22 March 2008

Germans and the French language

A hundred years after it was written, Robert Walser's »Der Gehülfe« (The Assistant) is finally available in English. Susan Bernofsky's translation was first published by New Directions in July 2007, but I held off because I already had a copy of Bernard Lortholary's masterly French translation first published in 1985. But then this month Penguin UK had to go and release a gorgeous edition of Bernofsky's translation in the newly redesigned Penguin Modern Classics series, and so I was forced to import the book from the UK, at great personal expense I might add. Les salauds!

Here's an amusing passage, pertaining to the prestige enjoyed by the French language in foreign lands:

"Une jolie petite française", the conductor's wife said, evidently overjoyed at having an occasion to recite a few French words she knew by heart. This is always the case in Germanic lands, people love to be able to show that they understand French.

"Frau Tobler," Joseph thought, "knows no French at all, the poor thing!"
Robert Walser, »Der Gehülfe« (The Assistant), 1907, translation Susan Bernofsky (2007)

« Une jolie petite française », dit en français la femme du contrôleur, manifestement ravie d'avoir l'occasion de débiter de mémoire quelques mots en français. C'est toujours ainsi dans les pays de langue allemande : les gens sont contents de pouvoir montrer qu'ils comprennent le français.

« Ma patronne, pensa Joseph, ne comprend pas un mot de français. La pauvre! »
Robert Walser, »Der Gehülfe« (Le commis), 1907, traduction Bernard Lortholary (1985)