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Yves Chevrel, Annie Cointre et Yen-Mai Tran-Gervat, dir., Histoire des traductions en langue française xviie et xviiie siècles (1610-1815)

Lagrasse, Verdier, 2014, ISBN : 978-2864327745
Ann Thomson
p. 328-330
Référence(s) :

CHEVREL, YVES, ANNIE COINTRE et YEN-MAI TRAN-GERVAT, dir. — Histoire des traductions en langue française XVIIe et XVIIIe siècles (1610-1815). Lagrasse : Verdier, 2014. 1 373 pp. ISBN : 978-2864327745.

Texte intégral

1This work forms part of a monumental project, directed by the Université Paris-Sorbonne and financed by the Agence Nationale de la Recherche, concerning the history of translations into French. It is the second volume to appear; one on the nineteenth century has already been published and two further volumes will cover the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries and take the study up to the present day. The important subject of translation is of course approached from the point of view of the specialist of French culture, with much discussion of the development of the language and the influence of translation on French writing; nevertheless, in view of the importance of translations from English into French during the two centuries covered, there is much here to interest a specialist of Anglophone culture. As the editors indicate in the Introduction, translations of English language works, almost non-existent at the beginning of the period, rose to a total representing over 36% of all the translations into French which were published in 1815.

2The work is divided into self-contained chapters in essay form, each with its own bibliography, which discuss first of all the question of language, the translators, publishing (a welcome inclusion, but this question deserved more space than it is given here, particularly on the role of the periodical press, which played a vital and understudied role in making translations of many English works available to the French-reading public), discussion of translation and thinking about translation. There follows a series of chapters dealing with particular fields: sacred texts, philosophy, sciences and arts, travel accounts, history, theatre, poetry, narrative prose and finally works for children and young people. An introduction and conclusion bring out the main aims and conclusions of the investigation.

3As is inevitable with a work of this type the chapters, which adopt different formats, are uneven, as are their bibliographies. Some of the chapters have particular sections devoted to translations from the English, which will particularly interest the readers of this journal. Among the somewhat arbitrarily chosen portraits of translators in chapter ii, we find Jean Baudoin (who translated Sidney and Bacon), abbé Desfontaines (translator, amongst others, of Pope, Swift, Fielding), Pierre Coste (the translator of Locke), and Denis Diderot, who began his career translating various English works, most famously Shaftesbury. Likewise, in the chapter on philosophy there is a long section devoted to translations from English (dealing mainly, but not exclusively, with Bacon, Hobbes, Locke and Hume) as well as a study of three “philosopher-translators,” two of whom are Diderot (again) and d’Holbach, who translated many English works; the chapter provides several examples taken from his translation of Gordan and Trenchard’s The Independent Whig, illustrating the changes made to the original text (576-80). In chapter xii there is a very useful section on the translation of English poetry in the eighteenth century, which includes (1053-58) a comparison of different translations of a section of book IV of Paradise Lost, a history of the translations of Pope (1058-65) and a comparison of translations of a verse of Gray’s Elegy (1070-72). Other chapters, divided differently, also contain much of interest concerning translations from English works and their reception and distribution, but it is scattered throughout the chapter. The chapter on “Sciences and Arts” provides information on the translation of the Philosophical Transactions, of Newton, and of English works on medicine, agriculture or horses; while chapter xi, on the theatre, contains much on the changing fortune of Shakespeare and translations of his plays, including an appendix comparing five translations of Hamlet’s monologue “To be or not to be” (942-44). The chapter devoted to narrative prose, organised around different theories of translation and the reception of translations, unfortunately does not include a section on the English novel; information on translations and adaptations of Defoe, Fielding, Swift, Richardson, Sterne, or the gothic novel is scattered in various places in the chapter, which from the point of view of the angliciste is less satisfactory. The most disappointing chapter is the one devoted to travel literature, a very popular genre for much of the period and one in which translations from English were prominent, and its brief bibliography is very unsatisfactory.

4The bibliographies to each chapter list only the secondary works cited, and are inevitably far from complete and do not always include the most up-to-date relevant literature. The main regret here concerns the lack of a bibliography or index listing all the translations mentioned, which limits the volume’s usefulness as a work of reference. Details about translations are provided throughout the text and not referenced either in footnotes or in the individual bibliographies; it is as a result very difficult to find information concerning which works were translated, when, and by whom. This information, which is in general not always readily available, would have been extremely useful from many points of view, including for a study of the reception of English works during the period.

5What is, however, particularly valuable is the index listing all the translators, together with their dates, when they are known. This indicates the attention paid throughout the work to the people who produced the translations instead of, as too often happens, concentrating only on the works themselves. All in all, this volume, the result of a huge collaborative effort extending over several years, is to be welcomed, and will repay detailed reading by anyone interested in the diffusion of English-language works in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

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Ann Thomson, « Yves Chevrel, Annie Cointre et Yen-Mai Tran-Gervat, dir., Histoire des traductions en langue française xviie et xviiie siècles (1610-1815) »XVII-XVIII, 72 | 2015,  328-330.

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Ann Thomson, « Yves Chevrel, Annie Cointre et Yen-Mai Tran-Gervat, dir., Histoire des traductions en langue française xviie et xviiie siècles (1610-1815) »XVII-XVIII [En ligne], 72 | 2015, mis en ligne le 01 avril 2016, consulté le 26 février 2020. URL :

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Ann Thomson

European University Institute

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