NABOKV-L post 0014075, Thu, 16 Nov 2006 16:19:30 -0500

MR to JM on translations of PF
Jansy: "The translator was faithful to the "letter", but there was
no way he could avoid the loss of possible allusions through the
indication of page numbers, or of sequencing. I doubt that Nabokov
would not have been aware of this almost burocratic dilemma as he
envisioned Pale Fire's translations into other languages."

MR: Are you reading the Girard/Coindreau translation? VN was
indeed keenly aware of the problems of translating PF. A quick
check of the descriptions of his correspondence with his
translators(from the Cornell library) reveals the following:

TLS to Madame D. Ergaz from Vladimir Nabokov, January 27, 1962 .
Description: Written from Palace Hôtel, Montreux, in French,
regarding Chrestien's translation of Pnin, which VN has now
completed, though with great difficulty. Would love to meet C.,
but sees no point in his coming to Montreux to meet the Nabokovs,
as VN cannot possibly spare the time he deserves, while Chrestien
ought to occupy himself with corrections. Thinks Pale Fire will
prove more difficult to translate than Pnin or even Lolita, and
will need to see a sample of the translator's work before deciding.
Unflattering assessment of Faulkner's style.

TLS to Madame D. Ergaz from Vladimir Nabokov, May 6, 1963 .
Description: Written from Palace Hôtel, Montreux, in English,
expressing satisfaction with a sample of Girard's translation of
Pale Fire, and thanking Ergaz and Mohrt for the trouble they have
taken in this matter. With instructions should Girard agree to
undertake the translation (as VN hopes he will).

TL to Monsieur Raymond Girard from Vladimir Nabokov, October 4, 1963 .
Description: Not addressed, in French, detailing the pleasure with
which he has read Girard's translation of Pale Fire, particularly
with regard to the brilliance of Girard's "trouvailles". Explains,
in response to a question of Girard's, what is meant by Odin's Hall,
and by the phrase "pale fire."

TLS to Madame D. Ergaz from Vladimir Nabokov, October 19, 1963 .
Description: Not addressed, in French, explaining how much he
liked Girard's translation of the first part of the poem that
opens Pale Fire

TLS to Vladimir Nabokov from Maurice Coindreau, January 6, 1964 .
Description: Written from Paris, in French, outlining Coindreau's
objections to VN's suggested mode of work. Accepts those corrections
that right concrete mistakes and inevitable interpretive errors,
but refuses to consider "inadmissible modifications" that either
do not translate what VN has written, are "barbarisms" (i.e. are
not French words) or will make readers laugh. Provides some
instances of suggested corrections by VN that do not (in
Coindreau's opinion) translate the original text but interpret or
embellish. Writes that at the age of 71, C. is not about to
allow "obscenities". Discusses duties of author to translator,
and vice versa. Touches briefly on difficulty of undertaking a
'team' translation (Girard and Coindreau are translating the text

TLS to Coindreau from Vladimir Nabokov, January 14, 1964 .
Description: Writing from Palace Hôtel, Montreux, in French, VN
delivers a lengthy (and sarcastic) response to Coindreau's queries.
Explains that if Coindreau (now translating Pale Fire) has methods
of translating, so too has VN for working with translators. Objecting
to the tone of C.'s letter as "unfriendly and quite uncalled for",
VN asserts that the modifications he suggests are not meant to
replace an incorrect phrase with one that is correct, but are
intended to make phrases more exact or clear, and 'reminds' C. that
the only method he has for expressing his thoughts is in language,
and not by sign or"a little dance like that a bee performs to
notify its fellows of the results of its honey-gathering."

TL to Michel Mohrt from Vladimir Nabokov, January 19, 1965 .
Description: Written from the Palace Hôtel, Montreux, in English,
expressing on the whole delight with the Girard/Coindreau
translation of Pale Fire, which he says is "certainly the finest
I have ever been given." Notes some "incredible blunders", and
insists that his corrections be taken into account, rather than
dismissed as the examples of VN's "special brand of French", or
at least that he be given the last word in which rendering will
appear in the final version. "I have sufficient French to know
more exactly than [C.] when his French does not correspond to my

Matthew Roth

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