Friday, December 2, 2011

Histoire d'un casse-noisette

I was surprised to find that Alexandre Dumas had rewritten Hoffman's story. I mean, he's the guy who wrote The Three Musketeers, The Man in the Iron Mask, and The Counte of Monte Cristo. Histoire d'un casse-noisette (translated The Story of the Nutcracker) was published in French in 1844. I can only imagine this was done because there had been no French translation of the German story.

The famous Nutcracker ballet actually used Dumas' text over Hoffman's, as it was in French, and the writer of the original libretto was the French choreographer Victor Marius Alphonse Petipa. In English, however, a translation of Dumas' retelling is harder to find than Hoffman's. I found a digital version of the book on Internet Archive, a French 1921 edition with the 1846 illustrations by Bertall (Charles Albert d'Arnoux). Finally, I discovered that Penguin books had published it in tandem with a translation of the original Hoffman.

Dumas' adaptation, retelling, revision, translation, what have you, opens with him telling how he was asked for a tale by children. The only "tale" he can think of is Hoffman's The Tale of the Nutcracker. Yes, he credits Hoffman openly, so no foul on him.

Dumas' narrative flows very much like Hoffman's original, beat for beat. However, while Hoffman opened the story describing the children's POV of their parent's Christmas Eve preparations, Dumas introduces the place, characters, and even describes the differences between German and French Christmas customs for families. Also, Hoffman's Stahlbaum family becomes Dumas' Silberhaus family. No mention is made of older sister Louise.

In addition, the rivalry between the Nutcracker and Mouse King is clarified earlier on. The Nutcracker taunts the Mouse King, asking if he's come to accept the challenge that had been laid down. The Mouse King says he's avenging his mother.

The tale of Princess Pirlipat is told in a single, long session, and instead of fat, this particular translation of Dumas describes bacon as being used in the sausages the queen makes that Madame Mouserinks wants to eat. Though bacon has a fat in it, I can hardly imagine it would serve the correct purpose in sausage making as fits the story. (The lack of fat making the sausages dry and coarse.) Upon checking, the word "fat" appears to be what Dumas intended. The travels of the clockmaker are expanded upon briefly as well, and Dumas notes that the expression "That's a hard nut to crack" (which seems to be obscure now), stems from Pirlipat's story.

Dumas adds other little details here and there, such as Drosselmeyer's nephew being named Nathaniel, and the Mouse King being a bit sillier in his threats, but still, he doesn't really deviate from Hoffman's story.

Overall, over the two, I prefer the original Hoffman. While Dumas did a fine job of making sure the story would be understood well, his over-explanation and attempt to streamline the story takes away the dreamy qualities of Hoffman's fantasy.

The Penguin translation I mentioned doesn't do Dumas (or Hoffman) any favors, only giving us a bare translation that is not enjoyable to read.

For an example of Dumas' additional details, here's the paragraph analogous to the one I posted in yesterday's blog.
After one year, the fiance came back for his wife in a little carriage of mother of pearl inlaid with gold and silver, drawn by horses that were not bigger than sheep, and a priceless worth, they had not seen their like in the world, and it took them to the palace of Marzipan, where they were married by the chaplain of the castle, and or twenty-two thousand little figures, all covered with beads, dazzling diamonds and jewels, danced at their wedding. So that at the present moment, Marie is still queen of the beautiful kingdom where you can see all the bright forests of Christmas, and rivers of orangeade, almond and rose essence and palaces of translucent sugar finer than snow and clearer than ice, and finally, all manner of things wonderful and miraculous, provided you have quite good eyes to see them.
And now I leave you with more of Bertall's illustrations. 

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