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Les Misérables Paperback – Jul 14 2009
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“A new translation by Julie Rose of Hugo’s behemoth classic that is as racy and current and utterly arresting as it should be.” —The Buffalo News (editor’s choice)
“Lively, dramatic, and wonderfully readable.” —Alison Lurie, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Foreign Affairs
“Splendid . . . The magnificent story [is] marvelously captured in this new unabridged translation.”—Denver Post
“Rich and gorgeous. This is the [translation] to read. . . . If you are flying, just carry it under your arm as you board, or better still, rebook your holiday and go by train, slowly, page by page.” —Jeanette Winterson, The Times, London
About the Author
Julie Rose’s acclaimed translations include Alexandre Dumas’s The Knight of Maison-Rouge and Racine’s Phèdre, as well as works by Paul Virilio, Jacques Rancière, Chantal Thomas, and many others. She is a recipient of the PEN medallion for translation and the New South Wales Premier’s Translation Prize.
Adam Gopnik is the author of Paris to the Moon and Through the Children’s Gate, and editor of the Library of America anthology Americans in Paris. He writes on various subjects for The New Yorker and has recently written introductions to works by Maupassant, Balzac, Proust, and Alain-Fournier.
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Top Customer Reviews
Hugo does manage to give us a partial portrayal of the extensive misery of the underside of France. And he also gives us some compelling characters in Jean Valjean, Javert, and Thenardier. Marius and Cosette, not so much. This is romantic era excess at its most shameless, and we aren't required to pretend it was all good. However, there is much good here. From a writer as good as Hugo, who spent 20 years at this work (give or take), that's about what you'd expect.
As far as the translation goes, this work reads well, but it isn't dumbed down. Sure, there may be mistakes, I've seen the complaints. Frankly though, if you want to pick up a version that you might actually finish, this is a good one to go with. There's no editing or moving of irrelevant portions to appendices, which I think is right. This work will stand or fall on its own - it's too late to try and fix it!
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Graham Robb, the biographer of Hugo, found numerous serious errors in this translation incl. that the Duke of Clarence was drowned in a butt of malmsey ("une tonne de malvoisie"), rather than Rose's ridiculous "a tun of marsala" and that the "sacre" of Charles X was his coronation not his "consecration". Marius was not "fierce" with pretty girls (Rose) but "shy" ("farouche"). And on and on. An amateur but arrogant production all the way, and a real disgrace.
The original Wilbour translation, which was quite respectable, was revised and corrected by Lee Fahnestock and Norman MacAffe for Signet some years ago. It is still available and is by every standard superior.
August, 2012 note: Penguin has announced a new translation for the fall to be published in an attractive hardcover:
Les Miserables (Penguin Classics).
November, 2012 note: Just received the Penguin hardcover. Although they announced a "new translation", it is merely a reprint of Norman Denny's "free" and abridged adaptation.
I was 26 years old and had never read such a sprawling narrative that commanded my attention like a murder mystery. Jean Valjean was Everyman, and so Hugo's heart touched mine. I read his prose like someone starving for inspiration and story, and read both. As I recall, I read the Penguin edition, circa 1984. It was stirring, clear, compelling.The dialogue doetailed beautifully between the French idiom and American English.
I never saw the musical of the same name, but respect those who did.
Then Julie Rose's version was published, and after reading snippets of some pivotal chapters, I had to purchase a copy, and I'm thrilled I did. Rose's translation is more arresting than the version I read so many years ago, than those I've examined since. Some translators don't "get" idiomatic phrases in a source language, and so much of what we say to one another is idiomatic, and cannot be translated literally.
Rose understands both the idiom and the importance of immediacy in THE Romantic novel of the modern Western canon. Jean Valjean's story is one of fateful coincidence, loss, fear, grief and redemption. Hugo's sub-plots are extensive and yet, unlike the Russian masters, he weaves these into the central narrative seamlessly.
If you love political suspense, mystery, romance, and an author's sheer ability to tell a very long story and give it wings, please purchase this version. Rose will not disappoint you, and at roughly one-third off retail,the posted price barely buys two movie tickets.
Reading LES MISERABLES is one of the only experiences that made New Jersey Transit tolerable in those days. And on those late nights when the loneliness of the Port Authority became overwhelming, Hugo's masterpiece took me to another place.
I cannot write about this book with critical authority, only to say I loved it. I cannot recommend this translation on the basis of scholarly training, because I never received in in this field.
But I know what I like, and Rose's translation is a smash.
As for the size of the book, buy an extra pillow and settle back. You won't regret it.
The main problem I have with this edition is that it doesn't exactly supply the right emotional depth that was in the original. I first read the Signet Classics edition, which is very literally translated at times during the dialogue, but translates the meaning behind the characters' words very well. In that edition, the dialouge seemed stilted but gave a better tone to every scene. Julie Rose's dialogue is easier to read and sounds right to American readers, but she often makes changes and additions to Hugo's writing that don't feel right. To me, it sometimes fails to convey the emotion behind the scene. Making something easier to read should not be the main goal of the translator. And while she mentions in her introduction that the book was very dear to her and she was careful in rewriting it, there are some moments in the book when the writing seems awkward even if you're reading it for the first time. Compare referring to someone as 'a beautiful slab of marble' to 'a beautiful statue.' The choice is the translator's, but it seems at times that she didn't think hard enough about how her writing sounded. Her writing is far improved from those editions that translated a chapter entitled "The Blotter Talks" as "A Drinker is a Babbler", because she can capture the actual meaning of the French words and switch it into understandable English, but it feels like something is missing from the original.
Since it is possible (though extremely difficult) for me to read the French original, I will probably have more complaints about the translation than those who are reading the book for the first time. If that's the case, I would recommend the Signet edition, particularly if you already feel daunted by the size. The Julie Rose translation is actually larger and longer than the French original, and since she adds rather than deducts from nearly every passage, it can be hard to read. To me, the Signet edition retains the feel of the original and better reproduces the characters. While the writing is much clearer than the original translation and many other editions, it isn't contemporary, and it may be easier for you to read Rose's edition. In either case the book is magnificent, but if you read and love one translation, I would look at the other just to compare. You'd be surprised just how different they are.
I went back to my local library and borrowed the same copy I read as a teenager, an antique book originally published in 1915 and translated by Isabel F. Hapgood. One afternoon, I was browsing through Barnes and Nobles when I came upon this copy. I was instantly grabbed by the art on the jacket binding of this beautiful hardcover version, and I grew even more interested when I learned that it was a new translation by a woman named Julie Rose. I compared several sections with the older version, and was struck by how much more I liked the newer one. For instance, here is an excerpt from a conversation between Jean Valjean and the ragamuffin, Gavroche:
"The letter is for Madamoiselle Cosette, is it not?"
Cosette," muttered Gavroche. "Yes, I believe that is the queer name."
"Well," resumed Jean Valjean, "I am to person to whom you are to deliver the letter. Give it here."
Gavroche held the paper elevated above his head.
"Don't go and fancy it's a love letter. It's for a woman, but it's for the people. We men fight and we respect the fair sex. We are not as they are in fine society, where there are lions who send chickens to camels."
"Give it to me."
"After all," continued Gavroche, "you have the air of an honest man."
"Give it to me quick."
"Catch hold of it." And he handed the paper to Jean Valjean. "And make haste, Monsieur What's-your-name, for Mamselle Cosette is waiting." Gavroche was satisfied with himself for having produced this remark.
"The letter's for Mademoiselle Cosette, isn't it?"
"Cosette?" growled Gavroche. "Yes, I think it's some funny name like that."
"Well, then," Jean Valjean went on, "I'm the one who's supposed to hand her the letter. Give it to me."
Gavroche held the note up above his head. "Don't go getting the idea that it's a love letter. It's for a woman, but it's for the people. We men, we're fighting men, and we respect the sex. We're not like in high society where there are nobs who send sweet nothings to slack cows."
"Give it to me."
"Actually," Gavroche continued, "you look to me to be a good sort of geezer."
"Give it to me quick."
"Take it." And he handed Jean Valjean the note. "And get a move on, Monsieur Thingummyjig, because Mamselle Thingummyjig is waiting."
Gavroche was very pleased with himself for having come up with this line.
Rose's version sounds closer to what a street urchin such as Gavroche would have said. Another example: Instead of Madame Thénardier saying, "How easily children get acquainted at once!" she says, "Kids! See how well they get on already!" Isabel F. Hapgood calls the Thénardiers "unprepossessing figures" and Julie Rose calls them "shady characters." The second word choice paints a much better mind picture for the modern reader.
Another advantage for the modern reader: this translation is more understandable. For instance, this is what the doctor says as he considers the possibility of a miraculous recovery for Fantine:
"There are crises so astounding; great joy has been known to arrest maladies; I know well that this is an organic disease and in an advanced state, but all those things are such mysteries: we may be able to save her."
"There are some amazing recoveries, great joy has been seen to put an end to disease. I know this one is an organic disease and fairly well advanced, but it's all such a mystery, all that! Perhaps we will save her, after all."
Aside from giving the reader an arresting, clearer understanding of the text, Julie Rose also provides more of Hugo's original novel than ever before. In her preface, she explains how often other translators would omit "offensive" content or "useless" details, and that, to her knowledge, she is "one of the few translators to have rendered all of Hugo's magnificent novel without censorship." Because of this, Les Miserables has finally been presented in an English version closer to what Victor Hugo originally intended.
So on my second read, I am not only reading more carefully because of my love for the characters, but I am also looking at them as though through a new, clearer, prescription of glasses. For that, I am very grateful to Julie Rose. This is a book I will treasure for years to come.
p.s. I would also highly recommend the dramatized audiobook I mentioned at the beginning of my review. Here is the link: http://www.amazon.com/Mis%C3%A9rables-Radio-Theatre-Victor-Hugo/dp/1589973941/ref=sr_1_8?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1229374558&sr=1-8. It's a gripping, faithful interpretation of this classic.