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Volume 16, numéro 2, 2003, p. 73-101

Traduction et (im)migration / Translation and (im)migration

Sous la direction de Anne Malena

Direction : Annick Chapdelaine (directrice)

Éditeur : Association canadienne de traductologie

ISSN : 0835-8443 (imprimé)  1708-2188 (numérique)

DOI : 10.7202/010716ar

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The Lutetian Society[1]

Denise Merkle

Département de traduction et des langues, Case 30, Faculté des arts et des sciences sociales, Université de Moncton, Moncton, Nouveau-Brunswick, E1A 3E9



This paper will examine the role of the late-Victorian Lutetian Society translators (Alexander Teixeira de Mattos, their leader, Ernest Dowson, Havelock Ellis, Percy Pinkerton, Victor Plarr, Arthur Symons) as translating subjects and cultural agents, united by the “cause” of providing British readers with unexpurgated translations of some of Émile Zola’s maligned, if not banned, masterpieces so that they might be able to form an unbiased opinion of the literary merits of the works. Furthermore, the paper will explore what motivated these translators to join in this clandestine translation project and try to give some insight into the effect of their (re)translation activity on their personal appreciation of Zola and the novel translated. The paper concludes that the act of (re)translation served to expand the cultural horizons of the Lutetian Society translators. Their translations would, in turn, expand the cultural horizons of those who read them.

Keywords: late-Victorian England, Lutetian Society, translating subject, cultural agent, Émile Zola


La Société Lutétienne

Cet article examine les traducteurs de la Société Lutétienne en tant que sujets traduisants et agents culturels. Les six traducteurs – Alexander Teixeira de Mattos, le chef du groupe, Ernest Dowson, Havelock Ellis, Percy Pinkerton, Victor Plarr et Arthur Symons – ont travaillé ensemble pendant la dernière décennie de l’ère victorienne afin de fournir aux lecteurs britanniques la traduction non expurgée de quelques chefs-d’oeuvre calomniés sinon interdits d’Émile Zola. Ces traductions allaient permettre aux lecteurs de se faire une opinion impartiale quant aux mérites littéraires de ces oeuvres. En outre, cette étude explore les motivations ayant poussé ces traducteurs à se joindre au projet clandestin de (re)traduction et tente de comprendre les effets de leur activité (re)traduisante sur leur appréciation personnelle de Zola et le roman traduit. L’article conclut que la tâche de (re)traduction a servi à élargir l’horizon culturel des traducteurs associés au projet de la Société Lutétienne, et que leurs traductions allaient, à leur tour, élargir l’horizon culturel de leurs lecteurs.

Mots-clés : fin de l’ère victorienne, Société Lutétienne, sujet traduisant, agent culturel, Émile Zola


When, if ever, the Judgment Books are unrolled, it is not the East End sweated women who will have the first say, but rather the plagiarised and pirated authors, the translators and poor scholars, in the leash of the illiterate and the vulgar! What an army they will form!

Victor Plarr, 1914, pp. 99-100



Victor Plarr would be relieved to learn that the twentieth century has given authors a say, at least in part thanks to Zola’s “affranchissement” of the modern writer. However, it is in large part thanks to the advent of Translation Studies in the 1970s and the explosion of translation research in the 1990s that a British literary scholar such as Nicholas White would write that history must not overlook “the cultural status of the figure of the translator” (1995, p. 19)[2]. This paper will examine the role of the Lutetian Society and its six translators as translating subjects and cultural agents, united by the cause of introducing British readers to the “real Émile Zola,” a misunderstood, and in their minds unjustly maligned, French writer. Furthermore, it will take a look at their migrations between France and England in the aim of assessing the relationship between a sincere and keen interest in the cultural other and translation activity that contests literary and translation norms. Finally, the paper will try to give some insight into the effect of translation activity on their personal appreciation of Zola and the novel translated.

What is the Lutetian Society?


In late-Victorian London, a number of literary societies, for example, the Kama Shastra Society, founded by Sir Richard Francis Burton and F. F. Arbuthnot, published for distribution to their members unexpurgated editions of banned books, often in translation. Another such society was the Lutetian Society that published translations of six of Émile Zola’s banned novels in 1894 and 1895; however, like the Society itself, its founder remains a mystery. In her article, “Did you say… The Lutetian Society?,” Chantal Morel wonders whether Leonard Smithers[3], a solicitor from Sheffield, who set up a publishing business in London with the intention of publishing “anything the others are afraid of” (Flower, 1967, p. 264), might be the man behind the Lutetian Society (1997, p. 11). The translation of Voltaire’s La Pucelle d’Orléans that was commissioned by Smithers and published by the Lutetian Society (see Annexe I, Ernest Dowson) appears to confirm this hypothesis. Another possibility, according to Morel, is Paul Ferdinando (pseudonym Carrington) who set up the Athenian Society in the early 1890s in order to publish unexpurgated editions of Aristophanes and Lucian (1997, pp. 11-12). Although we may not have identified with certainty the Lutetian Society’s founder, the Society’s mission was nevertheless clear: “to issue to its members, translations of such representative master-pieces of fiction by Continental authors as are unprocurable in English in an unmutilated rendering” (Anonymous, note, 1894, n.p.).


The President of France’s Société des Gens de Lettres, Émile Zola was invited in 1893 to London to give a talk on the anonymity of the press at the Congress organized by the Institute of Journalists. According to Morel, “Zola received a ‘regal’ welcome from both the press and the literary world” (1997, p. 14), the latter celebrating the completion of the Rougon-Macquart series with the publication of Le Docteur Pascal. White believes that “[t]he Lutetian Society’s project was clearly designed to exploit these celebrations that took place both in Paris and London” (1995, p. 21, n. 17)


So a decade after the publication in England of the Vizetelly & Co translations of Zola’s novels, translations that made cuts in the target text in order to ensure better target audience reception (Besnimon, 1990, p. ix)[4], the Lutetian Society’s “leader” Alexander Teixeira de Mattos was arranging for private issue a series of scholarly and undiluted retranslations of six of Zola’s more controversial novels. He had £300 to pay for the translations, or £50 per translation, a considerable sum at the time. Each of the translations was published in two volumes. The edition was limited to 300 numbered copies printed on hand-made paper (Arnold no 6), as well as ten copies on vellum paper (Morel, 1997, p. 7). On the title page of the translations, one reads: “Printed by the Lutetian Society for Private Distribution Amongst Its Members”.


Teixeira de Mattos, who retranslated in 1895 Zola’s La Curée, the third of the series, oversaw the work of the Lutetian Society (re)translators whose acceptance of cultural and literary difference set them apart from their more ethnocentric compatriots. They were fully cognisant of the intercultural character of their work and of the fact that they were producing retranslations. In 1894, Arthur Symons retranslated L’Assommoir and Victor Gustave Plarr, Nana. La Terre was retranslated by Ernest Dowson, Germinal by Havelock Ellis, and Pot-Bouille by Percy Pinkerton in 1895.


The Lutetian Society’s objective was “to translate and publish works which appealed primarily to the erudite and conveyed principles and doctrines that were different from, if not always antagonistic to, Victorian ideals of morality” (Longaker, 1944, p. 131). The translators knew the law that had condemned the novels they accepted to retranslate and subverted it, for their translation activity was clandestine, being as they were “protected” by a secret society with a very limited subscription of wealthy and educated readers. We know that the members of this francophile group socialized and travelled together (except Pinkerton about whom we have found very little information). The Lutetian Society translators were linked by their love of French culture and literature, although when it came to Zola’s writings, Symons and Ellis, in particular, were at first clearly less enthusiastic. This group of turn-of-the-century writers and poets produced their unexpurgated retranslations of Zola’s chief novels to protest the power of Britain’s traditional literary institution as well as to revive their national literature[5] by looking for inspiration to the great city of literary and artistic innovation, Paris. To varying degrees, these translators felt alienated in their mother tongue and native culture, and felt at home elsewhere. All of these translators believed it important to produce an unexpurgated version of certain banned translations of French literary works in order to allow those who did not master French to form their own opinion of their literary value. An anonymous “Note” that appears on an unnumbered page that precedes Symons’s translation of L’Assommoir, the first of the series, explains:

The editions will in every case be strictly limited, and will not be offered to the ordinary English public. “L’Assommoir” is the first of six novels from the Rougon-Macquart series, by Émile Zola; it will be followed by translations of “Nana”, “La Curée”, “La Terre”, “Germinal”, and “Pot-Bouille”: these six works form the first issue of the Society to its subscribers. And it should be added that this series is the only complete, unexpurgated, and absolutely liberal edition of M. Zola’s novels as yet printed in the English tongue, and it is issued by the special permission and under the direct auspices of M. Zola[6].

1894, n.p.

The translations could not be advertised because they were illegal, and their existence was made known only by word-of-mouth. Not all of the 310 copies were sold, and it seems very few scholars could afford to buy, or were interested in buying, these six translations for 12 guineas (Longaker, 1944, p. 133). The first series was thus a financial disaster, and the Lutetian Society abandoned any idea of translating additional Zola novels[7].


The names of three of the Lutetian Society translators are recognized today for their scholarly and artistic contributions to late-Victorian cultural life: Ernest Dowson, the Decadent poet; Havelock Ellis, the controversial sexologist; Arthur Symons, the Symbolist scholar. Victor Plarr is known primarily for his friendship with Ernest Dowson. Alexander Teixeira de Mattos, despite being a career translator of literary and scientific works, is not a recognizable name today. History is largely silent on the sixth member of the group, Percy Pinkerton, although he was a prolific translator of libretti and songs from French, German, Italian and Russian.

Émile Zola in the Victorian England of the 1880s and 1890s


In the 1880s, French literature produced by Flaubert, Balzac[8], Maupassant and Zola was generally considered lewd, if not outright pornographic. Zola’s novels were singled out for attack in the 1880s. His works were not to be read in translation, other than by those (male) members of the socio-cultural elite who were able to do so “critically.” Although not enough time had elapsed since the Vizetelly trials of 1888 and 1889[9] to establish his literary reputation, in the 1890s Zola had influential supporters in Britain, despite the fact that the ban (1888) targeting in particular three of his novels in translation — Nana, Pot-Bouille and La Terre — had not been lifted by the authorities. According to William Frierson (1928, p. 549), generally speaking Anglo-Saxons found undiluted realism and naturalism antipathetic to their nature; the Church, even liberal literary criticism (including Algernon Swinburne, Havelock Ellis, George Moore)[10] and the government continued well into the 1890s to criticize, if not condemn, Zola and his writings, at least on aesthetic grounds. However, Ernest Vizetelly’s translation of Zola’s La Débâcle: The Downfall. A Story of the Horrors of War (1892)[11] appealed successfully to English antiwar sentiment and prompted the timing of Sherard’s biography (Lethbridge, 1995, p. 9). Robert Harborough Sherard,[12] who spent his life in France and Corsica and who knew Zola as well as Daudet and Maupassant personally, published in 1893 the very well received Émile Zola: A Biographical and Critical Study that did much to improve the French writer’s literary reputation in England. This divided reception underlined the existence of the two opposing literary camps identified by Decker in The Victorian Conscience (1952). Two of Zola’s British devotees were Lutetian Society translators Ernest Dowson and Victor Plarr, who appreciated his literary genius.

Foreign influences, certainly, had begun to have more and more effect upon the making of such literature as is produced in England nowadays; we had a certain acceptance of Ibsen, a popular personal welcome of Zola, and literary homage paid to Verlaine.

Symons in White, 1995, p. 11

Lutetian Society Translators: Their Cultural Migrations


English decadent poet born on August 2, 1867 in Kent outside London, Ernest Christopher Dowson travelled extensively with his father to France and Italy as a boy, and was also educated by him. Henry Havelock Ellis was born in Croydon in 1859. At the age of seven he sailed around the world with his father, a shipmaster, and also travelled extensively in South America. In England, he studied at French and German schools. At sixteen, he set out on another world tour, but became too sick to go beyond Sydney. Ellis remained in Australia for four years, earning his living as a school teacher. Victor Gustave Plarr was born on June 21, 1863 in Le Kapferhammer near Strasbourg. His mother was Celtic and his father a distinguished Alsacian mathematician. After the family house was burned down by the Prussians during the 1870-1871 war, the family moved to Scotland. Arthur Symons, born in 1865 in Wales of Cornish stock, was the critic and poet who familiarized the British with French and Italian literature. His parents gave him a deeply religious, yet nomadic, childhood in the Welsh and English countryside. In his Memoirs, he writes: “If I have been a vagabond, and have never been able to root myself in any one place in the world, it is because I have no early memories of any one sky or soil” (in Beckson, 1977, p. 6). He moved to London as a young adult. More is known about the childhood of Dowson, Ellis, Plarr and Symons than about Teixeira de Mattos’s and Pinkerton’s, although we do know that Teixeira de Mattos was born in 1865 in Holland and educated in England.


Thanks to his travels as a youth, upon his arrival at Oxford (1886), Ernest Dowson (see Longaker, 1944) was more worldly than most undergraduates and interested in Schopenhauer, Zola, Baudelaire, Poe, and Swinburne. Unfortunately, he did not complete his university studies. In the 1880s, Dowson made frequent, and sometimes lengthy, visits to Dieppe and Paris, in no way hiding his admiration of France and things French; he also visited Belgium. French habits and customs were of greater interest to him than English ones; for example, he took a liking to absinthe, whereas in general the English considered it a poison, and he was very well read in French literature (Balzac, Stendhal, Chamfort, Loti, Baudelaire, Flaubert). In 1888, he became a good friend of Victor Plarr and, in 1891, met Arthur Symons. Himself a gifted lyrical poet, Dowson joined the Rhymers’ Club of poets that met in the early 1890s. The Rhymers was a group that, according to Arthur Symons, attracted for the most part non Anglo-Saxons connected by their love of poetry and French culture despite generalized British condemnation of decadent French morality. Dowson also befriended W.B. Yeats, Verlaine[13], and Oscar Wilde. The latter led the Decadent movement in England, moving to Paris in the wake of his legal battles. The only Lutetian Society translator whom posterity considers an unequivocal “Decadent” is Ernest Dowson[14]. According to Thomas Swann, Dowson’s range of French, though limited, was sufficient for reasonably accurate translation “and the fastidious ear which delighted in the letter ‘v’ and the dreamlike rhythms of Poe assured both grace and polish” (1964, p. 88). Dowson contracted phthisis in 1894, the same year that his father’s dry-dock went bankrupt in Limehouse and that his parents died in close succession (Gawsworth, 1939, pp. 117-120). Late in 1895 he moved to Paris and was kept busy with work there until he moved in the early spring of 1896 to Pont Aven (Brittany)[15], though he continued to spend much time in Paris, travelling occasionally to Belgium. During this time, Arthur Symons published the latter’s short stories and literary reviews in The Savoy, while Dowson prepared for publication his first book of poetry (Gawsworth, 1939, pp. 118-120). No longer supported by the family fortune after his father’s bankruptcy and death, Dowson translated to earn a livelihood, spending the last days of his life in France, where he died on February 21, 1900 of alcoholism and pulmonary tuberculosis.


Havelock Ellis studied medicine in London, his research culminating in the seven volume Studies in the Psychology of Sex (1897-1928), the first scientific and guiltless study of the subject that provoked a great deal of controversy and was finally banned in Great Britain. Despite his controversial research, like Plarr, he had conventional literary tastes that put him, unlike Plarr, in the anti-Zola camp, from an aesthetic and philosophical point of view, in the 1880s. Though his literary tastes leaned toward the classical, he led a somewhat unconventional life, writing and editing books, while studying medicine. In 1886, he proposed to Henry Vizetelly, English publisher of Flaubert and Zola, a series of unexpurgated Elizabethan and Jacobean dramas to be called the Mermaid Series. The same year, Arthur Symons edited the plays of Massinger for the Mermaid Series under Ellis’s general editorship (Beckson, 1977, p. 255n9). Ellis was dropped from the series in 1888 when the publisher changed as a result of Vizetelly & Co’s legal problems. Ellis also edited the first English collection of Ibsen that same year. He solicited the collaboration of Eleanor Marx-Aveling, who produced the translation An Enemy of Society, and whom he knew through their mutual appreciation of Ibsen that dated back to early 1885[16], if not earlier, and through her translation of Madame Bovary that she finished in early 1886[17]. In 1890 he published The New Spirit, a collection of literary essays. During the same decade, he and Arthur Symons started their life-long friendship and became travelling companions. One destination was Paris, where they explored their mutual interest in Symbolism and met many of the Symbolist writers. Ellis’s sole translation is that of Zola’s Germinal.


Percy E. Pinkerton may not be as “distinguished” as the most famous of the Lutetian Society translators, in the words of Robert Lethbridge (2000, p. 14), yet he was a prolific “gentleman of letters” with a wide range of publications (see Annexe I). According to Lethbridge (2000, p. 14), in Victorian England, a familiarity with French was a given: Pinkerton also translated from German in the early 1880s, adding Russian and Italian to the list later in his career. In 1885, he edited the dramatic works of Christopher Marlowe and published in 1927 some of his own lyrical drama.


In 1882, Victor Plarr[18] studied at Oxford, then at Worcester College where he graduated in 1886. From 1886 to 1890, he worked as a journalist and translator. He met Dowson in 1888 and, in 1890, was named librarian at King’s College, while a member of the Rhymers’ Club. He was not a bohemian like Ernest Dowson and Arthur Symons; neither a Decadent nor a Symbolist. He was a family man and a librarian, a turn-of-the-century minor poet and writer who made translations in his spare time, a man with “a cynical but kindly wit, with a wide tolerance of men and things” (Fletcher, 1974, p. xiii). He was one of the more conventional of the Lutetian Society translators, having traditional literary tastes. A scholar, he updated for Routledge the fourteenth edition of Men and Women of the Time in 1896, as well as the fifteenth edition of 1899. Unlike Symons and Dowson, he does not appear to have travelled frequently to France. Nevertheless, he was an enthusiastic supporter of Zola, writing in 1898 a scornful sonnet directed against those who persecuted Zola for having defended Dreyfus, revealing as well his republican sympathies (Fletcher, 1974, p. xiv). During the First World War, he wrote his biography of Ernest Dowson. He died on January 28, 1929.


For Plarr, the 1890s was a decade of literary productivity which reveals his original otherness. He spent time in francophone circles, joined by his francophile friends Teixeira de Mattos, Dowson and Symons[19]. His poems published in the 1890s are marked by his anthropological studies. In 1899, nostalgic voyages back to his childhood led to the publication of A Garland of New Poetry replete with allusions to the tricolore, the Marseillaise, his childhood in the Alsace and to negative memories of the destruction of the family home during the war. Fletcher (1974) believes that this collection of poems destined for a broad range of readers was more pro-British than some of his other works. As an immigrant to Britain, along with Teixeira de Mattos, he perhaps felt “a recurrent tension between integrative motivation and the anxiety of absorption” (Cronin, 2000, p. 124), as he vacillated between identification with British values and his Alsacian roots.


Arthur Symons was a purveyor of French and Italian literature to his British compatriots, being the poet who introduced Symbolism to Britain. By 1890 Symons was spending more and more time in Paris, the 1890s his most fruitful and bohemian decade. In 1890, he wrote in a letter: “I am by this time getting so Parisian that the thought of London fills me with horror. I am contemplating permanent residence here; have forgotten most of my English” (in White, 1995, p. 15). Yeats wrote in his Autobiographies: “Arthur Symons, more than any man I have ever known, could slip as it were into the mind of another, and my thoughts gained in richness and in clearness from his sympathy” (in White, 1995, p. 17).


Symons attended Mallarmé’s (1842-1898) “mardis” (Gambier, 1996, p. 197) and was keen to meet Zola, Renan, Huysmans and Coppée[20]. He was as well known in the bohemian cafes of the Parisian Left Bank as he was in London and as such “occupies a most privileged location at the intersection of Anglo-French cultures” (White, 1995, p. 12), as well as being a precursor to comparative studies by writing his Studies in Two Literatures (1897). He is also the author of The Symbolist Movement in Literature (1899), “out of which the important [English-language] poets of the early twentieth century learned the elements of French symbolist poetic” (in White, 1995, p. 12), his translation activity also familiarizing English readers, especially his friend Yeats, with the works of the French symbolists.


Alexander Louis Teixeira de Mattos San Payo y Mendes (Longaker, 1944, p. 131) was to become the most sought-after translator of his time (Flower, 1967, p. 260), translating from the Danish, Dutch, German, West Flemish, and especially French (see Annexe I, Texeira de Mattos). He was a dandy, “fastidious in his garb” (Longaker, 1944, p. 131) and his “working habits were regular and strict” (Longaker, 1944, p. 132). From the winter of 1893, he treated Dowson with “coldness,” sensing, according to Longaker, that the poet was not going to be prosperous (p. 131), for the latter tended to procrastinate. Teixeira de Mattos was also linked with the Symbolist movement through his friendship with Arthur Symons and their joint travels to France.

Their Lutetian Society Translation(s)


On October 15, 1893, Zola’s biographer Robert Sherard and Zola were at Teixeira de Mattos’s home in London[21]. Dowson, who had developed a “student idolatry” of Zola at Oxford (Longaker, 1944, p. 115, 130), was there as well, already interested in convincing the English public of Zola’s genius and greatness, his interest further stimulated by meeting Sherard. The latter convinced Dowson to “open English eyes to the merits of the French author” (Longaker, 1944, p. 130). It was understood that Dowson would translate La Terre, the translator believing “he was about to reform public taste” (Longaker, 1944, p. 132). However, he was not Teixeira de Mattos’s first choice, probably because the editor-in-chief did not appreciate the poet’s work habits. So Teixeira invited George Moore to translate La Terre behind Dowson’s back. Moore’s refusal, according to Longaker, was “unquotable” (1944, p. 132), and Dowson obtained the commission.


Dowson started his translation in the spring of 1894; Teixeira had given him a deadline of May 1894. He was paid £50, like the others. “It was before the days of the typewriter. In ‘94 the written word had to be written, and to translate about two hundred thousand words was indeed a job. Nevertheless to be young with fifty pounds in those days was to enjoy a splendour” (Jepson in Colburn, 1952, p. 100). Dowson discussed the translation with Victor Plarr, who wrote that Dowson finally decided to “render certain Rabelaisian phrases into something less offensive in English — into common cleanly [sic] blasphemies at least” (in Colburn, 1952, p. 102). This problem, and the fact that he did not like the enforced discipline of sustained translation, led him to complain to Plarr that he was “overwhelmed” by Zola. He had to be prodded by his editor to finish the project (Plarr, 1914, p. 96). In the spring of 1894, Dowson spoke to Plarr of spending Easter outside London in order to translate twenty pages of La Terre a day so as to make up arrears. Plarr noted that the “absolutely literal rendering into English of Zola’s humorous libel on the French peasant was engaging [Dowson] daily. He found the task most irksome” (Plarr, 1914, p. 96). Dowson wrote to Plarr in April: “I have been so overwhelmed with Zola […] I have not done more than 340 pages. […] I suppose you are rurally at your ease now, so far as it is possible to be at your ease and translate Zola. […] I feel that I ought to go to no dinners until this pyramid is pulled down” (Longaker, 1944, p. 133).


Dowson believed that his translation of La Terre was not his best. However, critics (and friends) are divided. Symons called it “hack-work” (in Colburn, 1952, p. 102), writing elsewhere that Dowson’s translations “were never without some traces of his peculiar charm of language” (Longaker, 1944, p. 130), and Plarr called it a “pot-boiler achievement” (in Colburn, 1952, p. 102). The latter complained that La Terre was forced work and that Balzac’s La fille aux yeux d’or [The Girl with the Golden Eyes] suffered the same fault (1914, p. 99). According to Thomas Swann, some of Dowson’s contemporaries thought that the gifted lyric poet was wasting his talent: “In many cases vitality as well as lyricism was needed to make successful translations, and Dowson, whatever his virtues, was anything but vigorous” (1964, p. 88). However, others say that he undertook the translation with great “zeal” (Longaker, 1944, p. 130) for he espoused Zola’s cause as a misunderstood writer. In the opinion of Desmond Flower, “he carried out his undertaking conscientiously and laid the foundations of a good reputation as a translator [with the] willingness to persist with work he found uncongenial” (1967, p. 260), Graham King judging that the translation was “quite remarkable for its time” (1974, p. 402).


If Dowson was as meticulous when translating as when writing prose, King’s assessment is not surprising, for as Symons writes: “Dowson’s care over English prose was like that of a Frenchman writing his own language with the respect that Frenchmen pay to French. Even English things had to come to him through France, if he was to prize them very highly […]. He was Latin by all his affinities” (in Beckson, 1977, p. 89). Plarr explains elsewhere:

In his prose, on which he set extreme value, there is sometimes an apparent touch of labour and preciosity. There are petulant Gallicisms, for instance, set down with deliberation. He was fond of quoting Flaubert — was it Flaubert? — who sat long in meditation in front of a blackboard with alternative words chalked thereon. Dowson would have me believe that he, too, pondered the mot juste for hours.

in Longaker, 1944, pp. 129-130

Ironically, the translation experience undermined Dowson’s zeal for Zola, for “heartily tired [of translating La Terre], some of his enthusiasm for Zola had waned” (Longaker, 1944, p. 132). The only translator of the group to have more than one translation published by the Lutetian Society was Ernest Dowson.


Teixeira de Mattos assigned Germinal[22] to Havelock Ellis who accepted the project for he did not wish to “neglect the opportunity of spending [his] spare time in making a modest addition to his income” (Ellis, 1933, p. viii). Ellis signed his contract on or about 15 February 1894. The parties to the contract were Joseph Hannaford Bennett, publisher, London, Leonard Charles Smithers, publisher, London, and Havelock Ellis, Cornwall. According to Chantal Morel, the copyright owners were Bennett and Smithers, and the fees paid for the translation, including rights, reissues, etc., was £50 (1997, pp. 7-8). Translating the novel was a pleasant experience that greatly increased Ellis’s appreciation of Zola’s creative genius. In the introduction to his translation, Ellis writes: “Evenings of the early months of 1894 were spent over Germinal, I translating aloud.... In this way I was able to gain a more minute insight into the details of Zola’s work, and a more impressive vision of the massive structure he here raised, than can easily be acquired by the mere reader” (Ellis, 1933, pp. viii-ix). Ellis was convinced of the importance of the novel and prided himself on having made the one and only unexpurgated English-language translation:

It is […] a satisfaction for me to know that I have been responsible, however inadequately, for the only complete English version of this wonderful book, ‘a great fresco,’ as Zola himself called it, a great prose epic, as it has seemed to some, worthy to compare with the great verse epics of old.

Ellis, 1933, p. viii

Basing his assessment on Ellis’s use of symbolism and imagery, King believes that Ellis’s translation does justice to Zola’s novel, creating “the finest example of any rendering of Zola’s fiction into English” (1978, p. 398). Helene Beckerman in her 1981 “Comparative Study of Four English Translations of Germinal” is more critical of Ellis’s translation, considering it at times “adequate” (p. 27), more frequently accusing Ellis of “awkward syntax” (p. 44), of having a “great deal of trouble translating verbs of motion” (p. 59), and of having problems “understanding the original” (p. 68). Beckerman concludes:

His translation is […] full of awkward sentences and glaring errors […]. [I]n at least two places he either misunderstood the original or wrote a translation which was completely different. He clearly did not have a talent for translating dialogue and he did not pay enough attention to the translation of prose.

pp. 163-164


Percy Pinkerton’s Pot-Bouille of 1895 has enjoyed a long shelf-life, still reprinted as late as 1986 (Lethbridge 2000, p. 14)[23]. According to King, Pinkerton “faithfully includes” the details of Octave Mouret’s rape of Marie and of Adèle’s gruesome labour. The translation is readable today thanks to its robust and straightforward language, though it lacks style (1978, p. 393). Lethbridge considers “King’s assessments of Pinkerton’s labours [to be] more or less generous” (2000, p. 15), identifying numerous examples of infidelity. He asserts that Pinkerton “seems to draw back from the more scabrous implications of the suggestive texture of Pot-Bouille” (p. 15) and reveals occasional ignorance of French institutions (p. 16).


In 1894, Plarr retranslated Nana[24] literally, though not energetically (Longaker, 1944, p. 132) and frequently hesitating, because Teixeira de Mattos insisted on a complete and accurate translation:

[...] like hooked fish we struggled desperately to escape the ultra-literal in places, but like a cool trout-fisher Mr. Teixeira de Mattos, our brilliant chief, held us up rigorously round the editorial boat, never once allowing one of us to dart off into the depths of British decency for which we longed.

Plarr, 1914, p. 96

The bilingual and bicultural Plarr believed Zola’s novels to be important and, as such, that learned men should read them. Yet he valued the protection offered by the Lutetian Society, guaranteed by its sincerity and high prices. Plarr wrote on the subject of Nana:

Six of us were engaged with [Dowson] in translating the best known of Zola’s novels […]. We had the fearful example of Mr Vizetelly before our eyes. He had been prosecuted some years earlier for his translations of ‘Nana’ and one or two others of Zola’s novels, but we were enrolled as a learned group, ‘The Lutetian Society,’ and we were writing for scholars, and were protected by our manifest sincerity and by prohibitive prices.

Plarr, 1914, p. 96

His retranslation of Nana confirms Bensimon’s hypothesis (1990, p. ix) that “le retraducteur ne cherche plus à atténuer la distance entre deux cultures.” Plarr was able to penetrate the mind of the other, because he was other and same, as well as being able to maintain the cultural divide, to establish himself in the other place, even if he had never lived in Paris, per se. With this displacement came understanding, or empathy.


Ironically, this imported novel, the translation of which was possible thanks to Plarr’s mental migrations, travelled quite literally across the Atlantic[25], along with the other translations in the series:

Our books as remainders drifted off finally to the States, where to my horror Nana reappears as a huge and, I am told, lavishly illustrated production in “The Millionaires’ Library,” or some such edition. The poor translator gets nothing by this vast act of appropriation save annoyance and nightmare. America, of course, is the honestest of countries. Was it not there that George Washington ‘never told a lie’? Well, well! I wonder if La Terre has kept Nana company.

Plarr, 1914, p. 97

According to King, Victor Plarr’s Nana was the Zola translation published by the Lutetian Society that enjoyed the greatest appeal. Several American retranslations are based on his Nana. King considers Plarr’s translation better than Henry Vizetelly’s of 1885 and Charles Duff’s of 1953; however, he finds Plarr’s English less pleasant to read than George Holden’s of 1972 (1978, p. 390).


The trigger “to [Arthur Symons’s] activities as purveyor of foreign texts in Britain” (White, 1995, p. 17) seems to have been his 1894 translation of l’Assommoir[26] that developed his appreciation for Zola (Annexe I shows no translations by Symons prior to 1894). He completed his translation in six weeks (Longaker, 1944, p. 132). Symons was initially dismissive of Zola, writing: “There is no doubt that Zola writes very badly, worse than any other French author of eminence[...]” (White, 1995, p. 15). His voyage of discovery through translation led him to a greater appreciation of Zola’s literary art. According to King, “L’Assommoir undoubtedly benefited from [Symons’s] sympathy with Zola’s symbol-laden and frank, emotive prose” (1978, p. 388).


Teixeira de Mattos’s[27] translation of La Curée, the only title to include an English translation in parentheses (The Hounds’ Fee), “remains the standard English text for this novel, its remarkably timeless tone no doubt acts as a deterrent to a more modern competitor” (King, 1978, p. 377). Very disciplined, he started working daily at 6 a.m. and “finished his novel long before the edition was issued” (Longaker, 1944, p. 132). He was designated editor-in-chief of the project because of his many contacts with publishers, whom he knew how to handle, and he could be counted on to ensure deadlines and quality standards were met (Longaker, 1944, p. 132). He insisted on a “completely faithful rendering” with “no demonstrations of literary initiative on the part of the translator” (Longaker, 1944, p. 132).


Graham King is of the opinion that the Lutetian Society translations are “uniformly excellent” (1978, p. 372), considering Symons’s L’Assommoir and Ellis’s Germinal “masterpieces of their kind” and Dowson’s La Terre “outstanding” (1978, p. 372), proving that a half dozen excellent writers can produce faithful and elegant translations. Twentieth-century Zola translator Leondard Tancock is less generous in his assessment, writing:

I thought at one stage of an article on mistranslations or travesties of Zola, which would have been amusing and possibly instructive. Havelock Ellis’s Germinal (1933) is written in pidgin English throughout. Arthur Symons’s version of L’Assommoir (1958) has gross errors of meaning (ramonait = came up, piler = to take away), while d’un air béat de coq en pâte becomes with the beatified expression of a man in clover in V. Plarr’s Nana (1957). The best examples are far too long to reproduce here.

Tancock, 1972, p. 389n1



Throughout the nineteenth century, British and French swords were drawn, two powerful nations vying for economic and cultural domination, which could help at least in part explain the negative Victorian reception of French realism and naturalism. The two rival imperialistic powers interacted on the intercultural level, importing and exporting cultural products as well as producing these products, France for example “exporting” the Plarr family to Great Britain. Some of these producers of cultural products were translators, such as Dowson, Ellis, Teixeira de Mattos and Symons, who migrated between the capitals of London and Paris, Dowson in the end choosing self-imposed exile in France, the years of his greatest productivity as a translator. As we have seen, their motivation varied. Some were driven by discontent with their own culture, others by curiosity about the cultural and linguistic other. In both instances, the different cultural and linguistic space was perceived as having something to offer that would fill a void or compensate for something that they did not like in their own culture. Although both great intellectual centres, it was Paris, not London, that enjoyed the reputation of being the Western world’s literary mecca during the period, the birthplace of numerous “schools of literature,” a reputation that was begrudgingly acknowledged by many members of the British cultural elite. Translators, however, tend to be drawn to dynamic urban centres, whether at home or abroad, to great intellectual crossroads. London and Paris were both such centres, and Ernest Dowson and Arthur Symons, in particular, were drawn to them, spending much time not only in London but also in Paris “la capitale des capitales artistiques” (Gambier, 1996, p. 197) to await the arrival of new ideas and new literary movements (p. 194). These intellectual and cultural nomads produced retranslations of six of Zola’s novels that were “definitive” for the period, improving significantly on the previous Vizetelly versions (Colburn, 1952, p. 102). Moreover, both Symons and Ellis learned to appreciate Zola’s literary merits through the task of translation, Ellis writing in “Zola: The Man and His Work,” published in The Savoy in January 1896: “if Zola is not among the world’s greatest artists, I do not think we can finally deny that he is a great artist” (in Decker, 1952, p. 109). It is clear that the act of (re)translation served to expand the cultural horizons of the cultural agents associated with the Lutetian Society, and their translations would, in turn, expand the cultural horizons of those who read them.


Annexe I


Other Translation Activity[28]


Havelock Ellis has a single translation to his credit, Zola’s Germinal. The British Library has one record for a Victor Plarr translation other than his translation of Nana, Euripides’s Alcestis “done into English by V. Plarr.” The 23-page translation was privately printed in 1886. As for the other translators, this annexe is not complete except in the case of Ernest Dowson’s translations. The information provided on Percy Pinkerton’s, Arthur Symons’s, and Teixeira de Mattos’s translation activity is designed to give the reader an idea of its quantity and variety. The annexe does not include reprints of translations, which in some cases are numerous.


Ernest Dowson was primarily a translator of French literary classics, producing nine major translations between 1894 and 1900, the year of his death. The publisher, Leonard Smithers, agreed to pay him thirty shillings a week for all the material he could translate from the French as well as for original work (Flower, 1967, p. 265; Beckson, 1977, p. 86), publishing Balzac’s La Fille aux Yeux d’Or [The Girl with the Golden Eyes] (forming the third part of “Histoire des treize”), Paul Lacroix’s pseudo-autobiography Memoirs of Cardinal Dubois in 1899, and Voltaire’s La Pucelle d’Orléans. However, the British Library’s copy of the “new and complete translation corrected and augmented from the earlier English translation of W. H. Ireland and the one attributed to Lady Charleville with the variants now for the first time translated by E. Dowson” was published in two volumes of 500 copies by the Lutetian Society in 1899 (title page).


Dowson joined Teixeira de Mattos in translating Louis Couperus’s Majesty (London, T. Fisher Unwin, 1894). He later translated, alone or with others, such various works as Breslau University Art History Professor Richard Muther’s The History of Modern Painting (London, Henry & Co, 1895), the Goncourt brothers’s The Confidantes of a King: The Mistresses of Louis XV with portraits (London & Edinburgh, T. N. Foulis, 1907), and Beauty: the Story of Beauty & the Beast, the complete fairy story (London & New York, John Lane, 1907) and, in addition to the nine prose poems, a number of poems by Verlaine. Dowson also “Englished” Pierre Choderlos de Laclos’s Les Liaisons dangereuses (London, privately printed and limited to 350 copies 1898, Nonesuch Press).


Percy E. Pinkerton translated from the German Wilhelm Mueller’s Field-Marshal Count Moltke 1800-1878 (London, W.S. Sonnenschein & Allen, 1879), Wilhelm Hauff’s Longnose the Dwarf, and other fairy tales (1881), and Heinrich Duentzer’s The Life of Schiller (London & Edinburgh, Macmillan & Co, 1883), later translating from the French Louis Constant Wairy’s Memoirs of Constant [concerning the private life of Napoleon] (London, H. S. Nichols, 1896). At the beginning of the twentieth century, he translated from the Italian, Arturo Colautti’s Adrienne Lecouvreur (London, Ascherberg & Co, 1904). During the years of the Great War, he translated from the Russian, alone or in collaboration, Mikhail Petrovich Artsuibashev’s Sanine, The Millionaire (London, Martin Secker, 1915), Tales of the Revolution (London, Martin Secker, 1917), War: a play in four acts (London, Grant Richards, 1918). Occasionally, he also translated into French, for example, F.C. Hennequin’s English song “Under the Trees” [Sous les arbres] (London, Ascherberg, Hopwood & Crew, 1911) and W. E. Grogan’s lyrical music drama The Stranger [L'Étranger] (Holbrook. Joseph Charles, 1923).


It appears that Pinkerton was primarily a translator of libretti and songs. The following list that is far from exhaustive gives an idea of the variety and quantity of his translation activities.

  • Translation of Libretti and Songs (from the French)

    1. Augustin Scribe’s libretto to Jacques Halévy’s opera The Jewess (London, J. Garraway, 1900), 2) single numbers from Giacomo

    2. Meyerbeer’s Le Pardon de Ploërmel (1908-1909), L'Africaine (1921), and Les Huguenots (1922).

  • Translation of Libretti and Songs (from the German)

    1) Wilhelm Kienzl’s Der Evangelimann (London, Ascherberg & Co, 1897), 2) songs by Max Reger in 1899 and 1900, 3) songs by Franz Peter Schubert in 1911, 4) songs by Jacob Mendelssohn in 1911, 5) Johannes Brahms’s The Sandman in 1912, 6) songs by Robert Schumann in 1911 and 1913, 7) two arias by George Frideric Handel (1921), “Cast Love aside” (Orlando), “Come, Beloved” (Rinaldo), 8) Antonin Dvořák’s Gipsy Songs (1929).

  • Translation of Libretti and Songs (from the Italian)

    1) Benvenuto Cellini’s libretto to Berlioz’s The Captive (1902), 2) Fernando Fontana’s libretto to Giacomo Puccini’s Le Villi. The Witch-Dancers (London, G. Ricordi & Co, 1897), 2) Luigi Illica’s libretto to Puccini’s La Bohème (1910), 3) Illica’s libretto’s to Emilio Pizzi’s Rosalba (London, S. J. Garraway, 1902), 4) Arturo Colautti’s Fedora [based on the play of V. Sardou] (Milan, 1906), 5) single numbers from Domenico Donizetti’s Linda di Chamounix (1908), La Favorite (1909), Lucia di Lammermoor (1909), Lucrezia Borgia (1910), 6) single numbers from Giuseppe Verdi’s Un Ballo in maschera (1908), La Forza del destino (1909), Rigoletto (1909), Otello (1920).


Pinkerton translated from the Russian in 1902 the lyrics to Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s “Why?,” “Cradle Song,” “Serenade of Don Juan,” “A Lost Love,” “At the Ball,” “Mine at Last.”


Arthur Symons wrote an introduction to and made a verse translation of Prince di Montenevoso Gabriele d’Annunzio’s The Child of Pleasure (London, William Heinemann, 1898). He also translated d’Annunzio’s The Dead City (London, William Heinemann, 1900), Gioconda (London, William Heinemann, 1901), and Francesca da Rimini (New York, F.A. Stokes Co, 1902). Symons translated Charles Pierre Baudelaire’s Poems in Prose [Selected Poems] (London, Elkin Mathews, 1905), “Les fleurs du mal, petits poèmes en prose, les paradis artificiels” (London, Casanova Society, 1925), The Letters of Charles Baudelaire to his Mother, 1833-1866 (London, John Rodker, 1928)[29], Émile Verhaeren’s The Dawn (London, Duckworth, 1898). The British Library has a record for Pierre Louÿs’s The Woman and the Puppet, translated with an introduction by Arthur Symons (London, Thornton Butterworth, 1935), Giuseppe Pignata’s The Adventures of Giuseppe Pignata who Escaped from the Prisons of the Inquisition of Rome, with an introduction by Arthur Symons (London & Toronto, Jonathan Cape, 1930), and Jean de Villiers de l’Isle-Adam’s Queen Ysabeau, translated from “Les Contes cruels” (Chicago, Count Pembroke Press, 1925).


Alexander Teixeira de Mattos appears to have been a multilingual career translator. He occasionally translated from 1) the Danish [Carl Ewald’s Two-Legs, and other stories (London, Methuen & Co, 1907), My Little Boy (London, Methuen & Co, 1908), The Old Willow-tree, and other stories (London, Royal Road Library, 1921), The Pond (London, Royal Road Library, 1922)], 2) the Dutch [Jozef Israëls’s Spain. The Story of a Journey. With thirty-nine reproductions of drawings by the author (London, J. C. Nimmo, 1899), G. Hermine Marius’s Dutch Painting in the Nineteenth Century (London, Alexander Moring, 1908), Java van Melati (pseud. Nicolina Maria Christina Sloot)’s The Resident's Daughter [De Familie van den Resident] (London, Henry & Co, 1893)], 3) the German [Stephanus J.P. Kruger’s The Memoirs of Paul Kruger, four times President of the South African Republic. Told by himself (from Dr. Schowalter's revised German text) (London, T. Fisher Unwin, 1902], and 4) the West-Flemish (Stijn Streuvels (pseud. Frank Lateur)’s The Path of Life (London, G. Allen & Unwin, 1915)].


However, the vast majority of his translation was done from the French, and his preferred authors seem to have been Jean Fabre, Maurice Maeterlinck, and Maurice LeBlanc. He is the only member of the group to have translated more than one of Zola’s works, translating The Heirs of Rabourdin. A Comedy in Three Acts in 1894.

  • From the French

    • François René de Chateaubriand’s Memoirs d’outre-tombe (London, Freemantle & Co, 1902).

    • Louis Couperus’s Ecstasy. A Study of Happiness, translated with John Gray (London, Henry & Co, 1892), Majesty, translated with Ernest Dowson (London, T. Fisher Unwin, 1894)[30], Old People and the Things that Pass (London, Thornton Butterworth, 1919), The Tour. A Story of Ancient Egypt (London, Thornton Butterworth, 1920).

    • Jean Henri Casimir Fabre’s The Works of J. H. Fabre (1912), The Life of the Weevil (New York, Mead & Co, 1922), The Life of the Spider (London, Hodder & Stoughton, 1912), Bramble-Bees and Others, The Life of the Caterpillar, The Life of the Fly, With Which Are Interspersed Some Chapters of Autobiography, The Mason-Bees, More Hunting Wasps (London, Hodder & Stoughton), The Wonders of Instinct: Chapters in the Psychology of Insects (with Bernard Miall).

    • Fernand Grenard’s Tibet: the Country and its Inhabitants (London, Hutchinson & Co, 1904).

    • Aymeric Eugène d’Humières’s Through Isle and Empire (London, William Heinemann, 1905).

    • Georgette LeBlanc’s The Children's Blue Bird with illustrations by Albert Rothenstein (London, Methuen & Co, 1913) and The Girl who Found the Blue Bird (London, Hodder & Stoughton, 1914).

    • Maurice LeBlanc’s The Seven of Hearts, together with other exploits of Arsène Lupin (London, Cassell & Co, 1908), Arsène Lupin versus Holmlock Shears (London, Grant Richards, 1909), The Hollow Needle (London, Eveleigh Nash, 1911), The Confession of Arsène Lupin and The Frontier (London, Mills & Boon, 1912), The Crystal Stopper (London, Hurst & Blackett, 1913), The Teeth of the Tiger (London, Hurst & Blackett, 1915), The Bomb-Shell. 1914 (London, Hurst & Blackett, 1916), and The Three Eyes (London, Hurst & Blackett, 1921).

    • Jean Léonard’s The Souvenirs of Léonard with a preface and annotations by A. Teixeira de Mattos (London, Privately printed, 1897).

    • Gaston Leroux’s Balaoo (London, Hurst & Blackett, 1914) and The Phantom of the Opera (London, Hutchinson & Co, 1925).

    • Maurice Maeterlinck’s The Double Garden (London, George Allen, 1904), Joyzelle (London, George Allen, 1906), My Dog (London, George Allen, 1906), Life and Flowers (London, George Allen, 1907), The Blue Bird (London, Methuen & Co, 1909), Mary Magdalene (New York, Dodd, Mead & Co, 1910), Death (Methuen, 1912), The Wrack of the Storm [Essays on the European War] (London, Methuen & Co, 1916), The Miracle of Saint Anthony (London, Methuen & Co, 1918), The Burgomaster of Stilemonde (1918), Mountain Paths (London, Methuen & Co, 1919), The Betrothal or the Blue Bird Chooses (London, Methuen & Co, 1919).

    • Marie Charlotte Oudinot’s Memoirs of Marshal Oudinot (London, Henry & Co, 1896).

    • Xavier Paoli’s My Royal Clients (London, Hodder & Stoughton, 1911).

    • Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec-Monfa’s Yvette Guilbert. Drawn by H. de Toulouse Lautrec. Described by Arthur Byl (London, Bliss, Sands & Co, 1898).

    • Charles Alexis Clérel de Tocqueville’s The Recollections of Alexis de Tocqueville (London, Henry & Co, 1896).


Denise Merkle

She teaches literary translation, translation history and theory, terminology, thème and comparative stylistics at the Département de traduction et des langues of the Université de Moncton. Her research interests include female translators (Susanne de Lotbinière-Harwood, Antonine Maillet, Eleanor Marx-Aveling) and their relationship with the translator’s task, Victorian translators and publishers (of Zola’s novels, in particular) and intercultural censorship.




I am indebted to the Faculté des études supérieures et de la recherche of the Université de Moncton for contributing to travel costs (SSHRC funds) that enabled me to do research at the British Library.


Translators are finally getting their say! And well deserved it is when we consider the following quotation from the 1960s:

Today [Dowson’s] translations, no longer on sale for a guinea in booksellers’ windows, are of little interest except for the light they cast on the writers whom he liked to read and who influenced his original work (for he usually chose to translate the writers he admired). If the hours he spent translating “Beauty and the Beast” inspired him to a poem, a sketch, or a story of his own, they were not entirely misspent; few will deny, however, that for purposes of literature, as opposed to the pocketbook, they might have been better spent.

Swann, 1964, pp. 88-89

Ernest Dowson made translations for the little-known Lutetian Society, among other better-known publishers. One of the aims of this paper is to show that, for the purpose of literary transfer and intercultural communication, his translation hours as well as those of the other Lutetian Society translators were well spent.


He would found in 1896 the periodical The Savoy, the founding literary editor of which was Arthur Symons, one of the Lutetian Society translators.In Publisher to the Decadents, James G. Nelson affirms that Leonard Smithers was the man behind the Lutetian Society. One of his friends was A. Texeira de Mattos, “the translator and journalist who married Lily Wilde, the widow of Oscar’s brother, William, and who assisted Smithers with the Lutetian Society series” (Pennsylvania Park, The Pennsylvania State University Press, 2000, p. 95). “Smithers was almost certainly the entrepreneurial force behind this enterprise [the Zola translations] (Ibid., p. 323.).


It is curious that the authorities required additional cuts, for Vizetelly & Co’s Piping Hot! [Pot-Bouille] was less than two-thirds the length of Zola’s original. It appears that what most offended was such an integral part of Zola’s literary creation that cuts did not solve the problem, because this expurgated translation, among others, was banned by the courts. See also Denise Merkle, “Émile Zola devant la censure victorienne,” TTR vol. VII, no 1 (1994), pp. 77-91 and “When Expurgation Constitutes Ineffective Censorship. The Case of Three Vizetelly Translations of Zola,” Translation and Meaning, Part 5. Proceedings of the Maastricht Session of the 3rd International Maastricht-Lodz Duo Colloquium, held in Maastricht, The Netherlands, 26 - 29 April 2000. B. Lewandowska-Tomaszczyk and M. Thelen, eds. Maastricht, Maastricht School of Translation and Interpreting, Hogeschool Maastricht, 2001, pp. 285-293.


A significant increase in translation activity reveals a desire to renew a culture and its literature (Edwin Gentzler, Contemporary Translation Theories. London/New York, Routledge Inc., 1993, p. 9). The 1880s and 1890s was a period of intense translation activity in Britain.


A letter from Ernest Vizetelly to Émile Zola dated October 2, 1894 shows that Ernest Vizetelly knew nothing about the Lutetian Society and wished to find out more about it. It appears that Zola also knew nothing about it because Vizetelly assured him that he would send on what he had learnt: “J’ai aussi aujourd’hui mis un libraire de mes amis sur la piste des vrais éditeurs de la soi-disante Société Lutétienne qui publie cette édition de luxe des Rougon-Macquart. Il m’a promis une prompte solution. Dès que je saurai au juste à qui l’on a affaire je vous avertirai” (qtd. by Morel, 1997, p. 10). In a letter dated June 16, 1895, Vizetelly forwards the following information on to Zola: “Je n’ai pu rien avoir de la Société Lutétienne : il s’est élevé un point de droit assez curieux. Nos adversaires prétendent que par suite du procès de mon père il ne peut y avoir de droits dans les romans qui ont été associés à ce procès ; puisque le jugement qui a condamné mon père a en même temps condamné les romans, et qu’il ne peut y avoir de droits dans une chose défendue par la loi — légalement, disent-ils, personne n’a le droit de publier en Angleterre les romans qui ont été en cause dans le procès ; quant à eux ils ne les ont publiés que sub rosa — par souscription, en cachette — et ils prétendent que je ne puis les en empêcher puisque ni vous ni moi ne pouvons avoir un titre légal dans une chose défendue par jugement des tribunaux” (qtd. by Morel, 1997, p. 11). During the 1999 Aizen Conference (San Francisco, October 8), Dr. Brigitte Émile-Zola stated that Zola was unaware of this translation project.


According to Morel (1997, p. 6), the Lutetian Society published nothing else and nothing was written about them. However, our search at the British Library has turned up two additional translations: Voltaire’s La Pucelle d’Orléans translated by Ernest Dowson as the The Maid of Orleans (1899) and M.G. Lewis’s the Four Facardins (1899), a translation and continuation of le Comte Anthony (Antoine) Hamilton’s Les Quatre Facardins. According to James G. Nelson (2000, see our note 3), Leonard Smithers published Ernest Dowson’s translation of Choderlos de Laclos’s Les Liaisons dangereuses with the Lutetian Society imprint (p. 339).


At the end of the 1890s finally appeared the complete translation of Balzac’s La Comédie humaine (1898) by George Saintsbury, a translation that transformed Balzac into the great end-of-the-century-writer. According to Arthur Symons, Balzac’s greatness lay in his “insight into humanity” (Decker, 1952, p. 60). Defender of Zola and of naturalism in the 1880s, in 1899 George Moore wrote that Balzac was “the greatest of all creative geniuses” (Ibid.,p. 59).


Two important years for Zola and French naturalism during the history of the naturalism controversy were 1888 and 1889, the two years of the Vizetelly trials that resulted in Henry Vizetelly’s incarceration for having republished banned translations. According to Decker (1952, p. 32), the English tradition required that a novel “teach and delight” (p. 34). Though Zola’s novels were intended to be didactic, they were not a delight, for they dealt with the more sordid aspects of life. According to Walter Scott, a novel had to reproduce the truth and be moral (Decker, 1952, p. 39). Zola’s novels portrayed the truth and though moralizing were not moral, at least according to Victorian standards of morality. “To delight and be moral” appear to have ruled the day, since generally speaking the English criticized harshly Zola’s novels.


George Moore was a staunch supporter of Zola during the 1880s, making arrangements with Zola to sell the British rights to La Terre to Vizetelly, but did a complete about face in the 1890s.


After the bankruptcy of Vizetelly & Co, Ernest Vizetelly went to work for Chatto and Windus that published highly expurgated versions of Zola’s novels that were not covered by the ban. Further reading, see Graham King, 1978.


Sherard was also a defender and biographer of Oscar Wilde. His publications include: Twenty Years of Paris, Modern Paris, My Friends the French, The White Slaves of England, Oscar Wilde: the Story of an Unhappy Friendship. The publisher of the Zola study, Andrew Chatto, sent on November 1, 1893 a copy of Sherard’s book to Zola. “Le 8 novembre, Ernest Vizetelly écrivit à Zola : ‘Le livre de Sherard vient de recevoir un très bon accueil de la plupart des critiques. [...] Depuis votre départ nous vivons dans une atmosphère de bataille, et il ne s’écoule guère de jour sans qu’on appelle mon attention sur un article ou un autre qui parle de vous et de vos ouvrages. Deux évêques et plusieurs pasteurs protestants se sont mis à vous attaquer [...]. Il faut dire que de nombreux journaux prennent votre défense et il devient incontestable que, si vous n’avez pas encore bataille gagnée ici, vous avez au moins recruté un grand nombre de partisans.’” Bard H. Bakker, ed. Émile Zola Correspondance 1893-1897, vol. VIII (Montréal/Paris, Les Presses de l’Université de Montréal/Éditions du CNRS, 1991, p. 78).


Thomas Swann recounts Frank Harris meeting Dowson in a bar off Leicester Square and hearing him recite a translation from Verlaine. Harris remarked that, though Dowson had caught Verlaine’s “ineffable sadness,” the translation on the whole was rather poor. “‘So was the price paid for it,’ Dowson laughed, ‘a measly ten shillings. What can you expect for that?’” (in Swann, 1964, pp. 88-89).


Arthur Symons is considered a Decadent by some.


Home of the Pont-Aven School known as a famous international art colony during the late nineteenth century thanks in part to Paul Gauguin’s six visits from 1886-1894. Among other painters, Gauguin discovered and influenced Paul Sérusier, who would found the Nabis group. Painter Ferdinand de Puigaudeau lived there from 1895 to 1898 and was a friend of Ernest Dowson. See alson Mark Longaker’s Ernest Dowson (1944), in particular the chapter “Pont-Aven” (pp. 198-231).


Havelock Ellis writes in “Eleanor Marx — II,” Adelphi (11/1, October, 1935, pp. 32-41) that Eleanor Marx-Aveling invited him to a private reading in English of an “unadulterated” Nora (now known as A Doll’s House) at the Avelings’ flat on January 15, 1885 (p. 35).


Further reading: Graham Falconer, “Mme Bovary and the Translators,” in Significations: Essays in Honour of Henry Schogt. Parth Bhatt, ed. (Toronto, Canadian Scholars Press, 1997, pp. 41-50), Denise Merkle, “Eleanor Marx-Aveling aux prises avec le symbolique,” in “Gustave Flaubert et Émile Zola devant la censure française et britannique" [unpublished dissertation] Kingston, Ontario: Queen’s University, 1999, pp. 202-247), and Hannelore Lee-Jahnke, “Eleanor Marx, traductrice militante et miroir d’Emma Bovary,” in Portraits de traductrices, Jean Delisle, ed. (Ottawa, Presses de l’Université d’Ottawa, 2002, pp. 321-369).


He is the Monsieur Verog in Ezra Pound’s Hugh Selwyn Mauberley.


“Stray Gauls used to be imported to grace literary circles here [90s]. I remember one such — a rare instance of a rough Frenchman — to whom Dowson was devoted. When a Gaul appeared in a coterie we were either silent, like the schoolgirls in their French conversation hour, or we talked a weird un-French French like the ladies in some of Du Maurier’s drawings.” (Plarr, 1914, p. 23)


In his Memoirs, he writes: “In Paris it is the most natural thing in the world to meet and discuss literature, ideas, one’s own and one another’s work; and it can be done without pretentiousness or constraint, because, to the Latin mind, art, ideas, one’s work and the work of one’s friends, are definite and important things, which it would never occur to any one to take anything but seriously. In England art has to be protected, not only against the world, but against oneself and one’s fellow-artist, by a kind of affected modesty which is the Englishman’s natural pose, half pride and half self-distrust” (in Beckson, 1977, p. 83).


Dowson may have first met Sherard in March 1893 at the Temple and appears to have met Zola who, as we have seen, was invited by the Institute of Journalists to speak: “I [Dowson] was staying with Teixeira last night in the Temple, and sat up [late] talking to Sherard who is there and who came over with Zola and is writing a biography of him for Chatto and Windus. He is charming but the most morose and spleenful person I have yet encountered. His conversation is undiluted vitriol — like the man — nescio quem in ‘La Première Maitresse’” (in Flower, 1967, pp. 294-295).


In 1933 Ellis’s translation of Germinal was reissued by J. M. Dent & Sons Ltd of London and Toronto, and included an introduction by the translator. The translation was reprinted in 1964 by Dent (London) and Dutton (New York).


Pot-Bouille was reprinted in 1953 by Weidenfeld & Nicolson (London) with illustrations by Philip Gough, and without illustrations by Elek Books of London in 1957 and again in 1958.


Nana was reprinted in 1957 by Elek Books of London.


Boni & Liveright of New York subscribed 2050 privately printed “sets” of the Lutetian Society translations in 1924, declaring that the translations would not be “reissued” (title page).


Symons’s translation of L’Assommoir was reissued in 1928 by T. Werner Laurie Ltd, with “Introduction” by Arthur Symons.


The translation retitled The Kill was reprinted by Weidenfeld & Nicolson of London in 1954 (illustrations by Peter Emmerich), by Elek Books in London in 1957, by World Distributors in London in 1959, and by Arrow Books in London in 1967.


The British Library Catalogue is the primary source of information recorded in this annexe. Other sources are clearly identified.


In his translation of Baudelaire, Symons is accused by T.S. Eliot of “domesticating,” of turning the French poet into a contemporary of Dowson and Wilde (in Venuti, 1995, p. 189).


At the request of T. Fisher Unwin, Teixeira de Mattos started translating Majesty by Louis Couperus for a stipulated sum. However, having more pressing responsibilities, he handed off the project to Dowson (Longaker, 1944, p. 133).




ANONYMOUS (1894). “Note,” in L’Assommoir. Arthur Symons, trans. London, Lutetian Society, n.p.


BECKERMAN, Helene (1981). “Comparative Study of Four English Translations of Germinal.” [Unpublished master’s thesis.] Montréal, Université de Montréal.


BECKSON, Karl, ed. (1977). The Memoirs of Arthur Symons: Life & Art in the 1890s. University Park & London, The Pennsylvania State University Press.


BENSIMON, Paul (1990). “Presentation,” in Palimpsestes, no 4. Paris, Publications de la Sorbonne Nouvelle, pp. ix-xiii.




COLBURN, William Elliot (1952). “Zola in England, 1883-1903” [unpublished doctoral dissertation]. Urbana (Illinois), University of Illinois.


CRONIN, Michael (2000). Across the Lines: Travel, Language, Translation. Cork (Ireland), Cork University Press.


DECKER, Clarence E. (1952). The Victorian Conscience. New York, Twayne.


ELLIS, Havelock (1933). “Introduction,” in Germinal. London, J. M. Dent & Sons Ltd, pp. vii-ix.


FLETCHER, Ian, ed. (1974). “Introduction,” in The Collected Poems of Victor Plarr. London, Eric & Joan Stevens, pp. xi-xvii.


FLOWER, Desmond and Henry MAAS (1967). The Letters of Ernest Dowson, London, Cassell & Company Ltd.


FRIERSON, William (1928). “The English Controversy over Realism in Fiction, 1885-1895,” PMLA 43, pp. 533-550. DOI:10.2307/457639


GAMBIER, Yves et al. (1996). “Les traducteurs, importateurs de valeurs culturelles,” in Les traducteurs dans l’histoire. Jean Delisle and Judith Woodsworth, eds. Ottawa, Presses de l’Université d’Ottawa, pp. 193-224.


GAWSWORTH, John (1939). The Dowson Legend. London, Humphrey Milford, Oxford University Press.


KING, Graham (1978). A Garden of Zola. New York, Harper & Row Publishers, Inc., Barnes & Noble Import Division.


LETHBRIDGE, Robert (1995). “Zola and England,” Bulletin of the Émile Zola Society, 10 (April), pp. 3-13.


——— (2000). “Percy Pinkerton’s Pot-Bouille,” Bulletin of the Émile Zola Society, 21 (March), pp. 14-19.


LONGAKER, Mark (1944). Ernest Dowson. Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania Press.


MOREL, Chantal (1997). “Did you say...the Lutetian Society?,” Bulletin of the Émile Zola Society, 16 (September), pp. 6-15.


PLARR, Victor (1914). Ernest Dowson 1888-1897: Reminiscences, Unpublished Letters and Marginalia. London, Elkin Mathews.


SWANN, Thomas B. (1964). Ernest Dowson. New York, Twayne Publishers.


SYMONS, Arthur (1902) “Memoir of Ernest Dowson [reprinted from the Fortnightly Review (1900)],” in The Poems of Ernest Dowson by Ernest Dowson. Portland (Me), Thomas B. Mosher, pp. v-xxix.


TANCOCK, Leonard (1972). “On translating Zola,” Balzac and the Nineteenth Century: Studies in French Literature presented to Hubert J. Hunt. D.G. Charlton et al, eds. Leicester, Leicester University Press, pp. 377-389.


VENUTI, Lawrence (1995). The Translator’s Invisibility. London/New York, Routledge.


WHITE, Nicholas (1995). “Fin-de-siècle Exchanges: Arthur Symons, Translator of Émile Zola,” Bulletin of the Émile Zola Society, 12 (December), pp. 11-22.


ZOLA, Émile (1894). L’Assommoir. Arthur Symons, trans. London, Lutetian Society.


——— (1894). Nana. Victor Plarr, trans. London, Lutetian Society.


——— (1895). La Curée (The Hounds’ Fee). Alexander Teixeira de Mattos, trans. London, Lutetian Society.


——— (1895). La Terre. Ernest Dowson, trans. London, Lutetian Society.


——— (1895). Germinal. Havelock Ellis, trans. London, Lutetian Society.


——— (1895). Pot-Bouille. Percy E. Pinkerton, trans. London, Lutetian Society.

Auteur : Denise Merkle
Titre : The Lutetian Society
Revue : , Volume 16, numéro 2, 2003, p. 73-101
URI : http://id.erudit.org/iderudit/010716ar
DOI : 10.7202/010716ar

Tous droits réservés © TTR: traduction, terminologie, rédaction — Les auteurs, 2003

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