The Normative Model of Twentieth Century Belles Infidèles: Detective Novels in French Translation

Clem Robyns
Comparative Literature, K.U. Leuven Belgian National Fund for Scientific Research


This paper draws on an analysis of Anglo-American detectives, thrillers and spy stories translated into the French Série Noire between the late fifties and the early seventies. Almost all of these translations are of the non-adequate type: the original novels are transformed according to an elaborate narrative model. It appears that these translation strategies correspond to the systemic position of the Série Noire in the French detective genre. However, they also fit into the old French tradition of translations as belles infideles, which was said to have "disappeared" in the 19th century.

Table of contents

Especially since the systemic approach became a common denominator of an important part of cultural studies, numerous publications have severely denounced the exclusion of trivial literature and marginal genres, as well as translations, from the subject matter of literary science. (See Even-Zohar [ p. 24 ] 1979, Lambert 1986, Lambert 1987.) On the other hand it is obvious that this exclusivism still plays its part. In the field of translation studies, for instance, the restriction of the field to translations of "all-time classics" has caused the premature proclamation of the death of the belles infidèles, the tradition of the "unfaithful" and strongly narrative-oriented translations in France from the 17th to the beginning of the 19th century (e.g. von Stackelberg 1971, 1988). Still, from a certain number of contemporary studies (e.g. Shavit 1981) we may infer that the belles infidèles never "disappeared". Rather, as the norm of the text's fullness imposed itself in the canonized system, thus putting an end to the tradition there, the phenomenon of "inadequate" and narrative-based translations was relegated to the noncanonized system, where translating a novel apparently still was (and often is) considered as rendering a narrative structure rather than a text: the belles infidèles of our time are detective, thriller, spy stories and the like.

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A. Texts (a selection)

Aarons, Edward S.
Assignment Treason. Greenwich, Connecticut: Fawcett.Google Scholar
A la muette. Paris: Gallimard, Série Noire 586 translated by T. Elena.Google Scholar
The Art Studio Murders. New York: MacFadden.Google Scholar
Peinture au couteau. Paris: Gallimard Serie Noire 978, translated by M. Elfvik.Google Scholar
Canning, Victor
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Le pion de la reine. Paris: Gallimard, Série Noire 1415, translated by A. Chataignier.Google Scholar
Gores, Joe
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La loi des minets. Paris: Gallimard, Série Noire 1415, translated by G. Dosithé.Google Scholar
Marlowe, Dan J.
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Décarrade aux Bahamas. Paris: Gallimard, Série Noire 1505, translated by M. Sinet.Google Scholar

[ p. 42 ] B. Studies

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