Cazotte: The Fantastique Writer Who Saw Death

Jacques Cazotte (1719-1792) note: some sources put his birth at 1720

” A brief but sparkling bon-bon from the French writer Jacques Cazotte, who was guillotined in 1792. A young captain, stationed in Naples, is tempted into summoning up Beelzebub, who appears first in the guise of a hideous camel, then as a cute spaniel, and lastly – and most dangerously – as a gorgeous, pouting nymphette who declares herself enamoured of the young man and follows him everywhere. This is an amusing study of temptation, with sinister undertones.” Anne Billson in Time Out “In Biondetta there remains no trace of the monstrous apparition conjured up by Alvaro in the ruins of Portico. The satanic seductress is hidden behind the face of the tormented and plaintive beauty until the end of the fable.” Jorges Luis Borges “The Devil in Love is famous on various counts: for its charm and the perfection of its scenes, but above all for the originality of its conception. ” Gerard de Nerval- from the blurb for the Dedalus European Classics edition of The Devil in Love.
 
Written in 1772, (original French title: Le Diable Amoureux), The Devil in Love was Jacques Cazotte’s crowning achievement  of the fantastique which paralleled the English Gothics of the day.
 
Educated by Jesuits, Jacques worked for public office in Martinique, and returned to Paris with the rank of commissioner-general.   In his forties, he began his foray into writing.  Having little interest in the rationalism of the day, he penned a series of fantastical stories as well as translating several Arabian tales into French.
 
Cazotte’s belief in his ability as a seer led him to the Martinist mysticism of Martinez de Pasqually.  The esoteric form of Christianity concerned itself with the fall of man, and his return to the divine source.
 
Declaring himself a “mystical monarchist”, Cazotte warned several men and women at a dinner party in 1788 that they would all soon die by guillotine or noose.  To the theater critic Sebastian Chamfort,  he declared, “You will slash your own wrists 22 times before dying a long and miserable death.” 
 
When the French Revolution began, Chamfort supported it for humanistic reasons.  However, as it became more and more bloody, he condemned the murders and was imprisoned.  Wishing to escape a public execution, he slashed his wrists twenty-two times with a dull razor before dying.
 
Cazotte’s prediction to  The Marquis de Condorcet that he would one day take poison to escape the guillotine came true in 1794.
 
Jacques Cazotte could not escape his own fate, either.  On September 25, 1792 he was beheaded for treason.
 
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update: Wuthering Heights in German

Ah,  Die Sturmhöhe.

First, I must admit I haven’t finished reading WH in Deutsch.   Upon finishing chapter thirteen,  my brain needed a rest.  One day I shall, but for now I need to read a lighter work.

As for my impressions thus far:

The first thing I noted were the changes.   Translators have a difficult job because often the languages they are working with do not have words with identical meanings.    Things are inevitably lost in translation.

What does annoy me (and I’ve noticed this in other novels and films), is when there is a direct translation and the translator will take it upon themselves to use the term they feel is more proper.

Some examples from Sturmhöhe:

1.  In the original, after Isabella accuses Cathy of, “… and desire no one to be loved but yourself!”

Cathy retorts with, “You are an impertinent little monkey!”

The translator changed that line to: ” Du bit ein unverschamtes kleines Balg!”  (You are an imperinent little brat)

This may not seem like a major thing, but writers painstakingly choose their words.  Every word, not only possesses a specific meaning, but conveys a different feeling.

2. In another case, Nelly visits young Hareton.    After hearing him sputter colorful language, she asks,  “Who has taught you those fine words, my barn?”

The translator changed the endearment to, “mein Kind”.  (my child)

Obviously they thought that “my barn” is a rather strange term to be used for affection.  And it is.  But Emily Bronte chose it.  Thus, I can only assume that it was an endearment used in the Yorkshires. 

The novel is rife with unnecessary changes such as the above that affect its flavor.

But most notably, I’ve come across the realization that Wuthering Heights can never be as good in German, or in any other language, as it is in English.  To backtrack for a moment,  I have read many of Agatha Christie’s novels in German.  Even with some changes (some necessary, some not), I never felt anything lacking.    It hardly matters if some vocabulary or syntax of hers is changed.  This is no slight to Agatha.  She admitted in her autobiography that she was no prose artist, no wordsmith.   Her talent lay in her spellbinding plots. 

However, when you consider someone like Emily Bronte, who held such mastery over the English language, a sense of magic is lost.

Consider the famous ending:

“I lingered round them, under that benign sky; watched the moths fluttering among the heath, and hare-bells; listened to the soft wind breathing through the grass; and wondered how any one could ever imagine unquiet slumbers, for the sleepers in that quiet earth.”

Stormhöhe:

“Ich verweilte ein wenig bei ihnen unter diesem sanften Himmel, sah die Nachtfalter zwischen Heidekraut und  Glockenblumen umherfliegen, lauschte, wie der Wind leicht durch das Gras stirch, und wunderte mich darüber, daß jemand sich einbilden könne, es gäbe etwas in der Welt, was den letzen Schlummer deer Schläfer in diesem stillen Stückchen Erde stören könnte.”

literal translation:  “I lingered a little by them under that gentle sky, saw the moths between heath and bell flower flying around, eavesdropped, as the wind lightly through the grass crossed, and wondered me about it, that anybody self imagine could, there were something in the world, what the last slumber the sleepers in this silent bit earth disturb could.”

Due to the rules of the German language, after the first verb (which is placed in the second spot of the sentence), all remaining verbs must be placed at the end.  Which is why this piece ends as it does.   And closing the novel with “in this silent bit earth disturb could” is hardly as beautiful and poetic as, “for the sleepers in that quiet earth.”

None of this means that the translation is horrible, and that one shouldn’t read it in German.  But to experience it in its full glory, one must read it in its original language.

On a similar note, I’m glad I’m waiting to read Goethe in German.

Published in: on August 9, 2010 at 8:06 am  Comments (14)  
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