Alice Kaplan on the (titular) history of Camus’s The Stranger

October 19, 2016
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From a recent piece by Alice Kaplan for the Guardian, on the strange history of title decisions behind Albert Camus’s classic existential text, The Stranger, drawn from her recent critical biography of the book:

Readers were never informed that the two titles were an accident, and for years, no one has been able to explain why Camus’s L’Étranger is sometimes The Stranger, sometimes The Outsider. And while political questions were not part of the original decision, the titles do resonate differently and lend themselves to conflicting political interpretations. An Algerian critic argued recently, in a review of Sandra Smith’s 2013 translation of L’Étranger, that the title The Outsider is politically scandalous, for it effaces the ambiguity in the French word “étranger” and substitutes a more banal idea of someone being “excluded”. He thought Smith’s 2013 title was new – not realising that the British have used it since 1946.

In the end, I prefer The Stranger to The Outsider. Yet Meursault, the narrator of the novel, is not a foreigner; he is a Frenchman in colonial Algiers, a “petit colon”, and his strangeness is more like the strangeness of an outsider than the strangeness of an alien. So I question my own preference. I wonder if I like The Stranger simply because it’s the title I’m used to. How many readers flinched when Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past became, in a new Viking translation, In Search of Lost Time, even though this is a more direct translation? Then there’s Dostoevsky – The Possessed, The Devils, The Demons – what difference does it make?

Whether the titles of translated works sound familiar or foreign, whether they are literal renderings or poetic departures, their fate is unpredictable. L’Étranger has sold millions of copies in Britain and the US. Kuncewiczowa’s The Stranger, the hidden cause of L’Étranger’s two titles, is still considered a masterpiece in Poland. But the English translation is no longer in print.

Chicagoans: join Kaplan on October 19th (tonight!), 6-8PM,  at the Seminary Co-op Bookstore, 5751 S. Woodlawn Ave., for a conversation with UCP editorial director Alan Thomas about Looking for The Stranger. More details are available here.

To read the Guardian piece in full, click here.

To read more about Looking for The Stranger, click here.

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