Savagery and Satire in 18th-century English translations of L’Ingénu
University of Toronto
Abstract: Voltaire’s L’ingénu (1767) is a satire in which a young man from a Huron community arrives in France in 1689 and clashes with French social norms, the better to expose their deficiencies. The protagonist’s minority status both sets up the confrontations on which the satire is based and provides an ostensibly dispassionate outsider’s voice through which Voltaire can criticize French society. However, the protagonist’s identity and status as an outsider or insider are thrown into question and change over the course of the narrative: as the story unfolds, he sheds his identity as Huron “other” and assimilates into French society. The story was published in several European cities, with translations and retranslations following in short order. Using the French text of L’Ingénu and its first two English translations published in 1768 and 1771, I explore the ways in which the protagonist’s transformation from a “noble savage” outsider to assimilated civilized Frenchman is portrayed differently in the translations, what this difference might reveal about Voltaire’s satirical use of cultural difference, and what repercussions this might have for the satire’s reception by English readers.
Key-words: satire, translation, 18th-century France, 18th-century England, Voltaire.
Bio: Robert Twiss is a PhD student at the University of Toronto’s Centre for Comparative Literature and a member of the Canadian Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies. His research focuses on translation in the 18th century and on the representation and use of cultural difference in 18th-century satire. He can be reached at rob.twiss [at] mail.utoronto.ca.