Site de Benoît Melançon / Thèses canadiennes en littérature française du XVIIIe siècle

Léger, Benoît, «Une Fleur des païs étrangers : Desfontaines traducteur au XVIIIe», Montréal, Université McGill, thèse de doctorat, août 1999, lvii/351 p. Dir. : Chantal Bouchard et Paul St-Pierre.

Analyses of Eighteenth-century French translations of English literature have often been reduced to criticizing so-called “belles infidèles”. Thus, the complexity of translation and ideological issues has been ignored. The first translations of works by Swift and Pope partake in this tradition as inherited from the Eighteenth century, but they also lay down the groundwork for the Enlightenment. Translating Swiftian satire in Gulliver’s Travels, Pope’s “badinage” in The Rape of the Lock, Clifton’s medical history in the context of Newton’s ideas, or social satire in Joseph Andrews, regardless of the degree of “fidelity”, is never an innocent process. These issues are coupled with formal ones, translational as well as esthetic, when poetry or the Eighteenth-century novel-style texts are translated.

The importance of the Abbé Desfontaines (1685-1745) is undeniable. As a journalist, he comments, criticizes, and analyses not only the translations of English texts, but also the movement along which English ideas are translated within the French system. His numerous satirical texts also reveal him positioning himself before of the issues of the time. Allowing himself more freedom as a translator, he belongs to the first ones to proceed to the translation of English literature between 1727 and 1743.

In his translations, he adapts, imitates, or censors some elements seen as unacceptable in French. He has therefore been considered to be an “unfaithful translator”, a position that does not account for his translation project which it is described in the important paratextual apparatus of his translations. His title pages, and especially his dedications, forewords, and introductions, reveal him as being aware of the most polemical aspects of these texts. So as to avoid the impasse encountered in criticizing the “fidelity” of his translations, I have focused on his paratextual apparatus in order to define his translation project and poetics.

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