John Galbraith Simmons, translator, Aline and Valcour

Cover: Aline and Valcour

Cover: Aline and Valcour

Marquis de Sade
Translated, with an introduction by John Galbraith Simmons (NASW Member),
and Jocelyne Geneviève Barque
Contra Mundum Press, December 2, 2019
Vol. 1: ISBN-10: 1940625319; ISBN-13: 978-1940625317, $16.50
Vol. 2: ISBN-10: 1940625327; ISBN-13: 978-1940625324, $18.00
Vol. 3: ISBN-10: 1940625335; ISBN-13 978-1940625331, $24.50

Simmons reports:

In 2007 my wife Jocelyne began showing me drafts of the first pages of a 1795 novel by Marquis de Sade (1740-1814). Aline and Valcour had never been translated in English. Unlike much of Sade’s work, it’s not pornographic but character-driven, highly structured and, we soon realized, a genuine masterpiece.

John Galbraith Simmons

John Galbraith Simmons

We decided to translate the entire 900-page novel. We’d already worked together on encyclopedias of psychoanalysis and 20th century history, so it was not a stretch. As for Sade, a chasm separates scholarly views from popular misconceptions. In books, much of my work has been in the history of science and medicine, and Sade is a key albeit controversial figure of the Enlightenment. He kept abreast of science and, in fact, Aline and Valcour, as one academic notes, includes “a full sweep of the sciences.”

Our translation received a boost in 2011 when we received a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. Jocelyne, who is French, continued to create the initial draft, which we reworked together sentence by sentence. Amidst other work, it took ten years.

We did not initially have a publisher but acquired agents Amy and Peter Bernstein. Amy, with a doctorate in French literature, readily grasped the novel’s significance. Length was problematic for many houses; the author’s reputation, for others. One response from a top editor: "Sorry—I can’t help thinking of this as Marquis de Sade without the sex.”

Sade is often accused of misogyny. But he’s also described as an avatar of liberty and a feminist at heart; many Sade specialists are women. A contemporary of Mary Wollstonecraft, Sade shared her views on women’s education—quite unlike Voltaire or Rousseau.

We had great luck to be taken by Contra Mundum Press, a small publisher with an impressive list. Compounding good fortune was Rainer Hanshe’s decision to publish the novel in three volumes, making it readily portable. Typographer Alessandro Segalini chose a typeface notable for its appropriate character and readability, and he used non-intrusive aids to navigation. An Italian artist, Federico Gori, provided lively, intriguing cover art that conveys Sade’s complex connection to the present.

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Dec. 4, 2019

Advance Copy

For this column, NASW book editor Lynne Lamberg asks NASW authors to tell how they came up with the idea for their book, developed a proposal, found an agent and publisher, funded and conducted research, and put the book together. She also asks what they wish they had known before they began working on their book, what they might do differently the next time, and what tips they can offer aspiring authors. She then edits the A part of that Q&A to produce the author reports you see here.

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