In my last post, I was beginning to share thoughts from my first week of reading Les Misérables. However, as I was typing, I needed to look up something and ended up discovering that the book I had was an abridgement; despite the fact that it said “Complete and Unabridged” on the front cover. I want to read an unabridged translation. So I started researching the most recommended translations.
First, this is the book I already had:
As you can see on the cover, it clearly states it’s complete and unabridged. However, this is not true. I compared the page count to just a couple of different translations and found that this book fell anywhere from around 400-800 pages less. That’s a huge page count difference! That’s just too much of the story left out for me. I realize when we’re talking about books in translation, many could still be considered slightly abridged just by the fact that translating into a different language can mean certain words might get left out that may not be able to be translated, etc. But to me, hundreds of pages left out is a totally different thing. And that’s not what I want. I want to find a translation that is as close to the original as possible but that also knows how to make the story flow as the author intended in the translated language. And so that’s what I set about to find out with the different translations of Les Misérables. I finally settled on the Fahnestock and McAffee translation.
So first, let me show you the immense difference between this translation and the abridged version I already had:
Now back to the different translations. As I researched, three translations tended to stay at the top: the Wilbour translation, the Denny translation, and the Fahnestock and McAffee translation.
The Wilbour translation is said to be very close to the original. However, I read that because the translator tended to keep the original French order of wording, it makes the English version harder to understand at times. It’s more formal sound may also pose a problem for some. The formal wording is not so much a problem for me; but a clunky read because of keeping the French order of wording would probably make it more difficult for me to enjoy.
The Denny translation is said to be probably the most readable translation for modern English. It is my understanding that this translator tried to keep to the original but at the same time, keep the spirit of the author’s intent with the storyline. Therefore it is probably more readable in the English language. I read that Denny did leave out some portions but included those omitted sections in the back of the book.
The Fahnestock and McAfee translation is based off of Wilbour’s translation and tried to stay true to the original. I read that it still retains some of that more formal sound as the Wilbour translation. However, one of the big differences is that it is said that this version has more of the French terminology translated than the Wilbour translation; therefore, it is better for those who have little experience with or understanding of the French language.
For me, the two that rose to the top was the Denny and the Fahnestock and McAffee translations. I decided that I would be fine with getting either one. I was leaning towards the Fahnestock and McAffee mainly because of the fact that Denny omitted parts, even though those parts were still included in the back of the book. So I could still read the omitted parts. But in the end, I felt the Fahnestock and McAfee would just be a smoother read because I wouldn’t have to flip to the back for the omitted parts. Purely just a preference on my part.
What it really came down to was availability for me to purchase either of these translations at our local bookstores. I decided that whichever my local bookstore(s) carried, I would go with that. If they didn’t have either, then I would order it online and go with the Fahnestock and McAfee. In the end, one bookstore only had the Wilbour. So that was out. But then yesterday, my family and I stopped at the other local bookstore and they had the Wilbour, yes, but also ONE copy of the Fahnestock and McAfee. I snatched it up right then and there and bought it.
I started reading it last night and so far, I find this translation very readable. Hopefully that will stay true for the whole book! Also, I have already read parts that weren’t in the original abridged book I already had. And as I read those parts I kept thinking, why would they leave that out??!!
Would you like to join me in reading Les Misérables? I would love to have others on this reading journey with me. We can do this as a read-along. I don’t plan to do anything formal. I’m just planning to read the book and share passages and quotes and some thoughts here and there along the way. I would love to have others to discuss the book with in the comments! My plan is to post once a week if possible. I can also plan out an approximate number of pages to read per week if there is any interest. 🙂