Why is Outlander more explicit in English? 


By Fanny Houle | October 3, 2019  

Illustrations tirée du reccueil :  

I Give you my body de Diana Gabaldon  

Behind the scenes of translation 


Here is an excerpt from the blog that one of Stevenson's employees wrote about the popular Outlander series. His analysis highlights some very interesting facts that will leave you perplexed. The purpose of the blog is to show you that translators are not the only ones making decisions about translated texts, and that the language and culture of arrival have a great impact on the result. Before you read the most glaring facts of this analysis, find out what sometimes happens behind the scenes. Happy reading.

Complete passages removed from the French version 


The translation of Diana Gabaldon's novel The Thistle and the Tartan has certainly been condensed, but it turns out that the French publishing house Presses de la Cité, which published the first edition of the Outlander series, also removed complete passages from the translation! What was my dismay when I discovered this! All the more interesting when you realize that it is the erotic scenes that have suffered the most... Between pages 300 and 308, 328 and 331, and 834 and 836 of the edition of Libre Expression (the edition under study), there are excerpts that are absent in the translated version. But why remove entire pages of history? And why these excerpts in particular?

We know that the publishing house feared that the French public would not buy the book if it was too long. This explains — but does not excuse — the disappearance of these passages. But then, why expressly choose excerpts where the characters frolic in the clearing or at the edge of the hearth to show their mutual love and passion? Could it be because the publishers didn't see the contribution to the story in these scenes? Or is it out of fear that the audience will be shocked by too much space given to sexuality in the novel?


One can only assume, but it would be surprising if this idea came from the translator. Indeed, in his interview for OutlanderFrance, Mr. Safavi claims to have translated everything and that "[a]ve there were cuts on the part of the publishers, but it was really what they wanted. Then they stopped, because they had to [sic] receive a lot of complaints. So I'm not the only one outraged by this decision; the translator himself seems to disapprove of the extent of it: "But it's not a question of cutting passages, be careful!" This is not surprising when you consider that he has already translated several erotic novels.

Presumably, with this professional background, Mr. Safavi understood that the erotic scenes in Outlander were not without interest and took something away from the narrative if they were omitted. Admittedly, the story goes well without it, but we lose a certain magic in the translation, because the erotic scenes help to solidify the relationship between the main characters, to make them more human, more endearing and more united. For it is not only the setbacks of a character that can inspire us with sympathy; Love and its physical manifestation, sexuality, can make it so lively and endearing.

Why focus on intimate scenes?
So let's take a look at the intimate scenes that were omitted in The Thistle and the Tartan. Between pages 300 and 308, Claire and Jamie venture behind the inn into clearings, where they fish, talk to each other and finally, make love. Admittedly, this moment does not bring much to the course of events and does not influence the outcome of the story, but it is very important in the evolution of the relationship between Claire and Jamie.


Indeed, we see that there is still a certain discomfort between them, that they manage to eclipse by touching each other. We also see that Claire is still thinking about going back in her time to join her first husband, Frank, but that she begins to fall in love with Jamie at the same time. She begins to realize that she is still happy in this new life. The psychological and relational evolution of the characters is enhanced in this passage, which makes them even more authentic, more alive. It is a shame to deprive French-speaking readers of this intimate and romantic, conflictual and touching moment.

The second excerpt, contained between pages 328 and 331, describes an erotic scene where Claire and Jamie exchange crazy words and laugh at each other's hearts while pleasing each other. Once again, it does not contain any essential element to the unfolding of the story, but we see a little more of Claire and Jamie, their thoughts, their expressions, their complicity. The scene contributes to their relationship and reinforces the attachment that the reader can feel towards the characters, which undoubtedly encourages him to continue reading, to invest in the story.

Finally, the excerpt between pages 834 and 836 describes an erotic scene of the couple, after Jamie is rescued from the clutches of Randall, rescued from Wentworth Prison. They are found at the Abbey of Sainte-Anne de Beaupré, in France, where Jamie is quietly recovering from the sea voyage that took them there (he is seasick) and the physical and psychological injuries Randall inflicted on him. It is therefore not in very good physical condition. Despite everything, he and Claire make love that night, in a way that is not bestial, but on the contrary tender, complicit, where one responds to the other and fills the gaps of the other. It is a true demonstration of mutual aid, unity and oblative dedication on both sides.


It is the physical manifestation of the relationship between Claire and Jamie, who in turn save each other's lives throughout the story, who support each other and devote themselves to each other entirely, against all odds. It is true that there are several physical manifestations of love between these characters during the novel, but nothing justifies in my opinion that we delete the excerpt we are talking about here. Indeed, in this excerpt, Jamie is in bad shape. Yet the only thing he thinks about, the only thing he wants, is to be with Claire and make love to her:


“But I woke with my hand painin’ me and couldna go back to sleep. I was tossing about, feeling lonely for ye. The more I thought about ye, the more I wanted ye, and I was halfway down the corridor before I thought to worry about what I was going to do when I got here.” 

GABALDON, Diana. Outlander, Seal books, 1991, États-Unis, p. 835. 

Thus, we see that his desire is such that he makes his body act against his reason, despite the lamentable state in which he finds himself. Moreover, the act itself is dangerous to him in his condition, but the desire and love he feels are so intense that he risks his life to be able to snuggle deep inside Claire:


“Were ye afraid for me?” he asked.
“Yes,” I said. “I thought it was too soon.”
He laughed softly in the dark. “It was; I almost killed myself. Aye, I was afraid too. […]” 


So we understand that Jamie's love and desire for Claire is intense enough that he risks his own life in order to show them. Her vulnerability and precarious state amplify the intensity of the sexual act – which in this case is a true act of love – in this scene where a balance between his desire and his weakness is played out, a balance that Claire completes. Neither has the upper hand over the other; It is truly a fusion act in which both participate equally.

I think it's a shame that we lose this moment in French, this act of communion where the "traditional" roles of man and woman in the sexual act are somehow blurred. Without changing the course of this story, these clips bring nuances in the relationships between the characters, and isn't this relationship between Claire and Jamie the precise reason why Outlander is such a popular series? Not to mention their wild and passionate antics.

Finally, it is disappointing that the publishing house cut such long passages, especially knowing that these passages had been translated. The taboo surrounding sexuality in the context of literature has been stronger here than respect for the original work... Perhaps the publishers thought that the omission of erotic scenes would not take anything away from the work?

More "soft" erotic scenes in French 


At first, when we compare the original and translated versions of the first volume of the Outlander series, we realize that the erotic scenes in the translation are often more "soft", as if we had wanted to spare French-speaking readers. This phenomenon is partly due to the use of euphemisms to express harsh or degrading realities, as seen in the following example:


“Several hands reached to stop me, though, and I found myself pressed against the wall of the corridor, surrounded by bearded Highlanders with whisky on their breath and rape on their minds .” 

« Several hands grabbed me at the same time and I found myself pressed against the wall, surrounded by bearded Highlanders, with avid breath and unsavory intentions. » 

In this clip, Claire walks the corridors of Leoch Castle during the Gathering, a traditional festive event that brings together clans from across Scotland, in order to return to her room. Obviously, this celebration is well watered and many men find themselves drunk and looking for "entertainment", in other words, a woman to have fun with — it should be noted that the mentality surrounding rape was very different at the time.

In English, the author goes straight to the point and directly names the intentions of intoxicated men (rape on their minds). However, by choosing to euphemistically translate "unsavory intentions", the translator leaves the reader with the task of guessing these intentions, which the context is sufficient to reveal to him. The shock is less great, less obvious, since we do not directly name the intention, but we can easily imagine ourselves and our imagination can be much more prolific than if we are put in front of the established fact.



Completely evacuate the idea of sexuality 


We find the same kind of euphemism later in a scene where Jamie and Claire are caught in full fornication by English deserters, who try to rape her by holding her husband in cheek. In this scene, near-rape is simply translated as "violence". This choice is interesting because it completely evacuates the idea of sexuality to keep only the violent, traumatic aspect of the situation. We clearly see this embarrassment in the French language with regard to sexuality, and this search for good taste.

Moreover, we will see in the following excerpts that the euphemism "to make love" has been used in translation to render expressions that may seem degrading in English, or simply too crude.


“I want to hold you hard to me and kiss you, and never let you go. I want to take you to my bed and use you like a whore, ’til I forget that I exist. And I want to put my head in your lap and weep like a child .” 

"And then I want to hug you tightly, kiss you and never let go of you again. I want to make love to you like crazy, until I forget that I exist. And I want to rest my head on your lap and cry like a child. » 

In this clip, Jamie and Claire found refuge with the MacRannoch family after releasing Jamie from Wentworth Prison, where he was unjustly imprisoned and waiting to die at the end of a rope. Their conversation follows Randall's repeated torture and rape of Jamie in prison, and Jamie is in very bad shape, both physically and psychologically.


It is not difficult to notice that, where English is raw, vulgar and degrading, French is romantic, pictorial and does not give the same impression to the reader. It is well understood in English, thanks to the contrast created between the words of the lexical field of love in the first sentence and the more vulgar and degrading words of the second, that Jamie is confused, lost, distressed; He no longer has any landmarks. He no longer knows what he wants, does not know how to behave, because he is vulnerable after what he has experienced.


However, by using the euphemism "make love to you like crazy" to translate use you like a whore, we remain in the lexical field of love and romanticism and we lose this idea of contrast, which is rather a shame. The euphemism "to make love" is also used to translate expressions from the vulgar or colloquial register, concrete and simple action verbs, including took each other and bedding ye.



A more familiar and vulgar sexual register in English 


French seems to have this tendency to use a more sustained register to talk about sexuality, while English remains in the neutral, colloquial and vulgar registers. We see this very clearly in the following excerpt:


“While my mind might object to being taken on a bare rock next to several sleeping soldiers, my body plainly considered itself the spoils of war and was eager to complete the formalities of surrender.” 


"If my mind refused to fornicate on a rock in front of a group of sleeping soldiers, my co-op

RPS apparently had no objection to this. All is fair in love and war! »

According to Antidote, the verb to take in the sense of to have sexual relations with (someone) belongs to the colloquial register, while the verb "fornicate" belongs rather to the sustained register and refers to religion or a joke. This marked difference in register between the two languages indicates the need of the French language to elevate sexuality, to make it an idealized subject, more spiritual than carnal.

Another translation of Erotic Scene  


Wondering what these passages might have looked like if they had been published? Stevenson satisfies your curiosity by offering you his own translation. For adults only!

Much later, on the edge of sleep, I felt Jamie’s arm around my waist, and felt his breath warm against my neck.

“Does it ever stop? The wanting you?” His hand came around to caress my breast. “Even when I’ve just left ye, I want you so much my chest feels tight and my fingers ache with wanting to touch ye again.”

He cupped my face in the dark, thumbs stroking the arcs of my eyebrows. “When I hold ye between my two hands and feel you quiver like that, waitin’ for me to take you… Lord, I want to pleasure you ‘til ye cry out under me and open yourself to me. And when I take my own pleasure from you, I feel as though I’ve given ye my soul along with my cock.

He rolled above me and I opened my legs, wincing slightly as he entered me. He laughed softly. “Aye, I’m a bit sore, too. Do ye want me to stop?” I wrapped my legs around his hips in answer and pulled him closer.

“Would you stop?” I asked.

“No, I can’t.”

We laughed together, and rocked slowly, lips and fingers exploring in the dark.

Brushing the edge of sleep several moments later, I felt Jamie's arm slip around my waist and his warm breath wrap around my neck:

– So it never stops? Desire you?
His hand went up to caress my breasts.

"From the moment I withdraw from you," he continued, "I desire you so much that I feel my chest tighten, and my fingers surge with the desire to touch you again.

He took my face in a cup in the darkness, flattering the arc of my eyebrows with his thumbs.

– When I hold you in my hands, when I feel you shiver like that, eager for me to take you... Great God, I want to make you shudder with pleasure until you moan under me and spread your legs for me. And when I in you, I feel like I'm giving you my soul along with my.

He climbed on top of me and I spread my legs, wincing slightly in pain as he penetrated me.

"Ouch, I'm a little sensitive too," he whispered, laughing softly. Do you want me to stop?

For any answer, I wrapped my legs around her hips and pulled her closer.

– Would you really stop? I asked.

–No. I can't.

We laughed together, rocking each other in a slow back and forth, our fingers and lips waving in the dark.



Fanny Houle


Original article: Outlander, why is it more explicit in English? -  

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