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The Persian Letters in seven English translations © Philip Stewart - page 9 / 16

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To finish with this passage, let us look at the sentence: elles me font faire de fausses confidences:

  • (O)

    [they make] false insinuations against one another

  • (F)

    they pretend to make me their confident

  • (D)

    they give me imaginary confidences

  • (L)

    They arrange to involve me in false intrigue

  • (H)

    [they try] bringing me false rumors

  • (B)

    they have false information brought to me

  • (M)

    they arrange for me to be given secret confidential information

Clearly both font faire and fausses confidences create problems when it comes to finding good English equivalents. It seems to me that all these versions are reasonably accurate, provided that, in the case of F and D, “confident” is understood as “confidant”, and “confidence” is understood with similar connotations.

IV. Vous avez beau me dire que des eunuques ne sont pas des hommes, et que votre vertu vous met au dessus des pensées que pourrait faire naître en vous une ressemblance imparfaite. Cela ne suffit ni pour vous, ni pour moi : pour vous, parce que vous faites une chose, que les lois du sérail vous défendent : pour moi, en ce que vous m’ôtez l’honneur, en vous exposant à des regards ; que dis-je à des regards ? Peut-être aux entreprises d’un perfide, qui vous aura souillée par ses crimes, et plus encore par ses regrets, et le désespoir de son impuissance. (Usbek to his wife Zacchi, Letter 19 [20])

I will concentrate on both the terminology and the difficult parenthetical construction within the last sentence, but first look at the various ways of rendering at the outset: Vous avez beau me dire que des eunuques ne sont pas des hommes:

  • (O)

    It will be in vain to tell me that the eunuchs are not men

  • (F)

    You may say what you will to me ; that these eunuchs are not men

  • (D)

    You have been careful to tell me that eunuchs are not men

  • (L)

    You can repeat all you like that eunuchs are not men

  • (H)

    It is in vain that you tell me that eunuchs are not men

  • (B)

    It is no use to say that eunuchs are not men

  • (M)

    It is pointless to tell me that eunuchs are not men

It more or less goes without saying that there is no canonical way of translating vous avez beau me dire; it could even be “Do not try to tell me” or some other variant, and all of these versions except Davidson’s are probably fine.

To comment on the rest, it may be easier first to juxtapose the different versions:

(O) you rob me of my honour by exposing yourself to the looks; to the looks! perhaps to the attempts of a villain that may have polluted you by his crimes, and yet more by his repinings and the despair of his impotence.

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