Japrisot and Salinger 4

Seeing that Himadri has a new post up discussing The Catcher in the Rye, I feel it’s time to wrap up my Japrisot and Salinger mini-series.

A brief recap: The first and best-known Russian translation of The Catcher (1960) had an amusing error that could have been – on my theory – a consequence of a similar error in the first French translation (1953). The French translator, a young man known at that time as Jean-Baptiste Rossi, went on to become a famous detective-fiction author under the acronymic pen name of Sébastien Japrisot.

Whatever his shortcomings as a translator, Rossi/Japrisot was a gifted writer with an impressive original novel to his credit (Les mal partis, 1950). It’s tempting to think that, after Boris Vian published L’arrache-cœur in 1953 (later translated as Heartsnatcher), Rossi paid homage to the master by calling his Salinger translation L’attrape-cœurs. – “Heartcatcher” or “The Catcher of Hearts.”

But why the cœurs and not corps – hearts but not bodies? Holden Caulfield is picturing, in his imagination, someone – himself – protecting children from certain death: someone who keeps them from falling down into a crevice amidst a field of rye.

This image appears in Holden’s mind when he overhears (and possibly mishears) a boy sing a line from the old Scottish ballad best known in Robert Burns’ rendition, Comin’ Thro’ the Rye. It’s a raunchy poem, and straightforwardly so, but Holden doesn’t hear that – he thinks the boy is singing “If a body catch a body comin’ thro’ the rye” with innocent abandon. (And what is the boy thinking?)

This misunderstanding cannot be a minor, peripheral detail, or it wouldn’t have made the novel’s title. On some level, Rossi’s/Japrisot’s substituting cœurs for corps mirrors Holden’s transforming the bawdy Scottish song into a “save the children” fantasy. It’s worth noting that Annie Saumont kept Japrisot’s title in her new translation of The Catcher. (Less wisely, she also reiterated his Blanchard blunder.)

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