A Word About Victor Hugo Translations

Victor Hugo was one of the most popular authors of the 19th Century. As a result many publishers offered his work in English translation in widely different editions, from the elegant to the cheap. Many of these printings are still to be found in secondhand bookshops and on the Internet. Unfortunately many of these are the "cheap" reprints, frequently abridged and with mediocre translations. Many of these editions don't even tell you who the translator was. (Publishers particularly to avoid are Standard, ALBurt, and Nelson, but there are others).

In our own investigation for example, we found that the Isabel Hapgood translation of Toilers of the Sea is the best (and improved with edits by Patricia LeChevalier), but her translation of Man Who Laughs is markedly inferior to the Joseph Blamire. Joseph Blamire translations are very hard to find.

In his recent biography of Victor Hugo, Graham Robb comments about one well-known translation, calling it " a Swiss cheese of unavowed omissions and bears out Hugo's comments on translations as a form of censorship." He doesn't think anything better of a recent paperback edition of Toilers of the Sea - based on the original 1866 translation of William Moy Thomas - calling it "a miserable travesty". Other editions he describes as "pruned and disinfected". Ayn Rand made similar comments in her fiction writing seminars.

Robb's recommendations are on p. 619 of his book. Apart from those ..caveat emptor.

- Fred Weiss



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