Wednesday, 25 June 2008
How Pedantic Should We Be?
There seems to have been a sudden small eruption of interest in the Victorian traveller, Sir Richard Burton, with a recent TV documentary by Rupert Everett (which I missed because I was travelling myself in Turkey) and now a new novel by the Bulgarian-born novelist Iliya Troyanov who writes in German. I have just filed my review of The Collector of Worlds for The Independent so I will keep my powder dry for the moment except to mention in passing that Burton of course features substantially in my new book about the Victorian travellers, A Corkscrew is Most Useful: The Travellers of Empire.
I just wanted to say that the translation by William Hobson is fluent and readable and achieves what all translators want to achieve I would guess: the feeling that one is actually reading the novel in its original language. The production is also up to Faber's customary standards except that I noticed several examples of what are traditionally regarded as grammatical howlers: use of "comprised of", "totally disinterested" to mean "totally uninterested" and "dependent" where it should have been "dependant". Apart from demonstrating that one has been paying attention to the book under review is anything served by pointing this out? (For the record I didn't in my review.) Or should one take up the cudgels on behalf of 'proper English'? Some things can no doubt be dismissed as pedantry (except that the 'disinterested' issue results in the stripping of a useful word of its entire meaning) and if, overall, the prose is excellent, why cause trouble? Also, with growing evidence that undergraduates are struggling with basic English (I have direct experience of this) perhaps these nit-pickings are a luxury we can't afford. Bigger problems need tackling. Or should it be zero tolerance?