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Thread: Why aren't the French as widely read as the Russians?

  1. #16
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    Quote Originally Posted by mande2013 View Post
    That probably depends largely on who you speak to. "Leftist intellectual" types may opt for Balzac and Stendhal while the dandies may primarily go for Flaubert and Hugo.
    It is not just about who we pick. He was the heavy hitter of French literature in XIX century, the one who broke with the enlightment names, build himself a huge reputation as poet, as novelist, managed to get popular and was the shadow Flaubert and Balzac had to face and admire. He is the closest thing to a national hero among writers and while we may argue if Flaubert or Verlaine were better at their specific crafts as Hugo (which is purelly an argument, the truth may not be so clear), there is no doubt he is the one who could claim the highest level of quality with prose and poetry unlike any of the other big names (Even Baudelaire, his prose is great, but he rather made it be poetry or essays). Of course, by the end of XIX century, realism made Hugo a bit outdated, his political views naive, but then, you can say the same about Zola/Flaubert when Proust happened.

    All in all, Hugo was not the Goethe, Cervantes, Shakespeare of France, just almost, because French literature is rather multiple and they do enjoy cutting heads.

  2. #17
    Registered User Jackson Richardson's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by mande2013 View Post
    That probably depends largely on who you speak to. "Leftist intellectual" types may opt for Balzac and Stendhal while the dandies may primarily go for Flaubert and Hugo.
    Don't understand. Balzac was a right winger and Hugo definitely on the left.

    Oscar Wilde, a dandy if ever there was one, was a great Balzac lover.

    I answer to the original question it may just be that Tolstoy and Dostoevsky are particularly impressive by any standard. I'm not sure that lesser Russian novelists are more read than comparable French ones.
    Previously JonathanB

    The more I read, the more I shall covet to read. Robert Burton The Anatomy of Melancholy Partion3, Section 1, Member 1, Subsection 1

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    Sholokhov great? A joke surely. A little boy writing glib stories for little boys.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jackson Richardson View Post
    Don't understand. Balzac was a right winger and Hugo definitely on the left.

    Oscar Wilde, a dandy if ever there was one, was a great Balzac lover.

    I answer to the original question it may just be that Tolstoy and Dostoevsky are particularly impressive by any standard. I'm not sure that lesser Russian novelists are more read than comparable French ones.
    If you consider Saint-Exupéry as lesser something, no russian book is as popular as Little Prince. I am not sure if there is even a russian book, be War and Peace or Pushkin's as popular as Dumas most famous works.

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    Or maybe the classic 'Russian author' trope is just incorporated cultural branding. Something people heard somewhere before, and make reference to, whether or not the reality of the situation is accounted for. It's almost passe ' -- "I enjoy 19th century Russian literature." Is that utterance just a party trick, is the speaker more interested in what it suggests rather than directly presents? Are people repeating something that's been collected and asserted into the common realm of knowledge?

    To flush out the connotations, consider how "19th century Russian literature" is collectively used in figurative language, or a joke. The concept has a meaning that has been assigned to it outside of itself. 'Everybody' knows it is dense, complicated, an intellectual feat.

    '19th century French literature'-- the extended meaning isn't as readily available. The utterance isn't as loaded, so to speak.

    In short, the branding has failed you. That's why your question is almost equivalent to asking: "Why is the gag about Russian authors more widely known than the gag about French authors?"

    "Why am I more familiar with concept A than concept B, regardless of which concept is true (if any)?"

    As someone who has actually read at least portions of all but one of the authors you've mentioned, Jack of Hearts would have to say Zola and Flaubert occupy first position in terms of actual artistic capability, both authors in their original languages or in translations were clearly superior prose stylists, but there's no accounting for taste.







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    Call it what you may, but I don't think novelists should be assessed exclusively on the basis of their ability as prose stylists. It's only one factor in my opinion. It would be like valuing Ingres over Cezanne because the former is *obviously* a better draftsman.

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    French relies heavily on form, which is almost totally lost on English readers. Coleridge had disparaging remarks for French literature as well; this is not a new phenomenon. Generally it's because the English world cannot read French properly, and loses a sense of feeling for the texture of the work.

    French poetry in particular is far more reliant on form than most other languages; therefore if your prosody and phonology are lacking, you will not understand the poem.

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    Quote Originally Posted by ennison View Post
    Sholokhov great? A joke surely. A little boy writing glib stories for little boys.
    Just goes to show how personal taste in literature is...

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    Quote Originally Posted by JBI View Post
    French relies heavily on form, which is almost totally lost on English readers. Coleridge had disparaging remarks for French literature as well; this is not a new phenomenon. Generally it's because the English world cannot read French properly, and loses a sense of feeling for the texture of the work.

    French poetry in particular is far more reliant on form than most other languages; therefore if your prosody and phonology are lacking, you will not understand the poem.
    I agree entirely. Sadly this is true of all languages, especially those we learn in school rather than in earlier years at home.

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    The English poetic idiom in general, however, is more contemplative than lyrical. Iambic pentameter as a meter is much slower, and offers enough room to make sustained arguments with reflection (compared to lets say Trochaic tetrameter catalectic lines which are faster, and have been used for the most lyric of English verses for instance, Blake's Tyger). In translation then, pentameter, to me anyway, seems much easier to deal with; the rhetorical argument can more or less be translated, whereas the lyrical qualities of verse are far more difficult.

    French almost entirely is in the opposite camp by my understanding, so it has that disadvantage. That being said, however, Zola in translation (prose now) pretty much reshaped the economy of publication in late 19th century Britain. His publisher managed to undercut all the lending libraries to create the form of mass best-seller in a way that paved the way for modern English novels and publication. So in prose, there is definately a fashion to French novels, particularly in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

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    Quote Originally Posted by JBI View Post
    French almost entirely is in the opposite camp by my understanding, so it has that disadvantage. That being said, however, Zola in translation (prose now) pretty much reshaped the economy of publication in late 19th century Britain. His publisher managed to undercut all the lending libraries to create the form of mass best-seller in a way that paved the way for modern English novels and publication. So in prose, there is definately a fashion to French novels, particularly in the 19th and early 20th centuries.
    What does this mean? Are you talking about publishing, or actual influence "in prose" (stylistics)?

    This reader is no expert in the history of 20th century publishing. But the point that Zola, in translation, influenced English prose stylistics just simply cannot be true-- wouldn't we have had better (more artistically capable) anglophone writers? Not a scholar, but as someone who likes reading, JoH doesn't see much influence of either Flaubert or Zola in early 20th century (English or American) prose style.

    And isn't it also true that Zola wasn't even translated intelligently until the 1960s? Aside from parts of the original French, yours truly has read multiple translations of Zola. The earlier translations are unpleasant, and not in a 'language of the times' kind of way.








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    Not exactly about Zola, but Joyce, for example, was under Flaubert influence. You have to account how those french novelists were also an influence over russian, german and portuguese novelists. Like I said early, Zola's article on Dreyfuss was notorious in all europe. Chekhov and Gorki were ravaging about it. This without mentioning Rimbaud, Verlaine, Mallarmé, Baudelaire who are behind several authors. France was pretty much the intellectual center of western world until the wars, after all.

    As english novels, we today may consider a bunch of novels writen in english as great from the period, such as Moby Dick (Melville was a bit rediscovered by europeans before the americans did, so was Poe), or Wuthering Heights or Middlemarch, etc but I recall E.M.Foster giving a lecture and pretty much claimming how the english language lacked any novel at the level of Dostoievisky, Tolstoy and the French guys. This was in the 20's, so the english world wasnt so secure of their power at that point while the French had the longest and more steady novelist tradition of Europe (Spain never kept the Cervantes level after all).

    It seems to exist here a very underating of French influence/importance in this thread.

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    Quote Originally Posted by JCamilo View Post
    Not exactly about Zola, but Joyce, for example, was under Flaubert influence.
    Good point. Could easily see this, but not for his novels. Joyce is the exception, though, not the rule. And Joyce is regarded highly, and rightfully so, as a short story writer.

    You have to account how those french novelists were also an influence over russian, german and portuguese novelists.
    Yours truly only reads in English and French, and is concerned chiefly with style in English

    Of course we say that, globally, those French writers were very influential. Nobody is arguing that.






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  14. #29
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jack of Hearts View Post
    What does this mean? Are you talking about publishing, or actual influence "in prose" (stylistics)?

    This reader is no expert in the history of 20th century publishing. But the point that Zola, in translation, influenced English prose stylistics just simply cannot be true-- wouldn't we have had better (more artistically capable) anglophone writers? Not a scholar, but as someone who likes reading, JoH doesn't see much influence of either Flaubert or Zola in early 20th century (English or American) prose style.

    And isn't it also true that Zola wasn't even translated intelligently until the 1960s? Aside from parts of the original French, yours truly has read multiple translations of Zola. The earlier translations are unpleasant, and not in a 'language of the times' kind of way.








    J
    Prior to Zola, in general readers were buying volumes of books (meaning one novel devided into 3-5parts) at an impossible amount of money. Therefore instead of buying books, people would subscribe to a library (not cheap either). This general form was undercut by Visatelli's translations and publishings of Single volume Zola novels, which were a massive best-seller in this cheap format. The serial form and then the published 3 volume form which were the media of the day ended up giving way to the cheap form embodied by Zola's publications. The journalistic quality of the work had an effect of pushing immediate commentary into the published form, as apposed to the serial form.

    If you look on this website, for instance, you will see that almost all the Zola translations are like such, they are all very near the publication of the oirignal French text (usually within weeks of original publication).

    This isn't so much the style or content as it is the form and method of writing, which proved far more influential than we credit.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jack of Hearts View Post
    Good point. Could easily see this, but not for his novels. Joyce is the exception, though, not the rule. And Joyce is regarded highly, and rightfully so, as a short story writer.
    Flaubert is everywhere in Ulysses. You could add other french influences on Joyce (Like Mallarmé), but I see no point mentioning about his short stories. Joyce status as novelist is way above his status as short story writer. And he is not the exception. Flaubert is influence for Henry James, Faulkner, Nabokov. In a way, everytime you meantion modern realistic novel, it is Flaubert hands behind it. Critics like James Woods place Flaubert as a turning point in the history of novels and they may right as Flaubert stylistic obssession was finail nail on poetry coffin and the true stabilishment as prose as the reingning literary style.

    And he wasnt the only one. People are forgetting the russian raise as stars was more in the XX century than during their lifetime. In the XIX century, French novelists were the big power which includes england and their love-hate relationship with french pals. .

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