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Say What? Equivalence in Tremblay’s Albertine en Cinq Temps and Albertine in Five Times

Posted 3 years 284 days ago ago by Annette Labbé     0 Comments

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While thinking about what to write for this week’s blog, I remembered an assignment I had while I was a student in University for my Translation Theory course. The assignment was to read Michel Tremblay’s play Albertine en Cinq Temps and compare it the English translation Albertine in Five Times.

I don’t want to give away too much as far as the plot of the play, but once I explain basically what it’s about, you’ll understand why I jumped at the chance to analyze it.

Let me just say that this is not your typical play. It does not unfold in a linear chronological fashion. Rather, it unfolds in a way that is simultaneous and chaotic which only adds to the drama.

The play is about a woman in her 70s, Albertine. She’s in a nursing home. As she remembers things that have happened in her life, she has conversations with her former selves at 30, 40, 50 and 60 years old… all at the same time.

Albertine, as one might imagine, has changed a lot throughout her life. Consequently, each of her former “selves” have distinct personalities when they manifest:  at 30 years old, Albertine is filled with rage. At 40, she’s an emotional wreck. At 50 years old, she tries to escape her problems and make a life for herself.  At 60, Albertine is broken. She’s ill and is consumed by guilt. Albertine at 70 years old takes on the role of mediator with her “selves” as she has had time to process everything that has happened and she’s acquired a fair amount of wisdom. Albertine also has a younger sister Madeleine and she joins the conversations even though she has been deceased for some time.

I’d never read a play quite like this before or since. The translation of this play, Albertine in Five Times, was not able to maintain the same quality as the original Albertine en Cinq Temps.  For starters, the original play was peppered with nonstandard dialect, also known as joual (the author, Tremblay, is Québécois) and so it had some very distinct speech patterns and mannerisms. Things like that don’t translate easily or at all in the best of circumstances. Most of the intensity was gone in Albertine in Five Times…. what were fiery dialogues in Albertine en Cinq Temps were more like scoldings in Albertine in Five Times. The original French text had a quicker more informal pace while the English version had a more careful and “proper” delivery. Also, whatever slang there was in Albertine in Five Times seemed forced and out of place.

I didn’t like the translation of Albertine en Cinq Temps. I found that the language had so much to do with the play that it couldn’t be altered and maintain its grittiness. The attempt to translate the play is admirable, but I think in this case, too much emphasis was on the technical side of the translation and not enough on the artistic side.

I encourage you to read Albertine en Cinq Temps and Albertine in Five Times and let me know what you think. Does Albertine in Five Times read like a translation? Would you have known?  Leave me an email at mail@write2thepoint.ca and let’s discuss. 

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