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The jumping frog : in English, then in…
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The jumping frog : in English, then in French, then clawed back into a… (original 1875; edition 1985)

by Mark Twain

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129293,299 (4)1
Member:MuuMuuMousie
Title:The jumping frog : in English, then in French, then clawed back into a civilized language once more by patient, unremunerated toil
Authors:Mark Twain
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Tags:Humor, 19th Century, Foreign Language

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The Jumping Frog: In English. Then in French. Then Clawed Back into a Civilized Language Once More by Patient, Unremunerated Toil by Mark Twain (1875)

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Mark Twain's sense of humor is peculiar, for want of a better word. I think I understand what he was trying to do here, but if I could sum this book up in just one word, I would call it strange. I'm always amused when an author addresses the readers (say, in an introduction, or in an afterward) without actually breaking from the fiction of the narrative, and that seems to be the whole point of this revenge edition.

"The Amazing Jumping Frog of Calaveras County" is a short story about a man who gets roped into listening to another man who loves to hear himself talk. The poor guy has to sit through a stream of meaningless stories that don't seem to go anywhere, and he can't get a word in edgewise. The man talks about a horse, about a sick woman, about a dog, and of course, about a jumping frog. It's not my cup of tea, but I can appreciate the humor that comes first of all from the dialect, secondly from the archetype of the old-timer who leisurely rambles on about whatever comes into his head, and thirdly, and to a much lesser degree, the weird nature of the stories themselves.

This edition, however, isn't really about the original short story. Twain must have really loved framing because he takes his handful of stories within a story and shoves the whole lot into yet another story. Twain introduces the text by saying that he wants to rebut an unfavorable review about his talents as a humorist; his argument is that the reviewer (who was French) did not get to appreciate his work fully because he was reading a crummy translation that screwed up the humor of the tale. This introduction is some of the funniest prose in the book. Twain includes his original story, the French translation, and his English re-translation of the French.

It is here that the humor falls flat, at least for me. Twain's goal here is *not* to show his anglophone readers how the French experienced his work. His goal is to entertain, and he does this by offering a silly re-translation, mistranslating (I assume on purpose) so that he can poke fun at --what, exactly? French syntax? The lack of a French equivalent to an American southern drawl? The idea of translation? All of the above, perhaps. But what I don't understand is why. He claims to have done the translation himself, and he also claims not to speak French. These claims may or may not be true; I get the feeling he's spinning another yarn. And, as though to substantiate these claims, the translation is bad. I mean really, really bad. Again, I assume this is deliberate. How else would he get away with translating adjectives as nouns and treating single negations as double?

The actual story within a story within a story -- the actual part about a frog -- would not be interesting at all without the frame of the long-winded storyteller with a captive audience. Yet the pseudo-translation, which is hilarious by itself (seriously, just try to read it out loud with a straight face), loses all its power in the framing. Twain snarkily calls it a serious translation, and clearly he means it NOT to be, and somehow, this just seems like an odd vehicle for such a hatchet job.

But that's not all! What's a revenge translation without an epilogue? Twain tells of an encounter with a man who claims that the story of the jumping frog dates back to antiquity. According to the epilogue, this man produced a book containing an ancient Greek tale that is eerily close to Twain's story. At first, Twain says that he had not meant to repeat the story. He says that he had never heard of the story, and that the similarities are just a coincidence. Then, Twain claims that the stories are far too similar, and he realizes that the alleged ancient text was phony. I don't know how to respond to this, since I think there's a pretty good chance that the whole epilogue was phony. If so, it's perhaps one of the more interesting takes on an unreliable narrator. I have read fiction books with nonfiction, honest, serious introductions and afterwards. This was not one of them. Then again, it's Twain, so what did I expect?

And for what it's worth, I was pretty impressed by the French translation. ( )
  MuuMuuMousie | Dec 7, 2012 |
You know, I've never been much one for Twain, but I take French and this book proves hysterical.
  denelirate | Mar 10, 2007 |
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Mark Twainprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Robinson, Alan JamesIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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This is the "revenge" edition, in the original English, translated to French, and re-translated to English --- "clawed back into a civilized language" --- by Twain. The re-translation is the whole point.
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