The Best of All Translations

Monday, January 27th, 2014

The title of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World refers to Miranda’s speech in Shakespeare’s The Tempest:

O wonder!
How many goodly creatures are there here!
How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world,
That has such people in’t.
— William Shakespeare, The Tempest, Act V, Scene I

It’s ironic:

Miranda was raised for most of her life on an isolated island, and the only people she ever knew were her father and his servants, an enslaved savage, and spirits, notably Ariel. When she sees other people for the first time, she is understandably overcome with excitement, and utters, among other praise, the famous line above.

However, what she is actually observing is not men acting in a refined or civilised manner, but rather drunken sailors staggering off the wreckage of their ship. Huxley employs the same irony when the “savage” John refers to what he sees as a “brave new world”.

So, how do you translate the title?

Translations of the title often allude to similar expressions used in domestic works of literature in an attempt to capture the same irony: the French edition of the work is entitled Le Meilleur des mondes (“The Best of All Worlds”), an allusion to an expression used by the philosopher Gottfried Leibniz[6] and satirised in Candide, Ou l’Optimisme by Voltaire (1759).

Leave a Reply