Why I’m Translating a Jules Renard Book and Posting It on my Blog


It’s quite simple, really.

Le Vigneron dans sa vigne does not appear to have been translated into English previously, it’s in the public domain, and when I found I had easy access to the French version online, it seemed like it would be fun to have a crack at it.

So it wasn’t really a well thought-out decision. In fact, I haven’t even finished reading the novel. I’m not even entirely sure that it is a novel, as it reads more like a series of journalistic episodes focusing on rural France in the 19th century.

I have read other work of Renard’s, most notably L’Écornifleur, which was apparently translated into English by Edward Hyams in the ’50s under the title The SpongerL’Écornifleur focuses on Henri, a young man playing at being a poet, who latches on to the good graces and silly vanity of a middle-aged couple, the Vernets. I found it extraordinary—hilarious dipping into disturbing, with a certain morally indifferent comic quality that strikes me as risky even in the world that published Lolita. The further I read into Le Vigneron dans sa vigne, the more I think this quality may just be typical of Renard’s work.

Renard is a relatively little-known presence in the world of English-language reading. So having come across a completely different text of his that I could find no evidence of having been translated (and I’m not even totally sure about that, as I haven’t bothered to look into it too hard), I was excited at the mere idea of making it available to the English-reading Internet at the same time it was being made available to me.

There’s no particular reason why I jumped on Le Vigneron dans sa vigne, as opposed to any of Renard’s other untranslated works. It might have been because it’s one of his texts available for free on Wikisource, but it wasn’t because of that. I actually started translating it from the free preview of a French Kindle version. It was just what I happened to come across first, and I saw no reason to wait.

So why exactly am I bothering to tell you all this?

Well, partially just because it’s something I enjoy talking about, and being able to talk about this sort of thing is one of the main reasons why I started this blog in the first place.

I also have a strong desire to experiment with an individual, show-your-work, unqualified approach as applied to translation, talking about whatever parts of it prod me or seem unwieldy to me. I think it could be interesting to create a space on this blog to explore translating a novel in both a serious and informal context. I’ve already begun doing this with poetry and short writing, starting with this Mallarmé sonnet. I imagine that an entire novel, however, would give me a chance to commit to an experience and share the process in a more “real time” manner.

I may publish my entire translation on this blog, or I may end up compiling the whole thing, with revisions, into a self-published e-book and make that available for purchase. Either way, though, I think I’m committing to making the whole novel available at some unspecified point in the future.

A little about my background in translation: I’ve been doing informal and piecemeal French-English translation for years (meaning for myself, strangers on Craigslist, articles about learning French for a language learning site and unspecified potential audiences). I’m a published creative and freelance writer, and I’ve written many blog posts on French (one of them even with a mention of L’Écornifleur) for the aforementioned site, for which I now do regular editing work. I have ways of accessing the opinions of native French speakers for more difficult translation problems. In short, literary translation is more than a hobby to me and I take it seriously.

Purely in terms of having any kind of literary translation resumé, though, I’m pretty unqualified. For various reasons spanning the personal and the practical, I haven’t gone after any kind of translation or language degree. This means I have to find other ways of proving myself, not even necessarily to potential future publishers, but to myself.

Beyond that, it’s important for me to simply be able to do the work I want to do, not as part of some kind of dogged, ascetic commitment to the work itself, but for the sake of making some of my own artistic and financial decisions as well as taking the initiative to do what I enjoy.

I do want to talk a little more about the stigma attached to self-publishing in the U.S. and why I think it’s important to overcome it, but I’ll save that mess for another post where I can really get into it. For now, I just want to say that I look forward to bringing you further installments of Le Vigneron dans sa vigne, complete with crude original illustrations created in MS Paint.

At this stage, I’m reviewing my work carefully but not as carefully as if I were releasing the whole thing in one chunk and charging money for it—I’m putting a certain amount of value on simply getting it out into the world in a timely fashion—so if anyone has any comments, questions, suggestions or doubts, feel free to put them below. In any case, I plan on sharing some of my own thoughts about the challenges of translating this older French text.

You can start reading my translation of Le Vigneron dans sa vigne here.

2 thoughts on “Why I’m Translating a Jules Renard Book and Posting It on my Blog

  1. I appreciate getting a little context for both the story and your interest in pursuing the translation. I am totally on board. This deserves a bigger audience.

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