As you probably know, this year will see the 100th anniversary of Bloomsday—June 16, 1904—the day on which James Joyce had a date with a woman named Nora, made eternal as the single day that became the time frame of his novel Ulysses. Dublin is preparing to party down, with a series of events unfortunately labeled ReJoyce Dublin 2004. (This will include a new exhibit, James Joyce and Ulysses at the National Library of Ireland, at the National Library of Ireland in Dublin, if the author's grandson waives certain copyright privileges.) If you have ever struggled with reading this book, imagine how a non-anglophone reader would feel reading such a book either in a foreign language or in translation. (Between the Irish slang and the extensive joking in Latin, an American reader may suffer similar feelings of linguistic alienation, after all.)
An article (L'éternel perturbateur, May 31) by Olivier Le Naire in L'Express is a commentary on, among other things, a new French translation of Joyce's novel from Gallimard (available in bookstores on June 10), made by a team of eight contributors including writers Tiphaine Samoyault, Patrick Drevet, and Sylvie Doizelet; university professors Marie-Danièle Vors, Pascal Bataillard, and Michel Cusin; and professional translators Bernard Hoepffner and Jacques Aubert (see this article from Radio France). My favorite part of this article was the account of how Joyce and Sylvia Beach managed to get the book published in the first place.
With Ulysses, Sylvia Beach discovered the vocation of editor by launching herself at a real challenge: printing a work of more than 700 pages in a language that none of the French typesetters of Darantiere printers, in Dijon, understood, and that required the immediate purchase of multiple w's, as common in English as they are rare in French. "The total freedom to make corrections allowed to the author by Sylvia Beach," Laure Murat explains, "was what opened the door to all sorts of surcharges. It would prove to be the key to the book's final development, even what allowed it to be created, since Joyce, because of this possibility, augmented his text by almost a third in the proof stage... No traditional editor would ever have allowed such procedures." The real problems began with the "Circe" episode—or "brothel scene"—in which the author, using a dramatic procedure at the novel's heart, relies on a hallucinatory technique. Nine proofreaders wore themselves out on it and all gave up when confronted by the complexity of the work or refused to type such a scandalous text.The history of how the book was first translated into French—a daunting task, to be sure—in 1929 is also interesting. Auguste Morel, after beginning the translation by himself (with Valery Larbaud and Joyce himself overseeing), was forced to work with another translator, Stuart Gilbert.
Very soon the atmosphere turned ugly. Morel translated, Gilbert corrected, Larbaud edited. A single example, among a thousand, gives an idea of the complexity of their task. When Morel translated "Two shafts of soft daylight fell across the flagged floor" as Deux flèches de jour tombaient moelleuses sur le sol dallé [Two arrows of daylight were falling, soft, on the paved ground], Larbaud, for his part, preferred Deux javelots de jour adouci tombaient rayant le sol dallé [Two javelins of softened daylight were falling, striping the paved ground].If you plan to spend June 16 reading (or rereading) Ulysses, you may also find Jorn Barger's The Internet Ulysses by James Joyce to be a helpful guide.