Six degrees of separation: Vanity Fair to Grimm’s Fairy Tales

Booksaremyfavouriteandbest invites us each month to find six degrees of separation between books. November’s starting point is Vanity Fair by Thackeray.

1.  I haven’t read Vanity Fair but the name of William Makepeace Thackeray immediately brought George Sand’s Spiridion to mind because Thackeray said, in relation to her novel Spiridion (that I translated), that she was “the most elegant writer, I think, that her sex ever produced.”

2. Thinking of Spiridion leads me to Cœurs russes (Russian Hearts) by Eugène-Melchior de Vogüé which I’ve also translated. It’s a book of short stories written by a French ambassador to Russia in the 1880s, set in Russia and written in the style of Turgenev and Tolstoy.

3. Now I’m remembering the pleasure of reading A Sportsman’s Sketches by Ivan Turgenev, especially the short story ‘The Tryst‘.

4. I’ve used ‘The Tryst’ several times when tutoring migrants in English because of its delicious descriptions. One student who enjoyed it has now asked for us to read Picnic at Hanging Rock together. I can’t believe my luck, I love this book.

5. Of course the images in my head now are from the movie of the same name, where floaty, pure, muslin-robed girls wander over forbidding boulders, as though returning to their fairy homes. This triggers a memory of Théodore de Banville’s story ‘L’Enfant bossue’ (The Hunchback Girl) in Contes féeriques (Tales of Faerie) about a convent girl who wants to return to her fairy parents.

6. I’ve got fairies on the brain, having translated a great number of French fairy tales in the last few years and read several illustrated books of Grimm’s Fairy Tales.

Four of these six books are collections of short stories, which says something about my translating life: stories are more likely to be accepted by publishers than novels. But they’ve made me love 19th-century literature even more.

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The Lame Angel

This week Peacock Journal published “The Lame Angel”, my translation of Catulle Mendès’ short story, “L’ange boiteux”. You can read it for FREE on their website. As part of their mission – Beauty First – Peacock Journal‘s editors add beautiful images to every story they publish. Knowing this, and having been published by them previously, I prepared myself for an image of an angel. So this one had me guessing for a while:

Raphael, “The Parnassus”, Apostolic Palace, Vatican City

They never caption their images, so all I could go on was an assumption that this fresco was by Raphael. It was enough information for Google which immediately threw a few images at me, including this one. Bingo! It’s one of Raphael’s frescoes in the Palace of the Vatican, an image of poets on the mythological Mount Parnassus. But where’s the connection with a lame angel?

There isn’t one. But there is a connection with the author, Catulle Mendès. He was allied with the Parnassian poets at the end of the 19th century whose literature was a reaction against emotionalism and Romantic imprecision. The Parnassians preferred restraint and self-discipline, and often selected classical subjects (eg angels…). Mendès wrote and reworked a number of fairy tales aimed at a Decadent adult readership. There are no fairies in this tale but it does have another mystical winged being, a very sad angel.

If you’d like to read more Catulle Mendès in my English translations, Peacock Journal published another one last year, “The Enchanted Ring”.

And in 2016 The Brooklyn Rail inTranslation published “The Only Beautiful Woman” .

Any of these three stories will put a Mendès smile on your face!

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Winter Tales

Presently I’m waiting for a number of my translated stories to come out. Progress in the publishing of even one short story can be truly glacial, so I was surprised at the result of my experiment last week with Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP); in just a few days a book (or rather novella) I had translated years ago, and had unsuccessfully proposed to many publishers, had become a published e-book. Reading other literary translators’ reports of positive experiences with self-publishing, I had decided to give it a go.

The novella that I think is worth the risk is Winter Tales by the French author Eugène-Melchior de Vogüé, a small collection extracted from a larger book of stories, Cœurs russes (Russian Hearts). If you’re a lover of Russian novelists like Turgenev and Tolstoy, then you’ll enjoy these 19th-century tales set in Russia. This is the first English translation in 123 years.

Winter Tales is a little like a Russian doll: there’s one main story with several smaller stories tucked inside. The narrator visits a former serf owner who tells of the ups and downs in the lives of individual peasants struggling to live freely after serfdom is abolished.

Various publishers and one agent had said they liked it, but didn’t think it would be profitable enough to publish. The stories are 19th-century, a wee bit quirky, and one is quite grim. But I feel the novella hasn’t been totally rejected, and so to fill in time while I wait for my work to appear in traditional journals and books, I’ve learnt the ropes of KDP. And now it’s out there. I published it a few days later again with Kobo. Self-publishing is free with both KDP and Kobo.

Cover illustration from Ivan Constantinovich Aivazovsky, 1866, ‘Little Russian Ox Cart in Winter’, detail

The experience on these platforms was not too draining. I began on Wednesday and by Saturday night Winter Tales was there on the Amazon web site, and then I repeated the process on Kobo. For Kindle I simply had to upload my story prepared with Word, format it into a book with their user-friendly styling buttons, have fun making a cover, give Amazon some account details, and press ‘Publish’. Kobo didn’t have the cover-making facility so I re-used the one made on KDP.

There’s a feast of images on Creative Commons that suited my theme of a Russian winter, and when choosing a 19th-century painting I was like a girl in a French chocolaterie. At last I settled on the cover image you see above because of the vast sky where I could put the title and the snowy ground for the author’s name. Not to mention the peasants and ox cart in winter, a scene from one of the stories.

You can read a Kindle preview here. The preview is not as bookish as the actual e-book which will cost you three or four dollars, depending on your country, but the words are the same.

May I encourage you to leave a review on Amazon, or here on this blog, if you read Winter Tales?

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Six degrees of separation: The Outsiders to Sweet Water – Stolen Land

For the challenge by Booksaremyfavouriteandbest to find six degrees of separation between books, this month’s starting point is The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton.

1. At first I thought it was The Outsider (singular), one of the English titles given  to Albert Camus’ L’Étranger. But reading the author’s name made me look again. I noticed the plural in Hinton’s title and recalled my sons reading this book at high school and then reading it myself. However, I had immediately thought of Camus’ book and its opening line, ‘Aujourd’hui maman est morte’, much discussed by translators. In Stuart Gilbert’s translation, The Outsider,  it becomes ‘Mother died today’.

2. This led me to think of another opening line disputed and revised by translators, the first line of Swann’s Way by Marcel Proust, translated by C. K. Scott Moncrieff: ‘For a long time I used to go to bed early.’ So many ways to say this.

3. And the first line of Anna Karenina by Tolstoy, translated by Constance Garnett: ‘Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.’

4. And from there my mind went to Tolstoy’s War and Peace, currently showing as a TV serial. I have the book, a gift from my daughter-in-law who works in a bookshop, but I haven’t tackled it.

5. However, I have decided to tackle another hefty Russian novel, Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment, only because I found a pocket-size edition in a 2nd-hand shop.

6. I took a break from Crime and Punishment after a few chapters and picked up a shorter novel, Sweet Water – Stolen Land by Philip McLaren. What surprised me after reading a description of a gruesome murder in Dostoevsky’s novel was to read a number of such scenes in McLaren’s.

Of these six books I’ve read three wholly and three in part, but enough to remember them.

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The Wolf as Illustration

Soon a story written by Marcel Aymé, Le Loup, translated into English as The Wolf (by me) will be out in an illustrated edition of Delos Journal. The editor’s decision to illustrate it really blew me away. Life for me is much easier to bear when I’m reading an illustrated book.

Now, in anticipation of the Delos wolf, I’m wondering whether he’ll be fierce or deceptively gentle. In my tall piles of books about fairies and fantasy there are many wolfish images from the 19th and 20th centuries that leave me dreaming about ideal illustrations for my translated tales. Today I pondered over a few of the images that have taken my fancy.

Illustrated fairy tale collections published for children since the 19th century are usually delicate, refined, unreal and rarely violent despite the brutal stories they represent. Take, for example, Arthur Rackham’s fine drawing in which the wolf doesn’t look particularly threatening:

When she got to the wood, she met a wolf. Arthur Rackham, ‘The Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm’, 1909

Aymé was clearly inspired by that guilty wolf we’ve all met in fables and fairy tales if not in real life. In his little story (which I hope you’ll read when it comes out later this year…) two little blonde girls remind their visitor, the wolf, that he’s never been good, he’s always been bad, and as an example they evoke La Fontaine’s fable about the wolf and the lamb, depicted here by Gustave Moreau, where the wolf appears a little hungrier than Rackham’s:

Gustave Moreau, Le Loup et l’agneau, in Les Lettres et les arts, 1889

Aymé’s wolf claims to have changed his ways, he denies he ate Little Red Riding Hood’s grandmother though we’ve been led to believe otherwise by this illustration by another French Gustave.  Gustave Doré depicts the moment just before the wolf is about to take his first bite, his long tongue lolling as Grandma realises her terrible fate.

Gustave Doré, illustration for Charles Perrault’s fairy tales, courtesy Gallica, Bibliothèque Nationale de France

While Doré’s image would be a wee bit scary for a child, a stretch of the imagination might be needed to associate animal instincts with Shaun Tan’s little sculpture. Today I discovered his illustration for a very abbreviated version of ‘Little Red Cap’ by the Brothers Grimm. It has none of the pretty trees and tendrils of Rackham’s image, but neither does it have the drooling wolves of Moreau’s and Doré’s sketches. It’s composed of two tiny solid characters crafted from clay with the simplest features.

Little Red Cap, Shaun Tan, 2015, in ‘The Singing Bones’

My favourite wolf image this week is one which depicts the kind of wolf you’ll find at the end of Aymé’s story. It’s by Rackham but it’s a far scarier drawing than we saw above. Here, Becfola, of an Irish fairy tale, is perched on branches just out of reach of hungry mouths. It instils in me exactly the kind of fear I’d have if a wolf had chased me up a tree.

“She looked with angry woe at the straining and snarling horde below, seeing many a white fang in those grinning jowls, and the smouldering, red blink of those leaping and prowling eyes.” The Wooing of Becfola, Irish fairy tale by James Stephens, illustration by Arthur Rackham, 1920

I’m anxiously awaiting the appearance of Aymé’s The Wolf. You can be sure I’ll be blogging about it the moment I hear it’s out.

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Six degrees of separation: ‘Where am I now?’ to ‘The Collector’

The blog Booksaremyfavouriteandbest asks once a month if we can find links between books in six moves. I like this kind of challenge. My thoughts often drift irrationally from one thing to another and I curse myself for not being able to stay on one brain path. But analysing my links between the following books helps me see there are indeed connections, be they gossamer-thin. September’s starting point, as suggested by Kate from the blog above, is Where am I now? by Mara Wilson.

I ended up at The Collector. Let me take you there:

1. I haven’t read ‘Where am I Now?’ but I immediately knew the little girl on the cover. It’s Matilda, from the movie of the book by Roald Dahl. Of all the movies Mara Wilson was in as a child actor, the name Matilda stuck with me because I wanted her to be Australian, but of course she was American.

2. And that was because Matilda made me think of Waltzing Matilda by Banjo Paterson and a book that includes some of his songs and stories called Bush Songs, Ballads and Other Verse that I picked up at a garage sale.

3. It came with a matching volume, Best Stories by Henry Lawson. ‘The Drover’s Wife’ is the opening story which I use when tutoring to help new Australians get a taste of our history and the harsh life for women who were left alone on the land to raise children and fend off snakes.

4. As I sat in sadness over drovers’ wives, I thought of another fictional woman who had to go it alone with her child, the protagonist of The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, by Agnes Brontë. I’ve read it twice.

5. And another book I’ve read twice with a theme not unlike The Tenant, is The French Lieutenant’s Woman by John Fowles. The movie with Meryl Streep is one of my favourites.

6. This brought to mind The Collector, also by John Fowles, a book about a creepy guy who collects butterflies and enjoys pinning them into display cases to admire them. But then he collects a young woman and traps her like a butterfly. I listened to this book in the car on a long trip and at a particularly disturbing part I stopped at a café for a break where on the wall were multiple pictures of individual butterflies.

I had fun doing this! No doubt I’ll do it again in October when the starting point is The Outsiders.

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Walking Canberra

Apparently, it’s good for writers to write reviews of other writers’ work. I’ve never done it and never wanted to, till now.

I had a great morning walking round some natural ponds and listening to hundreds of frogs croaking among reeds, all thanks to one small book: Walking Canberra by Graeme Barrow, self-published in 2014. So I feel compelled to share this pleasure with anyone who might be contemplating a walk in our beautiful bush capital. Here goes my first book review…

Waiting to be served at my local newsagent, my eyes fell on this little book propped up among the sweets at the counter. The full title held my attention: Walking Canberra: 101 ways to see Australia’s national capital on foot. I’d long been considering how to get some exercise and at the same time discover some of the unknown treasures and pleasures in our world, and this title promised to deliver exactly that.

Gungaderra Creek, Gungahlin

Walking Canberra is nothing like the stuff I work on as a translator, it’s neither a fairy tale nor a New Caledonian drama, yet it’s currently a favourite book that I’ve been referring to for the past four weeks. I’ve heard there aren’t many copies left because it’s going out of print. Graeme Barrow self-published his books through his own business, Dagraja Press. He was a Canberra journalist who wrote books on bushwalking in this region, as well as a few local histories. He died in May last year, so here’s hoping that someone else will take on the project of updating his advice on walking in Canberra’s parks and bushland as the city changes and grows and old paths and landmarks are moved or removed.

Barrow wrote like a friend to friends. The information and instructions are clear as a bell, and though he published it in 2014, I’ve found that the details (in the walks I’ve taken so far) are still correct. There are small maps on each page, and a description of what to see along the way, an outline of where to turn, where to linger and what to avoid.

Last weekend and this, my husband and I walked the Gungaderra Creek Circuit, chosen by me because of its level of difficulty: “Easy”. The local government has created a series of ponds instead of the usual concrete stormwater drains, and these ponds attract water birds and frogs frogs frogs which are invisible among the reeds but loud! There are no frogs in my suburb so this sound was a surprise.

Purple swamphen watching me approach on the boardwalk
Egret, heron, and ducks

While walking in what is essentially still suburbia, there are reminders here and there of human slips in the design: a thorny rosebush growing as though grafted onto a young eucalypt, a pink soccer ball fallen into the dense reed bed…

… and there’s the street beside Gungaderra Creek that was named and renamed after two Australian authors…

Minnie Bruce was the author Mary Grant Bruce, famous for her Billabong series, who was granted a street name in a suburb (Franklin) where Australian authors were the theme. Ten years ago her family asked for the name to be revoked since her mother was known as Minnie, and Mary was known as Mary (despite being named Minnie at birth). So, Morris West, another Australian author, was given the street. West was famous for many novels but particularly his first, The Devil’s Advocate, which has been reprinted more times than any other modern Australian novel. Now there’s a claim to fame that deserves its own street!

Out of the 101 ways to see Australia’s national capital on foot I’ve already done about 47 by dint of having lived here for 21 years. I’m thrilled to have found this special book that gives me ideas for filling my free days for the next 21 years.

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