Miles Kington: French titles give me the yellow dog blues

"L'Education Sentimentale translates as 'Sentimental Education. But it's not that at all

Share
Related Topics

What worried me was that I don't think dogs are ever really yellow. I can visualise brown dogs, and light brown dogs, and very light brown dogs, but I am not sure that they ever reach the colour of bananas. Not that "The Banana-Coloured Dog" would work as a title. But I do not think I would be happy with The Yellow Dog either, if I were to translate the book into English. And yet when they broadcast an adaptation of the very same story on Radio 4 after I got back, they called it The Yellow Dog and obviously didn't have a moment's unease about it.

That's why I could never translate a French novel. I would never get beyond the title. Recently Radio 4 also did a dramatisation of Alain-Fournier's Le Grand Meaulnes. What a brilliant description of teenage longing the book is. And what a grim title to try to translate. The main character is a lad called Meaulnes, and the title simply means "Big Meaulnes".

It's not unknown to have books named after the main character, with a size added, even if Little Dorrit is the only one I can think of off-hand. But no one is likely to buy a book called "Big Meaulnes", which is why it has also been variously translated as "The Lost Domain", "The Wanderer" and "The End of Youth". In Germany, apparently, it is retitled "Der Grosse Kamerad", or "the Big Friend".

I did ask the producer of the radio adaptation, Sara Davies, if she had experimented with English translations of the title, but she said it would be madness to alter the original. Wise woman. There are other famous French titles of which this is also true. Déjeuner Sur L'Herbe. Huis Clos. Les Miserables. All calmly left in the original. Madame Bovary, too. It could be rendered as "Mrs Bovary", but ...

(If Flaubert was clever with the title of Madame Bovary, he wasn't so clever when naming L'Education Sentimentale. The title translates naturally, and wrongly, as "Sentimental Education". It's not that at all. We use "sentimental" as the adjective from "sentimentality" (meaning "sickly sweet emotion") but Flaubert is talking about "sentiment", which is something quite different, being "feeling". If anything, the book should be called "The Education In Feeling", or "Learning How to Feel" ...)

Still, if I believe there is no such thing as a yellow dog, it makes it hard to explain why the title crops up so regularly. Martin Amis has written a book called Yellow Dog, which, through skilful life management, I have not had the pleasure of reading. Walter Mosley has written an Easy Rawlins mystery called A Little Yellow Dog.

WC Handy published a blues in the 1920s called Yellow Dog Blues, which he claimed to have picked up from an itinerant black worker in 1903, whom he heard singing about "Where the Southern cross the Yellow Dog ..." The "Southern" was the "Southern Railroad", and the "Yellow Dog" was another railroad, perhaps the Yazoo Delta, which had the same initials as Yellow Dog ...

And, most exciting of all, I have discovered a listing for the following source book:

Yellow Dogs, Hushpuppies, and Bluetick Hounds: The Official Encyclopedia of Southern Culture Quiz Book (ISBN:0807845922)

It is published by the University of Mississippi Center for the Study of Southern Culture.

I cannot help feeling that were I to possess that book, total enlightenment would be mine.

I also have a strange feeling that that day will never dawn.

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Dublin (based in London)

£20000 - £25000 per annum + commission: SThree: Real Staffing's Pharmaceutical...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £25000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Are you great at building rela...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Swiss Banking and Finance

£20000 - £25000 per annum + Uncapped commission: SThree: Can you speak German,...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Executive - 6 month FTC - Central London

£25000 - £30000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An exciting opportunity f...

Day In a Page

Read Next
IDF soldiers and vehicles in an image provided by campaign group Breaking the Silence  

'Any person you see – shoot to kill': The IDF doctrine which causes the death of innocent Palestinians

Ron Zaidel
 

If I were Prime Minister: I'd give tax cuts to the rich, keep Trident, and get my football team wrong

Frankie Boyle
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before