"Butch Oscar"

Posted by Lewis on February 21, 2005

In Reply to: Looking for an Oscar Wilde expert posted by Robert Benoist on February 20, 2005

: : : : : I'm editing a translation for "The picture of Dorian Gray"/Oscar Wilde, and there are some words/phrases that Wilde uses and may have a different meaning than the usual one. I would like to make sure that they were translated correctly. If any of you are familiar with his writing, I'd truely appreciate your help

: : : : : The first one is the word "trivial", such as in the sentence "Those who are faithful know only the trivial side of love: it is the faithless who know love's tragedies. Does it mean simple?

: : : : : Wilde describes the main characters' way of talking as "languid". Does this mean tired?

: : : : : I have some more questions, but will send them separately. Many thanks!

: : :
: : : : I am by no means an expert, but I am familiar with the works of my countryman Oscar Wilde, so I will try my best.

: : : : 'Trivial' I think means 'uncomplicated', 'superficial' rather than 'simple' here.

: : : : 'Languid' does mean tired, but not, I think in its usual sense. It is closer to the modern usage 'laid back' - as in relaxed, cool, full of ennui. The whole aesthetic movement of the late 19th Century laid great store by being 'languid', just as modern youth does in being 'cool'.

: : : : Hope this is of some help, and I am sure others will be better informed than I.

: : : : DFG

: : : In large part I agree, but to preserve Wilde's irony, I'd translate "trivial" as "unimportant." "Superficial" comes closer than "uncomplicated," which sounds positive and'or virtuous.

: : As for languid, yes, ennui is certainly good. I would go for listless, lacking energy, sluggish, unhurried, slow. Coming from Wilde, one expects that a languid way of talking would be a cultivated, deliberate listlessness, with an obvious lack of hurry or energy, perhaps punctuated with sighs. But Wilde is full of nuance, and translating nuance is always difficult. SS

: I would agree. With Wilde words such as languid do not denote a "passive" state. Tired is no-where near the picture Wilde is drawing of the character. A deliberate superficiality almost. Imagine Wilde lying on a day bed, summer afternoon, holding a "salon", arm slightly raised, getting the aesthetic absolutely and deliberately right. The pitch of the voice modulated to perfection and its speed measured to the second. The punctuation by bored sighs sums up the mood exactly.......

I was in Trinity college bookshop a while back and got a book of Wilde quotations - signed by the author ("compiler" might have been a better term).
I raised quite a laugh when I said to the sales assistant "I like editions signed by the author" to which he informed me in concerned tones "Oscar Wilde has been dead some time, I'm afraid!"
I can't remember my exact riposte, but once he saw that I was well-aware that OW was indeed deceased he said
"I'm sorry - it's just that I had some Americans in here the other day wanting to know if this..." [indicated a plastic-wrapped pebble priced at a few Euro] "...was part of the actual Blarney Stone!"

Anyhow, with regard to the original question, re the 'trivial' side of love - Oscar is using it in the sense of 'light', 'easy' and as somebody opined above 'superficial' - it needs a word to be in stark contrast to 'tragedies'.

'languid' was an excellent choice of word for a Wildean character - it has connotations of self-consciously lazy decadence.

You do wonder how much Wilde prepared for appearing so casually urbane...

Remembering his final words which from memory were something along the lines "Either the wallpaper or me - one of us has to go!"