Figure 1.-- Scouting themes were popular in French children's literature, like this Signe de Piste book. We notice far fewer British books with Scouting themes and even fewer American books. Signe de Piste was a popular series of French books. Few were ever marketed in America.
The question of the distribution of French language material in foreign countries,
especially America and other English speaking countries is a larger question than just
Signe de Piste. Many other French publications were also not distributed in America.
HBC is attempting to assess this phenomenon.
This question deals with with a very publicized phenomenon, globalization which
because of the power of modern American media, some call Americanization. A good
example here was the furor over Disneyland in France during the 1980s. In our
modern world, the public around the world is constantly exposed to American
television and movies. Americans on the other hand rarely see foreign movies (English
films being an exception) and almost never see foreign television programs. Many
countries (including Canada and France) have addressed this phenomenon which as
been viewed as cultural imperialism.
As a general rule, only classics and masterpieces of French literature are
translated into English along with some best-sellers as
well. While translation of books from French to English is still not current, the opposite
cannot be said to be true. In Europe, many publishing house will have a German, Italian
or Spanish speaking public. (Don't forget that the countries and distances are smaller
and more interconnected.)
The American public is not as open as the European public to outside, especially
foreign-language literature. In part this is the more limited foreign-language capability in
America. The impact of relative cultural isolation across the Atlantic is another factor.
Not every American publishing house is reading to take expensive
risks with foreign authors. [Lafrance]
The whole question of translation is an interesting one. A HBC reader maintains,
"It is easier for a Francophone to translate into French than an Anglophone to translate
into English. The English language is easier to learn than the French language."
[Lafrance] Here HBC can not agree or disagree. Having done translations between
Spanish an English, we would say that it is more difficult to translate Spanish than English literature. We are not sure, however, that this is due to the actual difficulty of the language. We attribute it more to the style of writing. We find that Spanish-language writers often write sentence several lines long before using a period to stop the sentence. These complex sentences are very difficult to translate. Also we find Spanish to be more flowery written with less economy and less focus on coming to the point. This may, however, be out prejudices as native-English speakers and we would be interested in the views of our Spanish-speaking readers. This may well be a characteristic of the romance (Latin-based) languages. [Lafrance] There may also be cultural patterns that cause the English and Americans to be more interested in economy of language and coming to the point.
French children's books were read around the world, but were more popular in the French-speaking countries than in the English-speaking countries. As a boy growing up in America during the 1950s, I do not recall seeing the Signe de Piste books or in fact other French books. I am not sure why. Translations may have been part of the problem. Perhaps the themes selected were not appealing or publisher did
no think so. There is an element of fantasy involved in some of the covers that I have never seen in American children's literature. We have also not noted them being widely sold in Britain, although I believe some English-language translations were sold there,
but they do not seem to have been especially popular.
We believe the same factors were at play in the marketing of other foreign
literature (German, Italian, Spanish, and other) in the United States and Britain.
Interesting some of the best known stories about foreign countries are book written in
English about those countries. Some popular books are certainly written by foreign
writer like Johanna Spyri's Heidi . But many have been written in English. A
good example here is Mary Mapes Dodge's Dutch story Hans Brinker and the
Silver Skates .
A good example of French children's literature which was rarely translated into
English and marketed in America was Signe de Piste. This was a series of rollicking
boys' adventures. They are a collection of books written mostly for boys. The books
usually portray young boys (between 12 and 16 years) and very often Boy Scouts in all
kinds of exciting adventures. As they are written in French, we know little about them.
The cover's always have exciting illustrations by various French artists. Pierre Joubert
did many of them. The covers suggest that there were many school series or a variety
of fictional adventure stories. Hopefully our French readers can provide us more
information about Signe de Piste books they read and enjoyed as boys. Some of the
illustrations have realistic depictions of clothing. Others are highly romanticized,
perhaps drawn to appeal to a French boy's spirit of adventure. I think an American
boy looking at them may have judged a few to be a little on the "wild" side.
One HBC reader writes, "In my opinion, it is to bad, that more French children's
literature has not been translated into English, because it is much better than what I
have seen written in English (similar type of story). Somehow, I think that American
and the British authors lacked imagination and/or style. I believe the British preferred
stories with kids in boarding school and American with Cowboys. The Scout
movement seemed stronger in France and Germany: odd since Baden-Powell was
Lafrance, Christine. E-mail, October 6, 2002.
Navigate the Boys' Historical Clothing Artist pages:
[Return to the Main artist page]
[Chronology] [Countries] [Individuals] [Styles]
Navigate the Boys' Historical Clothing Web Site:
[Return to the Main illustrator page]
[Return to the Main French literary page]
[Return to the Main French children's series page]
[Return to the Main Pierre Jobert page]
[Introduction] [Activities] [Biographies] [Chronology] [Clothing styles] [Countries]
[Bibliographies] [Contributions] [FAQs] [Glossaries] [Satellite sites] [Tools]
[Boys' Clothing Home]