Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Stendhal: Roman Tales translated by Susan Ashe

Review by The Mole

Marie-Henri Beyle was a prolific writer and, reading the introduction, he wrote under many pen names, one of which was Stendhal. His better known works include  Le Rouge et le Noir (The Red and the Black, 1830) and La Chartreuse de Parme (The Charterhouse of Parma, 1839). In this book the translator, Susan Ashe, takes three of his lesser known tales, The Abbess of Castro, Vittoria Accoramboni and The Cenci, and translates them for modern day readers while "whilst staying true to Stendhal’s style and brilliance." The tales purport to be true but historians feel that they deviate a great deal from documented accounts.

The introduction is something than made me think more about 'translations' than I would normally. I have often wondered how it's possible to translate poetry in particular as the nuances of the original language never repeat in the next one so much has to be lost. Even Shakespearean English loses something to modern day reader unless they are instructed in the meanings of some of the original language. In this we are told "Susan Ashe's translation, designed for the contemporary reader, concentrates on the narrative drive and drama of each story". Clearly any book, when translated cannot be translated literally but when is it a translation and when is it a retelling? The 11 page introduction is a bit of an insight in itself into both Stendahl and the art of translation.

The Abbess of Castro is the longest of the 3 tales and tells the story of young love that is not approved of by family. It also gives an insight into the politics of the time, brigands, attitudes and life in general. While reading I felt the writing style to be very Dickensian and the story moved swiftly. I found it difficult to read at first but that was probably me - it wasn't what I wanted at the time, but when I went back and started again I found it most engaging and I read it with a thirst for more. This, like the other two stories, does not end happily but still most enjoyable - at the right time.

Vittoria Accoramboni is once again a story of love... or is it lust?... that leads to murders. Once again, retaining the Dickensian feel but a tale that is very much shorter but none the less compelling or enjoyable for it.

The Cenci is a story of abuse, murder and injustice. Once again giving insights into the attitudes of the time to such issues and the value of life. Yet again an enjoyable tale.

The book ends with a list on notes, essays and glossaries to help to give context to the stories and the history surrounding these tales. The book also contains the Preface to The Cenci by Percy Bysshe Shelley and an essay by Charles Dickens on the Cenci Portrait.

All in all a very enjoyable read if the mood is right. If you don't manage to get started then put it to one side and return when your mood may be more agreeable to murder, mayhem and treachery.

Publisher - The Friday Project
Genre - Adult Historical Fiction

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