Montaigne's Complete Essays in translation
August 5, 2008 6:53 PM   Subscribe

Which English translation of Montaigne's Complete Essays do you recommend--Donald Frame's or M. A. Screech's? (Also, feel free to recommend another--these are the two I know of.)
posted by Prospero to Writing & Language (7 answers total)
I read Screech's for class and found them diverting and often entertaining. I would recommend his translation without reservations. However, I confess I haven't read the original or the Frame all I can say is that Montaigne comes across as a likeable old codger in Screech.

Also, it is awesome that his name is Screech. Whenever I found myself without enthusiasm for reading Montaigne, I'd look down and think of poor M. A. Screech and find the will to soldier through another essay.
posted by crinklebat at 7:12 PM on August 5, 2008

I love the Frame translation. I'd say choose whichever seems more natural to you -- Montaigne needs to seem immediate and conversational, and sometimes that's a matter of taste. I've seen some translations that are pedantic and overprecise, and that really kills his voice.
posted by futility closet at 7:36 PM on August 5, 2008

Both versions seem quite usable. I sat down with both of them and with the French for a couple of hours' perusal last year, and I concluded that Frame's was maybe a bit smoother and more mellifluous in its English style, at least to my taste, where Screech's prose sometimes seemed a bit more labored.
posted by RogerB at 8:14 PM on August 5, 2008

Montaigne comes across as a likeable old codger in Screech

This is exactly what I wanted to say, only more succinct. I prefer the Screech translation for this reason.
posted by greycap at 11:36 PM on August 5, 2008

I have only read the Screech and recommend it for the reasons given above and also because Prof Screech is (was?) a lovely old man. I served him once when working retail in Oxford, and recognised his name on his credit card. I told him that I'd appreciated his translation (and other work on Montaigne) and I think I made his day.

If you know French but are worried about the language in these old essays, bear in mind that 500-year-old French is closer to modern French than English of the same period is to modern English. I (a native English speaker with good French) find it easier to understand Montaigne than to understand Shakespeare, say.
posted by altolinguistic at 2:57 AM on August 6, 2008 [1 favorite]

...not that that means that a translation is not useful, for the lengthy Latin and Greek parts in particular.
posted by altolinguistic at 2:58 AM on August 6, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks, all. I ended up reading the first essay in each collection, and decided on that basis to go with Frame. (Only barely, though--they both seem perfectly fine, but Frame is more liberal with his punctuation, and so his sentences read more easily to me.)
posted by Prospero at 2:14 PM on August 6, 2008

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