Saturday, October 16, 2010

the language of love

From Jonathan Raban's review of Lydia Davis' new translation of Flaubert's "Madame Bovary":

"The cracked-kettle paragraph follows a speech by Emma to Rodolphe in which she declares her feelings for him in a string of amorous cliches: 'I'm your servant and your concubine! You're my king, my idol! You're good! You're handsome! You're intelligent! You're strong!' Here's how Davis renders what follows:

He had heard these things said to him so often that for him there was nothing original about them. Emma was like all other mistresses; and the charm of novelty, slipping off gradually like a piece of clothing, revealed in its nakedness the eternal monotony of passion, which always assumes the same forms and uses the same language. He could not perceive -- this man of such broad experience -- the difference in feelings that might underlie similarities of expression. Because licentious or venal lips had murmured the same words to him, he had little faith in their truthfulness; one had to discount, he thought, exaggerated speeches that concealed mediocre affections; as if the fullness of the soul did not sometimes overflow in the emptiest of metaphors, since none of us can ever express the exact measure of our needs, or our ideas, or our sorrows, and human speech is like a cracked kettle on which we beat out tunes for bears to dance to, when we long to move the stars to pity.


Carmell said...

This is simply simply beautiful. Thank you.