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Oscar Wilde, Henry D. Davray, Jean-Gabriel Daragnès and Jean-Georges Cornélius: French Translations of 'The Ballad of Reading Gaol' in Word and Image

Abstract : This paper seeks to examine the French reception and transpositions—in both text and image—of The Ballad of Reading Gaol (1898), the last text Oscar Wilde published in his lifetime. The “transcription” of The Ballad of Reading Gaol by Henry D. Davray, published in the Mercure de France in May 1898 (and then in a bilingual edition by the “Société du Mercure de France” in September of the same year), is one of the best documented cases of collaboration between Wilde and one of his translators. I first wish to analyse Davray’s account of his collaboration with Wilde over the translation of The Ballad of Reading Gaol (“How The Ballad of Reading Gaol was translated into French,” a text from 1913, reprinted in Oscar Wilde. La Tragédie finale [Paris: Mercure de France, 1928]). More specifically, I will examine the discussions around the idea of turning Wilde’s Ballad into a prose poem in French, and that of the difficulty of putting Wilde’s prison experience into (foreign) words. Interestingly, Davray’s text on the translation of The Ballad of Reading Gaol was written on the occasion of the first French illustrated version of Wilde’s poem, by the artist Jean-Gabriel Daragnès (1886-1950). The woodcuts—based on Davray’s translation—were published in 1918 by the Paris publisher Léon Pichon in 1918. Davray also wrote a preface for a second French illustrated edition of The Ballad of Reading Gaol, containing 14 coloured plates by artist Jean-Georges Cornélius (1880-1963) (Paris: Javal et Bourdeaux, 1927). As is well known (and as Davray recalls), right from the start, Wilde had wished his Ballad to be illustrated, naming as potential illustrators artists such as Aubrey Beardsley, Fernand Khnopff or Paul Herrmann, an artist he had met at Davray’s (Complete Letters, 933, 944). The aim of this paper is to compare and contrast the two French illustrated versions of Reading Gaol prefaced by Davray: Daragnès’s woodcuts, bearing some resemblance with Erich Heckel’s expressionist images for Wilde’s poem (1907), and Cornelius’s coloured illustrations, which are reminiscent of the mystical symbolism of one of his masters, Gustave Moreau. The cross-examination of those visual and verbal transpositions of The Ballad of Reading Gaol will enable me to assess how Wilde’s poem was re-appropriated and refashioned through the prism of French culture.
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https://hal.univ-reims.fr/hal-02546303
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Submitted on : Friday, April 17, 2020 - 6:10:15 PM
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Xavier Giudicelli. Oscar Wilde, Henry D. Davray, Jean-Gabriel Daragnès and Jean-Georges Cornélius: French Translations of 'The Ballad of Reading Gaol' in Word and Image. Curiosity and Desire in Fin-De-Siècle Art and Literature, University of California; Joseph Bristow (UCLA); Dennis Denisoff (University of Tulsa); Stefano Evangelista (Trinity College); Charlotte Ribeyrol (Université Paris-Sorbonne), May 2018, Los Angeles, United States. ⟨hal-02546303⟩

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