I'm re-reading Albert Camus' novella The Stranger right now, for a variety of reasons. I don't speak French and so I only know the work through English translations. Specifically, I know it from the 1946 Stuart Gilbert translation, which I read way back in college. That's not the edition I have at home, however. The edition I'm currently reading is newer: the 1988 Knopf edition translated by Matthew Ward. From the very first page, I realized that Ward's translation was going to be quite different from the version I first read. I'll give you the opening passages from both editions.
From the 1946 translation by Stuart Gilbert:
Mother died today. Or, maybe, yesterday; I can’t be sure. The telegram from the Home says: YOUR MOTHER PASSED AWAY. FUNERAL TOMORROW. DEEP SYMPATHY. Which leaves the matter doubtful; it could have been yesterday.
The Home for Aged Persons is at Marengo, some fifty miles from Algiers. With the two o’clock bus I should get there well before nightfall. Then I can spend the night there, keeping the usual vigil beside the body, and be back here by tomorrow evening. I have fixed up with my employer for two days’ leave; obviously, under the circumstances, he couldn’t refuse. Still, I had an idea he looked annoyed, and I said, without thinking: "Sorry, sir, but it’s not my fault, you know."
From the 1988 translation by Matthew Ward:
Maman died today. Or yesterday, maybe, I don't know. I got a telegram from the home: "Mother deceased. Funeral tomorrow. Faithfully yours." That doesn't mean anything. Maybe it was yesterday.
The old people's home is at Marengo, about eighty kilometers from Algiers, I'll take the two o'clock bus and get there in the afternoon. That way I can be there for the vigil and come back tomorrow night. I asked by boss for two days off and there was no way he was going to refuse me with an excuse like that. But he wasn't too happy about it. I even said, "It's not my fault."
Gilbert's language is more formal than Ward's; he uses longer phrases and is perceptibly less immediate (compare his "which leaves the matter doubtful" to Ward's "that doesn't mean anything.") Ward's translation seems to me to be a very American version of the narrative, with his clipped rhythms and less complex sentence structure.
Gilbert also translated the edition of The Plague that I read, and so my idea of Albert Camus is more-or-less based on Stuart Gilbert's idea of Albert Camus (I'll have to see who translated the edition of The Fall I read). Peter Newmark has written critically of Gilbert's "jigging up" of Camus' text and the problematic nature of translation in general, but today I'm not interested in the challenges of translation. What I'm thinking about lately is word choice and the enormous effect it has on writerly voice. Reading the recent Camus translation just sort of spurred me on to write this post today. (Apologies for not making this a Friday Filler, Davin.)
I've been noticing that, no matter if I'm writing from a first-person or a third-person point of view, or if I'm writing about people from the 16th century or the 21st century, I tend to use the same set of words in the same sort of ways in a great many cases. And while I try to expand my working vocabulary all the time (because I like to learn new words), I have noticed that one thing that creates boundaries around my vocabulary is a refusal to use certain words at all.
There are some words that I just don't like, and some words that I absolutely hate with a hatred usually reserved for use by totalitarian dictators considering their political enemies. My novels and stories are mostly free of current slang, for example. I just don't like it on the page. That's really more a stylistic choice, though.
No, the words you won't find in my writing are words that I just, for whatever reason, don't like the sound of. I'll use "vomit" but I'll never use "puke." I'll say "bellow" but never "holler" and rarely "yell." And "crappy" yes but "shitty" no. I have no idea why, except that I don't like the sound of "shitty." Possibly, in general, I tend to lean more toward Latinate words and away from Anglo Saxon words, but I'm just guessing. Surely "I should prefer not" and "I don't want to" mean the same thing, but they are spoken by two different voices and Melville's Bartleby would be less compelling and enigmatic had he said "I don't want to." (What? You haven't read Bartleby the Scrivener? Off you go to find it on Project Gutenberg or on the Melville House website. It's short so you've got no excuse.)
Anyway, I've been thinking about how writerly voice is partially defined by the words we won't (or should prefer not to) use. I know that the list of words I refuse to use is as long as my arm but--maybe because I don't use them--I can't think of many right now. Which is sort of irritating, you know? Here I am trying to make a point and I can't come up with any examples. Oh, "garbage." I don't like that word. I prefer "trash" or "rubbish." Go figure.
You? Words you can't stand/won't use? Thoughts on word choice as influence on voice? Too obvious? Why do I waste your time with posts like this? Hey, maybe this is Friday Filler after all!