Re-Reading Les Misérables

Thoughts and commentary on Victor Hugo’s masterpiece.

Les Misérables - Reading Digitally and Matching Translations

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

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.

2021 Update

The Denny translation is no longer available as an ebook. I couldn’t find it on Kindle, Nook, Kobo or even Google Play. I wonder if it’s gone out of print, which would really be a shame.

To make matters more confusing, Amazon doesn’t always match translations between different editions, hasn’t added the translators to most of the listings, and tends to mix reviews from different editions together. There’s no way short of previewing the book to really be sure which one you’re getting. That hasn’t stopped me from trying to sort it out!

Posted in About the Project by Kelson Vibber, June 4, 2013

Tagged: kindle · paris · process · translation