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Reflections of a working writer and reader



Translation and anachronism

In Camus’ The Plague (La Peste), towards the end of the novel, when Tarrou is dying of the plague, looked over by his friend, Dr Rieux, the following description occurs:


Tarrou drank, then slowly lowered his head on to the pillow.

“It’s a long business,” he murmured.

Rieux clasped his arm but Tarrou, whose head was averted, showed no reaction. Then suddenly, as if some inner dyke had given way without warning, the fever surged back, dyeing his cheeks and forehead. . .

Grammar not being my best subject, I have opted to label this inner dyke an anachronism, when it is probably, properly known as something entirely different.

No matter. Someone will put me right.

It had the affect of stopping me in my tracks. The flow of the narrative ceased. And after the initial amusement I was led to cogitate on the probability of all of us sheltering an inner dyke somewhere within us.

Sometimes it needs an anachronism, or perhaps only someone to stumble over a word, or a spelling mistake for us to come to an awakening consciousness of something quite apart from any intention of the original author.

The text is from a translation by Stuart Gilbert, bless him.

12 Responses to “Translation and anachronism”

  1. jason evans says:

    Wow, that’s a facet of personality that most would hesitate to admit.

    Except, wait a minute. Perhaps men fit that description rather well.

    Seriously, though, I agree that it’s deadly for the writer to break the spell. It has the ability in extreme cases to sour the whole book.

    jb says: Hi Jason. Good to see you here.

  2. anne says:

    In French a “dike” would be “digue” but is it also a slang term for gender bending in French? In any case, maybe the translator has subliminal messages here that Camus did not (or did) intend.

    jb says: My French isn’t good enough to follow up on this, Anne.

  3. snackywombat says:

    Ha! Well, I actually thought it was a lovely image– a dam of welled-up emotions inside– until you all went and dirtied it up!! Dike and dyke are interchangeable spellings, no? 😉

  4. I was stopped in my tracks too, by this.

    Dying seemed to be, at the time, a long business for my father. Now it seems a redeemably short time and for that I hanker on.

    My father cared nowt about literature, per se, but he did care about life and how we live it. He also loved a good story, well told.

    I live to continue his standards and loves as well as my own.

  5. Andrea says:

    I don’t know much of anything about the French, but yeah that stopped me in my tracks. It’s possible the author didn’t intend for that, or possibly overlooked it. The only person who knows is the one who wrote it, right?

    jb says: Hi Andrea. I’m sure it was unintentional.

  6. Pearl says:

    A good tangent refreshes the sight alright. Like those jarring accidents.

  7. […] This post also concerns the writer, Albert Camus […]

  8. Very successful translation by Stuart Gilbert

  9. All I can say is that, the way the writer wrote that, it’s an art. Stuart Gilbert has his ways of portraying something by using trivial words.

  10. Sean Franco says:

    I think the author or the writer just went through with his inner artist self. 😀 There may be an anachronism in there but I just think art is how you will interpret it. 😉

  11. Fred M. says:

    I agree with Sean and just like all forms of art it it depends on the person interpreting it. It is a nice excerpt though makes me want to read it again.