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Joyce on “L’Arabie”

From: Joyce Studies Annual
pp. 273-276

In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

On January 17, 1922, sixteen days prior to the publication of Ulysses, James Joyce wrote a letter to his French publisher, Maurice Martin du Gard, proposing changes to the French proofs of his short story “Araby”; “L’Arabie” would be published February 1, the day before Ulysses, in the literary journal Les Écrits Nouveaux. The instructions Joyce provided in his letter (which accompanied the marked proofs, now lost) specify how he wanted the literal French translation of his story’s “O love!’ sentence to read. As I will show, the letter also explains Joyce’s intended meaning for the words expressed and the palm-pressing gesture made by the boy of “Araby” in this important scene.

Joyce wrote “Araby” in October of 1905. The first English edition was printed in 1914 by Grant Richards in London; it was the third story in order of Joyce’s Dubliners. The especially poignant “Olove!” sentence in “Araby” reads as follows:

All my senses seemed to desire to veil themselves and, feeling that I was about to slip from them, I pressed the palms of my hands together until they trembled, murmuring: O love! O love! many times. (D 31)

Eight years later, in his letter to du Gard about the French translation of this sentence, Joyce wrote:

La traduction littérale de mon texte serait: “Tous mes sens semblaient vouloir se voiler et comme je sentais que j’étais sur le point de m’esquiver d’eux (c-à-d, m’échapper de mes propres sens, me dissoudre) je pressai mes paumes etc.” — Il fait ce geste pour se convaincre de son existence charnel et y rester.

The literal translation of my text would be: “All my senses seemed to want to veil themselves and as I felt that I was on the point of my slipping from them (that is to say, escaping my actual senses, my dissolving) I pressed my palms etc.” — He makes this gesture to convince himself of his carnal existence and to stay there. [my translation]

The parenthetical phrases Joyce adds here (“escaping my actual senses, my dissolving”) are strongly suggestive of fainting; these words are used to emphasize and better define the boy’s specific fear of “slipping” from his senses at that moment. Joyce’s following explanatory sentence (“He makes this gesture…”) then brings to light the boy’s exact motivation for pressing his palms together and confirms his desire to “stay” in touch with his senses.

Notwithstanding Joyce’s letter, “L’Arabie” was translated by Mme. Hélène du Pasquier and appeared in Les Écrits Nouveaux, including the “O love!’ sentence as follows:

Tous mes sens semblaient vouloir se voiler, et, comme je me sentais vouloir échapper à cette impression, je pressai mes paumes jusqu’à les faire trembler, en murmurant: «Amour! amour!» plusieurs fois. (L. É. N., p. 19)

All my senses seemed to want to veil themselves, and, as I sensed myself wanting to escape this impression, I pressed my palms just until they were made to tremble, murmuring: “Love! love!” many times. [my translation]

Joyce’s straightforward, literal translation of the sentence contrasts with the awkward one that appeared in Les Écrits Nouveaux; in effect, Joyce’s French is more direct, more sensual than the published French version. Following the first English edition more closely, Joyce’s translation has the boy wanting to “stay” with his feelings, a positive desire that he expresses through his fear of losing touch with them. In Mme. du Pasquier’s French of Les Écrits Nouveaux, the boy wants to “escape” from the feeling that his senses wanted to veil themselves, a negative desire in order to reject that feeling. The difference is subtle but crucial.

Surely, the safest (and easiest) strategy for du Gard would have him simply substituting and publishing Joyce’s literal translation of the “O love!’ sentence, thereby ensuring that the French meaning most closely replicated that of the English. Joyce had noted the difference in the proofs; his edits and letter were earnest attempts to try to fix the French. But this was not done.

“L’Arabie” appeared in Les Écrits Nouveaux just two weeks after Joyce sent his letter. Time was short and...

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