A Second Translator’s Note

In April 1943, Le Petit Prince was published in New York, a year before Antoine Saint-Exupéry was shot down over the Mediterranean by German reconnaissance planes. The English translation, by Katherine Woods, was copyrighted the same year . . . .

As in the case of contemporaries like Mann and Gide (the latter a great admirer of Saint-Exupéry), new versions of “canonical” translations raise questions (or at least suspicions) of lèse-majesté. A second translator into English of The Little Prince accepts the responsibility of such an imputation, for it must be acknowledged that all translations date; certain works never do. A new version of a work fifty-seven years old is entitled to and, indeed, is obliged to persist further in the letter of that work. Each decade has its circumlocutions, its compliances; the translator seeks these out, as we see in Ms. Woods’s pioneer endeavors, falls back on period makeshifts rather than confronting the often radical outrage of what the author, in his incomparable originality, ventures to say. The translator, it is seen in the fullness of time, so rarely ventures in this fashion, but rather falls back, as I say. It is the peculiar privilege of the next translator, in his own day and age, to sally forth, to be inordinate instead of placating or merely plausible. Time reveals all translation to be paraphrase, and it is in the longing for a standard version of a “beloved” work that we must begin again, we translators — that we must overtake one another.

— Richard Howard,
June 2000

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