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





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translation, and in some measure the extent to which they vary with time. The second person singular in English, which doubtless seemed obligatory to Ozell and Flloyd, in our day tends to evoke Shakespeare or the King James Bible, Elizabethan or Stuartian overtones too distinct to make for easy reading, when indeed not so unfamiliar as to be difficult to follow. A modern translator unquestionably senses the lack of this tool, and might invoke it for short passages, but would deem it infelicitous in protracted use, even if the verb forms could easily be reconstructed. For these reasons, that fundamental option is essentially unavailable after the eighteenth century.

When it comes to the accuracy of rendition of certain problematic expressions that we have examined, Healy and Betts seem to come off rather better than the others overall. But they also among the last, and herein lies an advantage; there are too many similarities from one translation to the next to think that any translator after the first has worked without the benefit of consulting prior versions. Nor does this remark constitute a reproach. Ideally, a translator in this position is not seeking merely to improve upon a predecessor’s work (though that seems to have been what Flloyd was engaged to do) but to redo it; and there is no reason at all why he or she should not check from time to time with earlier work, especially when particularly vexing difficulties are constantly encountered. Which is to say that the next translation may have significant advantages over all the ones to date, provided that – and this is very hard to guarantee

  • new choices, too idiosyncratic or too awkward – do not offset any potential improvement.

Translation, diachronically viewed for those works that have attracted numerous attempts, is always a work in progress.

Philip Stewart Duke University

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