Les Misérables – Reading Digitally & Matching Translations

Les Misérables Book - Movie Tie-In CoverI learned three nice things about the Kindle movie tie-in edition of Les Misérables today:

  • It’s only $3.
  • It’s the same translation (Norman Denny, 1976) that I’ve been reading from a big stack of paper.
  • Page numbers match the print edition I’ve been reading, at least where I’ve spot-checked.

This will be great for times that I don’t want to lug around the brick, or that I’m out and about and want to work on my next article, or that I planned on reading something else and changed my mind.

Les Misérables: The BrickI’ve occasionally looked at the Isabel F. Hapgood translation (1887) on Project Gutenberg, just to check against something closer to contemporary. It’s very different. It is written in 19th century English, after all, and both writing style and language have changed significantly since then.

There are several other modern translations available. When I started this re-read, I considered looking up either the Fahnestock & MacAfee (1987) or Julie Rose (2009) translations. What I found online suggested that the former sacrificed readability in favor of accuracy to Victor Hugo’s text, and the latter tried so hard to be modern that it set up a cognitive dissonance between the setting and language. (This will become less important over time.) I suspect the Fahnestock & MacAfee translation is the one I looked through in a bookstore back in high school, comparing chapters I had recently read and wondering why they made the choices they did.

In the end, rather than look for a new edition, I reached for the old Penguin Classics copy that has been sitting on a succession of bookshelves since my teen years. I haven’t regretted it. Maybe when I come back to the book again a few years down the line I’ll check out another translation. But when I do, I’ll probably just read it instead of commenting on it. Update: Five years later, I came back to the book and read the 2013 Christine Donougher translation. Here are my first impressions.

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6 thoughts on “Les Misérables – Reading Digitally & Matching Translations

  1. John Faber

    Thank you for your post! I was just trying to buy a digital copy of the Denny translation. Two times on Amazon I found a Denny translation, but when I clicked on the e-book or the Kindle version, the link took me to a non-Denny translation! I accidentally bought a digital book that was the Hapgood translation!

    So now I have the Denny translation on my Kindle reader and I’m ready to dig in.

    1. Kelson Vibber Post author

      Wow, that really seems like something they should track better between editions. They’re totally different adaptations, not simply changes in format, which is what you’d expect when switching between paperback and digital.

      Looking at it now, I’m disappointed that Amazon still hasn’t added the translator to most of the listings. With their tendency to mix reviews from different editions, there’s no way short of previewing the book to really be sure which one you’re getting.

  2. Angela

    I can’t find the Denny translation as an epub/kindle/whatever 🙁 I can’t keep lugging around this huge paperback I’ve got but I want my digital read to match my paperback read. Any help?


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