Money: Emile Zola New Translation by Valerie Minogue

Regular readers of the blog know that it took me a few years to read my way through Zola’s phenomenal 20-volume Rougon-Macquart cycle. To anyone out there even remotely interested in Zola or 19th century French literature, I urge you to read these novels–some of them became the best novels I’ve ever read.

One of the issues I encountered when reading the novels of the Rougon-Macquart cycle was an issue of translation. While the better known novels had been recently translated, the lesser known novels had not. That left readers with the Vizetelly “bowdlerized” translations, and I’m not going to launch into Vizetelly bashing as the Vizetelly family attempted to bring Zola to the British reading public and were subsequently dragged into court on obscenity charges; they paid dearly for their efforts, and Henry Vizetelly was even sent to prison for his ‘crime.’ So when I approached the RM cycle I read new translations when they were available and Vizetelly when they were not.

MoneyI was, then, delighted to hear that Money was finally receiving a new translation, thanks to Oxford University Press and Valerie Minogue. This is the first new translation in over a hundred years, and the first unabridged translation in English. I’m not going to spend a great deal of time on the plot, but for those who haven’t read this fantastic, prescient novel here’s a little background:  Money is the 18th novel in the cycle, and its main character is a financial speculator, Saccard. Saccard was also in The Kill, and in The Kill (the second novel in the series) Saccard was a married man and on his way to a meteoric rise in Parisian society. In Money, Saccard is widowed, and the novel opens with him a bankrupt, more or less a pariah, thanks to his wild speculations. In the book’s opening scenes, he has arranged to meet someone to discuss his future. Saccard, ever the optimist at all the wrong moments, expects his brother, a powerful political figure, Eugène Rougon (the main character in the sixth novel in the series, His Excellency, Eugène Rougon) to bail him out of his current situation. Rougon, who knows that Saccard is a dangerous loose cannon,  will help, but only if Saccard agrees to go abroad. That’s the deal. Saccard refuses the offer and remains in Paris; he can’t leave the Paris Stock Exchange, the Bourse. These initial scenes show Saccard’s relationship to the Bourse. He has an overwhelming obsession–addiction to making money through speculation, and he also desires to show other men of means that he will make a come-back. Here is a translation comparison for any potential readers out there:

For  a moment he stood quivering on the edge of the footway. It was that active hour when all the life of Paris seems to flow into that central square between the Rue Montmartre and the Rue Richelieu, those two teeming arteries that carry the crowd along. From the four crossways at the four corners of the Place, streams of vehicles poured in uninterruptedly, whisking across the pavement amid an eddying mob of foot passengers. The two rows of cabs at the stand, beside the railings, were continually breaking and reforming; while along the Rue Vivienne the Victorias of the remisiers stretched away in a compact line, above which towered the drivers, reins in hand and ready to whip up at the first signal. The steps and peristyle of the Bourse were quite black with swarming frock-coats; and from among the coulissiers, already installed under the clock and hard at work, there rose the clamour of bull and bear, the flood-tide roar of speculation dominating all the rumbling hubbub of the city. Passers-by turned their heads, curious and fearful as to what might be going on there–all those mysterious financial operations which few French brains can penetrate, all that sudden ruin and fortune brought about–how, none could understand–amid gesticulation and savage cries. And Saccard, standing on the kerb of the footway, deafened by the distant voices, elbowed by the jostling crowd, dreamed once more of becoming the Gold King, the sovereign of that fever-infested district, in the centre of which the Bourse, from one till three o’clock, beats as it were some like some enormous heart. (Vizetelly)

Now the new Valerie Minogue translation:

For a moment he stood tremulously on the edge of the pavement. It was the busy time when all the life of Paris seems to pour into this central square between the Rue Montmartre and the Rue Richelieu, the two congested arteries carrying the crowds.  From each of the four junctions at the four corners of the square flowed a constant, uninterrupted stream of vehicles, waving their way along the road through the bustling mass of pedestrians. The two lines of cabs at the cab-stand along the railings kept breaking up and the re-forming; whilst on the Rue Vivienne the dealers’ victorias stretched out in a close-packed line, with the coachmen on top, reins in hand, ready to whip the horses forward at the first command. The steps and the peristyle of the Bourse were overrun with swarming black overcoats; and from the kerb market, already set up and at work beneath the clock, came the clamour of buying and selling, the tidal surge of speculation, rising above the noisy rumble of the city. Passers-by turned their heads, impelled by both desire and fear of what was going on there, in that mysterious world of financial dealings into which the French brains but rarely penetrate, a world of ruin and bankruptcy and sudden inexplicable fortunes, in the midst of all that barbaric shouting and gesticulation. And Saccard, on the edge of the stream, deafened by the distant voices and elbowed by the jostling bustle of the crowd, was dreaming once more of the royalty of Gold in this home of every feverish passion, with the Bourse at its centre, beating, from one o’clock until three, like an enormous heart.

Review copy



Filed under Fiction, Rougon-Macquart, Zola

16 responses to “Money: Emile Zola New Translation by Valerie Minogue

  1. Jonathan

    Wow! How does it feel to be back reading Zola again? It’s a bit too soon for me to re-read ‘Money’ but I’d love to read the new translation eventually.

    Are you going to read the new translation of ‘Conquest of Plassans’ when it comes out as well?

    • Even better the second time around, but that’s a truly great book for you. Yes, I’ll be rereading the Conquest of Plassans when the new translation is released.

  2. Wonderful. Long live Zola!

  3. Love this book! Forgot that I had read an old translation.

    I was just reading through an old copy of The Oxford Companion to French Literature: it is quite harsh about la naturalisme, and Zola, calling it a naive, pseudo-scientific theory (I agree), and saying that Zola’s descriptions are often “lurid and revolting, if powerful.” But they do give him his due as a writer, saying he’s best when he “forgets” his baseless theories. Yes, artists shouldn’t try to be scientists.

    Didn’t know about the trials of Vizetelly …wow!

    You know, I don’t think the two selections you provide show much of a contrast. The old one is more clunky, but it doesn’t seem bowdlerized. Now, try that with La curee, and I bet you could find some real changes!!

  4. The irony is that private book clubs translated the books and that was no problem, but bringing Zola to the general reading public was out of bounds. The Vizetellys were dragged into court repeatedly and made versions upon versions but it simply didn’t matter. When I first heard about the Vizetelly bowdlerized versions I thought this was something they just ‘did’–I didn’t know about the trials and the imprisonment. Some nut job was after blood and got it.

    I think the second quote flows a lot better and lends itself more to the fever within Saccard’s money focused brain.

    The Earth was also a difficult one for the Vizetellys. Here’s a quote from my earlier review:

    Ernest Vizetelly, while proofreading The Earth prior to its publication in English was “struck by the boldness of Zola’s story,” and he removed all references to the nickname, Jesus Christ–along with any mention of this character’s amazing ability to fart almost on demand. Vizetelly labels this “an infirmity.” The Vizetellys were under tremendous pressure and scrutiny, so they can’t be blamed for censoring the novel. It’s just a shame as to take out the nickname Jesus Christ is to miss the entire point.

    And this:

    The Rougon-Macquart novels have a remarkable history of translation. The first available translations of the Rougon-Macquart were American, and then English publisher Henry Vizetelly began publishing Zola. These translations were ‘toned down’ for the Victorian audience by Henry’s son Ernest. In the book, Emile Zola Novelist and Reformer Ernest Vizetelly admitted that after toning down Zola’s novels, “None of them was an exact replica of the original, all had been expurgated more or less, though care had invariably been taken to preserve the continuity of the narrative.” But even the “toning” down didn’t spare Henry Vizetelly from persecution by the National Vigiliance Association and by the newspapers. The matter of the ‘obscene’ nature of Zola’s novels even reached the House of Commons. And in 1888, Mr. Samuel Smith, member of the House of Commons, when speaking against Zola’s novels, declared that “nothing more diabolical had ever been written by the pen of man; they were fit only for swine, and those who read them must turn their minds into cesspools.” (Pall Mall Gazette)

    Vizetelly found himself on trial for “Obscene Libel.” He was fined but since the publisher had already committed to the Zola novels, rather than abandon them, there was more editing. Ernest admitted that he “deleted or modified three hundred and twenty five pages out of fifteen volumes.” But this still didn’t help Vizetelly who was hauled back into court. This time he was imprisoned. The rather hypocritical fact of the matter was that Zola’s novels were available in their glorious entirety in French, so the upper classes could read them while those not fluent in French were stuck with the censored version. That reminds me of the 1960 Obscenity trial against Penguin Books following the publication of D.H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover. Prosecutor Griffith Jones made the mistake of asking the court if Lady Chatterley’s Lover was the sort of book “you would wish your wife or your servants to read.” Again that idea appears of certain classes of people who need to be protected from themselves by those who know better….

    • … the sort of book “you would wish your wife or your servants to read.”

      Interesting. The urge to censor is still going strong, but such a class-based rationale is never used these days, at least not in the USA. At least they were making a secular argument then! 🙂

      I guess I read a later translation of La terre, because I loved the parts about the guy nicknamed Jesus Christ!

      You know, there’s a line in the musical, The Music Man, spoken by Shirely Jones in the film: “You can read about it [illicit sex] in BALZAC.” I guess he had to self-censor in his day…

      BTW, on the topic of speculation, money, and realist novels, have you read The Way We Live Now?

      • No I haven’t read it yet. I own a copy, so one of these days.. I saw the television version of The Way We Live Now (highly recommended if you haven’t seen it). I’m still asking myself why I find it reassuring why these money-driven types appear in other centuries and not just our own.

        I read a newer translation of The Earth too; if I had to pick a favourite from the R-M cycle it would be that.

        I haven’t seen The Music Man. I’m not big on musicals past the big extravaganza ones unless they feature someone I like a lot (Gene Kelly, for example).

  5. You read the entire cycle? Wow. I’ve just read The Kill, which I found delicious. It’s about time for another Zola, so this might well fit the bill – especially as I’m reading the Trollope right now.

  6. I don’t see a major difference between the two passages but English is not my native language.
    I like that Vizetelly uses “bull and bear” as these are stock market terms.

  7. Mary K Gilbert

    I’m still fond of the Vizetelly translations because so many of Zola’s books are only accessible in English through them. I do read French but it always takes me so much longer and lazily I prefer to reach for the translation. Two years ago I read the Vizetelly translation of Lourdes whilst on a visit there. I don’t think it’s widely known but it was terrific. There’s a wonderful scene which is a real Zolaresque tour de force describing feeding time in a cheap hotel where you can almost smell the stale gravy. The jaded observations Zola made about Lourdes a hundred years ago remain apt today. I found the book which is a battered Victorian hardback at a jumble sale about ten years ago. I suppose it might be easier to source these rarer Zola’s on the internet now. The publisher Alan Sutton republished a lot of Vizetelly translations in paperback in the 90’s.Thanks for pointing me in the direction of a new translation.

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