First Line of The Stranger Is Still Translated Wrong

'Mother died today' should be 'Today, Maman died': Ryan Bloom
By Dustin Lushing,  Newser Staff
Posted May 19, 2012 10:20 AM CDT
First Line of The Stranger Is Still Translated Wrong
Camus in 1956.   (AP Photo, File)

Albert Camus' The Stranger opens with the famous—and relatively easy to translate—"Aujourd’hui, maman est morte." It's so easy, in fact, that not a single English translation has gotten it right, writes Ryan Bloom in the New Yorker. He argues that the precise wording of the first line has major implications on the way the reader perceives the narrator and protagonist, Meursault, and finds the translations to-date syntactically and emotionally off-key. Bloom walks readers through the line's evolution:

It was presented as "Mother died today" from its first translation in 1946 through 1988. In that year, poet Matthew Ward wrote it as the more appropriate "Maman died today." Bloom notes that "Mother" expresses a relationship too formal; "Mommy" is too extreme in the other direction; "Mom" is somehow curt and "off-putting." But "the two-syllable maman has a touch of softness and warmth." (Bloom also gives an in-depth explanation of why the foreign word won't confuse readers.) But this rendition fails because it does not put "today" first, as Camus did—flipping it indeed changes "its logic, its 'mystical' deeper meaning." Today should be first, as Meursault's "today" and existential notion of time is disrupted by his mother's death. The perfect line? "Today, Maman died." Click to read Bloom's fascinating analysis in its entirety. (More Albert Camus stories.)

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