Guy de Maupassant by Isaac Babel

For any translation nerds, Isaac Babel’s short story is a must. I read Val Vinokur’s translation from the Russian, which was excellent. In a bit over 6 pages you get a tale of struggling artists, the idle rich, and deep insights into the art of translation itself. The narrator gets hired by a wealthy woman to translate Guy de Maupassant from French into Russian, who claims “Maupassant is the single passion in my life.”

He takes home her initial translation, a “tediously correct, lifeless and loud” work, and spends the evening fixing it, “hacking a path” through her words. “The work wasn’t as bad as it sounds. A phrase is born into the world both good and bad at the same time. The secret lies in a barely discernible twist.” She loves his writing, showers him with money which he then goes and blows on a big party for his friends.  Later, he arrives with his translation and finds her in the midst of a party, drunk, and gets him up to speed with an expensive wine. He goes on to kiss her, knock 29 books off the shelf, and stumble into the night, heading home to read a bio of  Maupassant which has him crawling on all fours and eating his excrement?!