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The Persian Letters in seven English translations © Philip Stewart - page 10 / 16

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(F) you rob me of my honour, in exposing yourself to the looks ; to the looks, did I say ? maybe to the attempts of a traitor, who may have defiled you by his crimes, and yet more by the repinings of his despair, and of his impotence.

(D) you have robbed me of honour, in exposing yourself to the gaze – what do I say? – perhaps to the attempts of a traitor who would have defiled you by his misdeeds, and still more by his repining and his impotent despair.

(L) you diminish my honor by exposing yourself to glances… what am I saying, glances? Perhaps to the machinations of a traitor who would have soiled you with his crimes, and still more with his regrets and the hopelessness of his impotence.

(H) I am dishonored by your exposure to the gaze – what am I saying, to the gaze? – perhaps to the exploitation of a traitor who may have sullied you with his crimes, and still more with his regrets and his despairing impotence.

(B) you are destroying my honour by exposing yourself to the eyes of… his eyes, did I say? perhaps to the attentions of a traitor who defiles you by his crimes, and even more by his regret and despair at being impotent.

(M) you rob me of my honour, by exposing yourself to the gaze – what am I saying, the gaze – perhaps to the actions of a traitor who may have sullied you by his crimes, and still more by his regrets and despair at his own impotence.

We note here first some serious discrepancies for vous m’ôtez l’honneur: “you rob me of my honor” (O, F, M), “you have robbed me of my honor” (D), “you diminish my honor” (L), “I am dishonored by” (H), and the much more definitive (but too strong): “you are destroying my honour” (B). I think something like “you compromise my honor” would actually fit the sense better. O, F, and D all follow in line by translating entreprises as “attempts”; then we have L’s “machinations”, H’s “exploitation”, Betts’s “attentions”, and Mauldon’s “actions” – all of which appear a bit anemic, and really reflect, in my view, misreadings of entreprises. The first three translators also stick with “repinings” for regrets, whereas the later ones all settle for “regrets”. Souillée draws quite a range: “polluted” (O), “defiled” (F and D), and the last four show more diversity with “soiled”, “sullied” and “defiled” (actually, “defiles”, not “defiled”, since Betts seems to feel the present tense is better able to catch the gist of the future perfect aura souillé).

The original sentence hesitates, and then interrupts itself, on the use of regards: the speaker pauses (que dis-je à des regards ?), thus calling attention to the word itself, and then hypothetically (peut-être) substitutes entreprises. The move from regards to entreprises, from desire to action, passive and active phases of sexual violation, steps up significantly the seriousness of the accusation. The question is the best means to make this construction work, so the reader is not simply perplexed by the sentence’s structure. The solutions are all at least as good as the original, and it must be said that the use of dashes (D, H, M) has something to recommend it, even though dashes nowhere appear in Montesquieu’s text; ellipses, however (L and B) seem to work almost as well. In fact part of the problem is that vexing word regard, which simply has no English equivalent. Gaze (M) has been used in much recent criticism, particularly relating to cinema, but in ordinary contexts it seems far to intense to capture the

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