I was chatting to a friend about Les Miserables by Victor Hugo – which, I should add, I haven’t read – and it got me wondering about titles and translations. Most novels published into English have their titles translated too – sometimes differently in different translations (have you read The Outsider by Albert Camus or The Stranger by Albert Camus? Closely Observed Trains by Bohumil Hrabal or Closely Watched Trains by Bohumil Hrabal?) But usually they find their way into English.
But not Les Miserables. Is that just because it doesn’t translate easily? But what about – and this is the only other example I could think of off the top of my head – Bonjour Tristesse by Francoise Sagan? That could easily be Goodbye Sadness [I meant to write Hello, but see comments on this!], though maybe it’s missing something that’s in the original; my French is far, far away from idiomatic levels, so somebody else would have to tell me.
At least one of you is thinking right now about Proust and A la recherche du temps perdu, I guarantee it. That’s been translated as Remembrance of Things Past and In Search of Lost Time – and is still known as the French title, of course. ‘Remembrance of things past’ is from Shakespeare’s Sonnet 30, and I had heard a story that the equivalent line, in the French translation of Sonnet 30, was ‘a la recherche du temps perdu’… but, sadly, the internet has no evidence for that. There goes a fun anecdote.
Can you think of other books which kept their non-English title when translated into English? Or maybe the polymaths among you can tell me whether or not English novels often keep their titles when they are translated.