corbeau.

Adrien le Corbeau is one of the pen-names of the Romanian born writer, Rudolf Bernhardt (1886-1932), who, writing in French entitled his work ‘Le Gigantesque’. The translator was T.E. Lawrence (of Arabia), who used the name J. H. Ross.

Because the prose in my 1935 edition was not as fluent as, for example, in Reginald Merton’s translation of ‘A Hero of Our Time’ featured in I researched the internet for the original French version, which I assumed not to be the first language of Bernhardt, in order to obtain some idea of the quality of the author’s prose. It seems that the novel has lapsed into obscurity and the nearest I could find was the Castle Hill Press 2004 edition which presents parallel French and English texts at prices which tested my desire to investigate further.

Le Corbeau’s work is described as a novel that, through the story of a fictional sequoia from conception to death and beyond, discusses the histories of all forms of life.

I found this a philosophical exploration of life and death, not with great literary merit, but presented in a fascinating manner. The opening sections, following the journey of the seed to germination are those most smoothly flowing, but all does become more cumbersome further on. I can forgive the author for doubling the life expectation of the giant sequoia and for testing the vocabulary of his translator, but I am no wiser concerning the ultimate style I have read.

It seems that Lawrence (Ross), although he had apparently asked for the commission to translate it, did not like the book at all. While working on the translation, completed in 1923, he wrote: ‘At last this foul work: complete. Please have [it] typed and send [it] down that I may get it off my suffering chest before I burst. Damn Adrien le Corbeau and his rhetoric. The book is a magnificent idea, ruined by jejune bombast. My version is better than his: but dishonest here and there: but my stomach turned. Couldn’t help it.’

To my mind ‘jejune bombast’ is itself simply pompous.

Preferring the earlier, more sinuous, Art Nouveau, this Art Deco period of illustration is not my favourite, but the exquisite wood engravings of Agnes Miller Parker are very skilled examples.

This afternoon Becky, now somewhat recovered, came back for a few days. She had arranged for Jacob, a neighbour, to deliver a replacement mattress for Flo’s bed, which he did later.

This evening we dined on Jackie’s pasta Bolognese and runner beans, with which she and Becky drank Bordeaux Rosé 2020 and I drank Ponce de León 2020.

Published by derrickjknight

I am an octogenarian enjoying rambling physically and photographing what I see, and rambling in my head as memories are triggered. I also ramble through a lifetime's photographs. In these later years much rambling is done in a car.

48 thoughts on “Translation

  1. Gee, Mr. Ross, tell us what you really think. That quote is so deliciously insulting, I might just have to start a “good insults” folder. I agree that “jejune bombast” rates high on the pomposity scale. Perhaps I should remember it for critique group. No, better not.

    I’ve always liked that style of wood engraving from the Art Deco period. I like Art Nouveau as well.

  2. Sounds like a captivating story/novel!
    What a great quote! HA! Made me laugh! He sure didn’t hold back on how he felt and what he felt! What he said told us a lot about his own character. 😉
    The Parker wood engravings are amazing…such cool details. I think trees are a beautiful subject for art, photography, writing, etc. 🙂
    (((HUGS))) 🙂
    PS…Did you have any trouble catching the runner beans?! 😉 😛

  3. I found the first wood engraving “The Seed Is Sown” to fascinating in it’s concept and exquisite detail Derrick .. and I enjoyed all the drawings you presented ..

  4. Forget about spending quids on comparing the translations, I had my work cut out working out what jejune bombast meant. And how dare any translator choose to reinterpret what was said by inserting their own work and style in it. That Lawrence chappie sure was a complex character.

  5. Translation’s art more than science; ask anyone who’s tried to learn a new language and get through the idioms without disaster!

    I’m quite fond of Art Nouveau myself (my avatar’s from a Mucha piece) but I do enjoy Art Deco, and these illustrations are splendid.

  6. I had never heard of this book before, but I love the idea of it being told from the perspective of the sequoia. The illustrations are exquisite, especially when I enlarge them to see the details, like the stars in “What the Moon Saw,” a great choice for the header.

  7. You have tried to put the jejune bombast in correct perspective. Translator’s comments are enough to repel the readers. We get the idea of the theme and progression of the pompous storyline, thanks to the pictures.

  8. While these illustrations are fairly stark in nature, they are beautifully detailed and I cannot help thinking of the fine skill involved in producing them. This is not a book I have come across before, although I enjoy the concept as you have described it.

  9. I always learn something new here. That is a beautiful idea for a book, the life of a tree as told from the perspective of the tree. The wood engravings by Agnes Parker are well done. T.E. Lawrence did have his own problems. 🙂

  10. How rude of a translator to write such a scathing review of the book he’s translating. He should have bowed out and let someone do the translating who appreciates the author’s words!

  11. I find him fascinating as a man, a thinker and a writer. Writing for publication seems to have been a strain. His words do feel pushed in places well beyond where they can happily be and you’ve picked out an example. I haven’t read his translations but the book you mention sounds interesting.

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