I just finished reading a new translation of Alexandre Dumas' The Three Musketeers. Richard Pevear did the honors (he and his wife(?) have done a number of Russian translations over the years) and it's tremendous fun. If I read the book as a kid (and I might have) it was long forgotten. This time I enjoyed it tremendously. The 70s film version is easily the most enjoyable spin on the tale but the novel shouldn't be missed. I only hope he takes the time to tackle the other Musketeer books, including 20 Years On and The Vicomte de Bragalonne (usually printed in three volumes with that title, Louise de la Valliere and The Man In The Iron Mask). Now I feel myself getting on a Dumas kick and I'm eager to tackle one of his serialized tales that was just published in English for the first time: The Last Cavalier.
And I say all of this just to applaud a cheeky moment by Pevear in his new translation. It's page 650 of the paperback edition, chapter 65: The Judgment. Pevear's translation begins: "It was a dark and stormy night." He must have giggled when including that. I wondered if that was the origin of the cliche and went to the bookstore to look up two other translations of the book. They used words like tempestuous, though only a French person could tell me if they were avoiding the cliched phrase or whether Pevear just decided it was an apt one to use. Did Dumas coin that deathless line? And did he get a writing credit for the movie "Throw Momma From The Train"? I wonder.
POSTSCRIPT: You gotta love the internet. I looked up Richard Pevear, who is teaching at a university in Paris and sent him an email:
Dear Mr. Pevear,
I just finished your delightful translation of "The Three Musketeers," which must have been an enjoyable diversion after the Russians. Is it too much to hope you will tackle the other Musketeer novels, ie. Twenty Years After (surely "Later" would be more felicitious), and the multi-volume Vicomte de Bragelonne?
But I especially wanted to share my amusement over your one decision: in the paperback American edition, page 650, the first line of Chapter 65 "The Judgment," you begin "It was a dark and stormy night." After I stopped laughing (and after I finished the book), I checked out two earlier translations -- they used words like "tempestuous." I wonder if they were trying to avoid the cliched phrase (is it possible Dumas used it first?) or whether you chose it because it was apt and direct and, let's face it, funny.
Looking forward to "War and Peace."
He responded within hours:
Dear Mr Giltz,
Thanks very much for your note. At the moment I have no plans to translate the others. In some ways Twenty Years After (Après, not Plus Tard) is a better book than the Three Musketeers. But it's also much longer, and we have other commitments for the moment. Maybe some day. I'm glad you were amused by the opening line of Ch 65. Dumas actually has "C'était une nuit orageuse et sombre," literally "It was a stormy and dark night." But I decided that simply wouldn't do in English, and besides it amused me to pick up the old phrase. I'm glad it amused you, too. I think Dumas would be pleased.