Waugh Letter to French Translator

London booksellers Peter Harrington have on offer a 1946 letter from Evelyn Waugh to a  translator who was interested in producing a French version of Vile Bodies. This is Jean Dauven who apparently had asked Waugh a number of questions relating to this and other books. The letter is quite long, covering 4 sides of a folded foolscap page (about 900 words). It is described in Harrington’s catalogue:

…The first part of Waugh’s letter deals with the difficulties of transposing the in-jokes from [Vile Bodies] into French, explaining that “chubb fuddler was chosen as a comic trade. Any French equivalent would serve. He is, in fact, the man who makes it his life’s work to intoxicate fish so that, when it is necessary to drain the fish pond, they can be moved without injury…”; that “Decorations” on an invitation card indicates that a member of the Royal Family is expected to be present (“would ‘personages royales’ be correct?”); that “Blast was an avant garde publication of the time… edited by Wyndham Lewis, probably forgotten by all but a dozen Englishmen.”; that kedgeree, offered to but not eaten by Adam and Nina at Doubting Hall, is “an excellent luncheon or breakfast consisting of rice, eggs & salmon or haddock”, and explaining a reference to Kipling’s poem Gunga Din, as well as recommending Lecky’s Eighteenth Century as “an excellent survey of the Wesleyan movement.” Waugh hopes that the translation “will breathe new life into a text which has become somewhat dated in the original”, but he “cannot help thinking in a book so localized & slangy there must have been other unfamiliar expressions.” Waugh welcomes further enquires but also suggests it might be easier to call on “Mrs Rodd Nancy Mitford now in Paris at 20 Rue Bonaparte who was very much a girl of that period & would I know be delighted to help you”.

Dauven took this advice but Mitford later wrote Waugh to say that they did not hit it off. After a brief family history, Waugh provides a summary of his works:

“In 1927 I published a life of Dante Gabriel Rossetti and in 1928 my first novel ‘Decline and Fall’ which was a success. Since then I have had no struggles for recognition & have always been unduly praised by critics… My best novel was called ‘A Handful of Dust’.”…Waugh ends with his most recent novel. “While recovering from a leg broken in parachuting (in England, no glory) I wrote a novel ‘Brideshead Revisited’ which is shortly appearing in translation in Paris (Edition Lafonte). This book is more serious than its predecessors, has annoyed most of the English critics and delighted illiterate Americas in a disconcerting way. But I like it.” He mentions that he has “no recent photograph”, so encloses “a reproduction of a portrait of me made in the year I wrote ‘Vile Bodies’… but they must make plain I am now 17 years older, fatter & uglier.”. The portrait, inscribed “Now aged 43 and much altered for the worse. E.W.” is included in the sale.

There is also a video on YouTube in which one of the bookseller’s representatives displays the letter and repeats much of what is written above. Vile Bodies was translated into French as Ces Corps vils (1947) by Louis Chantemele, which was a pen name used by Dauven. The asking price for the letter is £18,750.

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