April 19, 1938.
Mr. Alfred A. Knopf1,
501 Madison Avenue,
New York City2.
My dear Alfred:
You will see by reading the enclosed letters from Madame
Yourcenar3 (the first written before she came to see me,
and the second afterward), that our
interview greatly cooled her enthusiasm.
- 1. Unfortunately, Madame Yourcenar made her translation4 from the Tauchnitz5 edition, which contains many errors. She was no f
uarther away than New
and had she applied to either
you or me, a recent and corrected
edition would have been sent her promptly.
- 2. Madame Yourcenar has never been in the Southwest7 at all, and seems to have no conception of how very
different that country is from any other part of the United States8. She has not informed herself
at all about its people or customs - which,
after all, are today very much as they were in Archbishop Lamy9's time. In so far as that country and people are
concerned, her mind is an utter blank. Yet she says that there are some
descriptive passages in the book (I don't know how many) which she must "paraphrase." How can one paraphrase descriptions of a landscape
which one has never seen, or even informed onself about? You will notice she
speaks of these passages as descriptions of "American landscape"; as
you know, it is Mexican landscape, not "American".
- 3. Madame Yourcenar further told me that it would be impossible to use in her
translation the local names of things - i. e., nouns such as burro, mesa, adobe
(both a noun and adjective), casa, arroyo, hacienda, etc., etc. These words
were, of course, originally Spanish, but they are now 2⬩W⬩S⬩C⬩common words everywhere in the Southwest. All the American
farmers and railroad workmen use them without knowing that they are Spanish.
There are simply no other names for these things. You cannot call an arroyo a
ditch or a ravine.
- 4. I had of course thought that Madame Yourcenar would do what all the other
translators of this book have done - simply employ these native words as they
are used in my text. She declared that this was impossible, as the use of
foreign words was very objectionable to the French taste and, moreover, they
would not be understood by French readers. Explanatory footnotes, she said, were
very objectionable to a French
audience, and in such bad taste
that she could not use them. I reminded her that the pages of CARMEN10 are peppered with Spanish words, and whole
sentences in the Gypsy language which are translated in footnotes. This is
equally true of COLOMBA11. She said this would
merely make a book look old fashioned, and with great decision dismissed the
said that she
wouldconsented to use the
word pueblo in her translation, but would promise
- 5. Since my meeting with Madame Yourcenar I have been running through the very
excellent Italian translation12 made by Alessandra Scalero13, and I find that in every
instance she uses the New Mexican nouns and adjectives, those I have
usedlisted above in paragraph 3 and many others, exactly
as I used them myself. The only
difference being that she puts all these foreign words, even such simple ones as
"poker", "rancheros" and "hacienda", in italic. She has very clear and enlightening
footnotes on such words as "trapper", "gringo", and very short footnotes telling clearly what a
"mesa" is, a "hogan", "wampum", etc. The Italian translation clearly and faithfully
3⬩W⬩S⬩C⬩reproduces the English text of the
- 6. Now we will get to the heart of the matter. Madame Yourcenar feels that
this book accurately translated would not make, as she says, "beautiful French".
I have every admiration for the writer who wishes to write his own language
beautifully, and I am afraid she has chosen a book which is not suited to the
kind of French she wishes to write. My apprehensions have to do with:
Paraphrasing in this case would certainly be improvising. And how many
improvisions, one would like to know? Madame Yourcenar told me that some of
these words were "not in the dictionary". I find very clear definitions of the
several she mention
- First, her absolute
refusal to make use of the local New Mexican-Spanish words for which
there are no English or French equivalents.
- Second, the fact that she wishes to
paraphrase the passages describing a country which she has never seen
and about which she has read very little.
sed in the unabridged Webster's Dictionary14, published 1935.
After going through the Italian translation and seeing how possible it is to make
faithful translation, I think it is not unreasonable in me to ask that I should be
allowed to see proofs of Madame Yourcenar's translation before it is published15.goes to press
Excuse this long letter.