We wuz robbed

The Man who Robbed Poor-boxes by Michel Servin, in the 1965 translation by Anthony and Llewela Burgess.

Copy in the possession of Chris Knight. Photo: Chris Knight

Chris Knight points out that unlike in the case of two other translations by Burgess and his first wife — Jean Pélégri’s The Olive-trees of Justice and Michel de Saint-Pierre’s The New Aristocrats — the couple receive no credit for the translation on the title page.

‘If I considered a book from France or Italy worthy of translation, I would sometimes be offered a hundred pounds to do the job myself. The contract specified “good literary English”, whatever that was. Lynne and I stayed up for most of the night on three very minor French novels. [Jean Pélégri’s Les Oliviers de la justice (1959), Michel de Saint-Pierre’s Les Nouveaux Aristocrates (1961) and Michel Servin’s Deo Gratias (1965), the latter given the English-language title The Man who Robbed Poor-boxes.] With the help of the big Cassell’s dictionary she would rough out the English and I would then gorblimey it into the good literary form required. But Lynne’s tenses were weak, and she would confuse imperfects and conditionals. This would entail cursing retyping and dawn threats of suicide.’ (You’ve Had Your Time, Being the Second Part of the Confessions of Anthony Burgess, p. 35)

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