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View Full Version : Do we have any French literature experts here? In particular, Balzac experts?



Perks
05-12-2018, 11:01 PM
I'm very confused by a beautiful Balzac quote that I might be wanting to do something with. The commonly disseminated translation is -

"The privilege of feeling at home everywhere belongs only to kings, wolves, and robbers."

But when I hunted down the source (which was a little more difficult than I expected) it's from his novel, Splendeurs et Misères des Courtisanes, written in the mid-1800s, and the line is actually -

"Ce privilège d'être partout chez soi n'appartient qu'aux rois, aux filles et aux voleurs."

I learned a little French a long time ago and that's not "wolves", that's "girls."

Do you know what accounts for that rather substantial difference? This is really interesting to me. It makes me wonder if it was just translated wrong once and then blasted off in all its borked glory.

cornflake
05-12-2018, 11:39 PM
I admit I opened the thread only to make a Balzac joke.

However, I got interested. Five years of French got me exactly as far as you, but wondering if there was a contextual other meaning of filles at the time. I found a contemporaneous translatio (https://books.google.com/books?id=7HwSAAAAYAAJ&printsec=frontcover&dq=inauthor:%22Honor%C3%A9+de+Balzac%22&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjU5-KS9oDbAhWnpFkKHTGTAAgQ6AEIKTAA#v=onepage&q&f=false)n by Ellen Marriage, apparently uniquely, for the time, dedicated to accuracy (so says the Internets), who translates that as prostitutes, which is an interesting bridge and makes tons more sense in the sentence to me than either girls or wolves.

Perks
05-12-2018, 11:51 PM
... which is an interesting bridge and makes tons more sense in the sentence to me than either girls or wolves.

I agree.

Elenitsa
05-12-2018, 11:52 PM
Yes, filles can mean prostitutes. An euphemism that you hear in Edith Piaf's songs is also "fille de joie" - joy girl, meaning also prostitute.

Perks
05-13-2018, 12:34 AM
Yes, filles can mean prostitutes. An euphemism that you hear in Edith Piaf's songs is also "fille de joie" - joy girl, meaning also prostitute.

But can it, does it ever mean "wolves"?

Elle.
05-13-2018, 01:42 AM
I'm French and I have absolutely no idea how the translator got from "filles" to "wolves", unless whoever the translator was saw prostitutes as predators and compared them to wolves (or maybe they thought it sounded better). In this context "filled" refers to prostitutes or courtesans rather than "little girls".

Perks
05-13-2018, 02:03 AM
I'm French and I have absolutely no idea how the translator got from "filles" to "wolves", unless whoever the translator was saw prostitutes as predators and compared them to wolves (or maybe they thought it sounded better). In this context "filled" refers to prostitutes or courtesans rather than "little girls".


That makes sense. I will also amend my post.

Yeah, I'm really confused that the internet has so widely disseminated such a weird mistake. It almost makes me wonder if, st some point, the English translation was "whores" and somehow one w-word got run over by another.

DanielSTJ
05-13-2018, 03:55 AM
I am fluent in French and I'm baffled by that translation.

Strange. Hm.

I hope you find your answers!

Fuchsia Groan
05-13-2018, 04:54 AM
And filles = prostitutes probably makes sense in context because the whole book is about the rise and fall of particular prostitutes ("courtisanes"). I read the book, but it was a long time ago, so I don't remember that line at all.

I'm not French, but have read a lot of French 19th-century fiction in the original, and I've never seen prostitutes referred to as "wolves" (loups). Businessmen, on the other hand... :)

ETA: Could be a prudish 19th-century translator was involved in creating this misquote.

Tocotin
05-13-2018, 05:27 AM
Lupa, or "she-wolf", was a Latin slang for a female sex worker in ancient Rome, a brothel was called a lupanar, which means "wolf den". Maybe it's through this association that the translation was made? Or maybe it was some obscure slang term?

frimble3
05-13-2018, 07:35 AM
It might be that a rather too well-read a translator was trying for a euphemism that didn't mention 'girls' and was rather hoping that a equally well-read reader would follow 'wolf' and 'whore' through it's Latin connection, and snicker at his cleverness. Those not in the know would merely be perplexed.

Perks
05-13-2018, 08:13 AM
Those not in the know
Hey, when you look up Perkses in the dictionary, that's the exact wording of the entry!

Helix
05-13-2018, 10:27 AM
I have nothing to add, other than this is a fascinating thread.

Harlequin
05-13-2018, 02:04 PM
There's quite a lot of bad mistakes which become "widely known" - not French, but I refer you to Robert Frost's poem with the famous line "and I took the road less travelled by".

It doesn't mean what most people quote it as!

AW Admin
09-11-2018, 07:14 PM
That makes sense. I will also amend my post.

Yeah, I'm really confused that the internet has so widely disseminated such a weird mistake. It almost makes me wonder if, st some point, the English translation was "whores" and somehow one w-word got run over by another.

I suspect, having looked at the passage in context, that in scanning or converting a public domain translation, whores was misread by the OCR software as wolves.

frimble3
09-11-2018, 11:02 PM
I suspect, having looked at the passage in context, that in scanning or converting a public domain translation, whores was misread by the OCR software as wolves.
A sadly mundane, but quite likely, explanation. Thank you for the research.