Reccomendations for accessible French texts for a hobbiest literary translator.
July 16, 2011 5:21 AM   Subscribe

Recommend litetary French texts for beginner translation.

At University, I really enjoyed translating source texts and have recently revived this activity as a hobby. My French is very poor but I've been translating selected texts from Montaigne's Essays.

I am looking for further suggestions for accessible literary texts which would make good subjects. I found Beckett's novels written in French to be a good level, but the subject matter and vocubulary is quite grim for prolonged exposure.

Improving my conversational French is a seconday goal, and am going to France for a few weeks later this year, and so it would be good to switch attention to more recent texts. (I'm aware this is a relatively inefficient, bordering on useless method compared to other learning methods, I am okay with that)

Also I am wondering how achronistic Montaigne's language is. Has French changed much over time?


A second question, how achronistic is Montaigne's French?
posted by choppyes to Writing & Language (10 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
When I was in level 3 I started translating Camus' L'etranger and found it just the right level of challenging.
posted by Jason and Laszlo at 5:34 AM on July 16, 2011 [2 favorites]

Saint-Exupéry's Terre des hommes might work well for this. Each chapter is a separate story, so translation can be broken up into chunks. The writing style is fairly conversational but not slangy. You might also try Camus' essays.

how achronistic is Montaigne's French?

It strikes me about like English from the 1600's or early 1700's.
posted by nangar at 5:57 AM on July 16, 2011

These will not qualify as "literary text", but if you're looking for a break from the grim, Jules Verne is pure escapism, e.g. "Le Chateau des Carpathes" and "Les Forceurs de blocus". A bonus is that these are available from Librio, as part of their 2€ series, which usually puts them at less than $5 in the U.S.
posted by benito.strauss at 6:29 AM on July 16, 2011

Agota Kristof (especially Le grand cahier and La preuve), Marie Redonnet and, less so, Marguerite Duras--though all of these are about as grim as Beckett. (what can I say? I don't so much like being happy all the time.) Jean-Philippe Toussaint is likely also worth checking out for his very conversational style.
posted by spindle at 6:37 AM on July 16, 2011

You're in the UK, so you might be able to find learners' French novels - they're popular books that have had their vocabulary adapted (less anachronistic, fewer idioms) for various learning levels. They can be found in bookstores with foreign language sections, though of course it can depend on the bookstore. They're labelled by learning level. You could try your hand at translating those? benito.strauss' recommendation of Jules Verne is great. Antoine de Saint Exupéry can be good too; maybe try some French folk tales (whose language has been adapted into modern French).

And yes, French has changed a lot over the years. It depends on what edition of Montaigne you have – modern French ones tend to adapt his vocabulary/syntax for modern readers, though there are also modern editions that are true to the original. He wrote in français classique.
posted by fraula at 7:47 AM on July 16, 2011

Simenon is a popular choice for French learners, because of his plain style: in Paul Theroux's words, 'his writing is so textureless as to be transparent, and never calls attention to itself'. French translations of Agatha Christie (much admired by Michel Houellebecq: 'Il faut dire que ça s'est bien passé avec Agatha Christie, pour moi') are another good way to build up fluency in the language.
posted by verstegan at 8:24 AM on July 16, 2011

My grad school language requirement test was to translate some of Rousseau from Les Confessions and Les Rêveries du promeneur solitaire. Both are lively texts that aren't in arcane French, and not too hard to translate.
posted by Beardman at 8:34 AM on July 16, 2011

In high school French, we studied the poetry of Jacques Prévert, who wrote simple poems about complex relationships.
Also, in high school French, I really loved reading 'Le Petit Nicolas', because of the humour, and the charming illustrations.
posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 9:27 AM on July 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

Robbe-Grillet's Djinn (a.k.a. Le Rendez-vous) was written for exactly this purpose.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 11:16 AM on July 16, 2011

Sure, French has changed an awful lot. But Les Essais is still one of the most delightful pieces of French prose that one can find. I'd recommend to check works by Blaise Cendrars. In the contemporary period, he could give you some of the variety and rhythm that you've been accustomed to.
posted by nicolin at 2:23 AM on August 31, 2011

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