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We're delighted to welcome Nat Paterson to the blog, to tell us more about his translation of Léopold Chauveau's story 'The Little Monster'/ 'Le Petit Monstre', which appears in our April 2024 issue. We were fascinated to find out more about how the story reflects Chauveau's own life and art, and how Nat's own research intersects with this. Nat has also provided a substantial bio for Chauveau, if you'd like to find out more.

We hope you enjoy reading!

Can you tell us how you got started in translation?

My undergraduate degree involved translation, taught as a language exercise but with discussion of stylistic questions. I then took up the opportunity to write a translation and commentary dissertation on Saint-Exupéry’s Le Petit Prince. During my MA in Literary Translation at the University of East Anglia, I secured my first (and so far only) book-length translation commission: Gabriella Poli and Giorgio Calcagno’s Echoes of a Lost Voice: Encounters with Primo Levi (Elstree: Vallentine Mitchell, 2017).

What drew you to the work of Léopold Chauveau, and why are you keen that his stories get to reach a wider audience?

I discovered his work completely by chance. When I was learning French, my parents got me a present from a second-hand bookshop of Chauveau’s story collection Les Cures Merveilleuses du Docteur Popotame, in an abridged edition published in England for use in school French classes. I was immediately charmed by the comic absurdity of the storyline and by the illustrations, but I also noticed dark and subversive elements, such as the hippo doctor’s fight against white colonial big game hunters, that made it far from an obvious choice for a 1920s classroom!

In 'The Little Monster', the protagonist sculpts monster 'children'. Can you tell us a bit about the link between the story and Chauveau's own sculptures, and his interest in the monstrous?

This story is actually quite unusual, in that Chauveau more often refers to his sculptures as ‘companions’. While it’s undated and unpublished during Chauveau’s lifetime, it was probably written after the deaths of two of Chauveau’s four real sons, an experience which led him to struggle with suicidal thoughts. He was held back from suicide by a sense of responsibility to the two surviving sons, so the ‘mercy killing’ moment seems significant in terms of a child relieving his parents of obligations. However, Léopold Chauveau’s fascination with monsters actually began in childhood, and was linked to his father Auguste’s veterinary science research into monstrous births. Léopold became a surgeon to satisfy Auguste but found the medical profession traumatic and in the evenings he would sculpt the monsters’ bodies as catharsis for his diurnal encounters with the human body. After Auguste’s death, Léopold Chauveau actually both abandoned medicine and stopped sculpting, although he was otherwise very prolific and frequently depicted ‘monstrous’ characters in his writing and works on paper. The contrast between night and day in the story reflects the cathartic role sculpture had played for him. Perhaps the most important autobiographical elements of the story, though, lie in how it conveys Chauveau’s desire to keep his monsters at home as ‘companions’, but also his distress at the lack of social recognition for his art, and his fear at what would happen to his creations after he died. At the same time, we can see Chauveau expressing empathy for more marginalised creators, because he certainly wasn’t friendless; in fact he was friends with some prestigious artists who tried unsuccessfully to promote his work!

In what ways does the story fit into your own PhD research, as well as with your work on neurodiversity inclusion in the arts?

The starting point for my PhD is that the donation of Chauveau’s works to the Musée d’Orsay, and the popularity of the 2020 exhibition there, provide an opportunity for the museum to become more inclusive. I met staff there during my recent research residency in Paris, which I wrote an account of here (, and arranged to donate a copy of my thesis to the library. I needed to write about the story in part because of two ways it helped enable the exhibition to happen: it was published in 2010 in Créatures hypothétiques (Hypothetical creatures, Librairie Élisabeth Brunet: Paris), a portfolio sold at two smaller scale exhibitions; and the Orsay donor, Léopold’s grandson Marc Chauveau, has stated that he made the difficult decision to give the works up because he did not want them to suffer the fate described at the end of the story. Besides that, the story relates to two central concerns in my thesis: the diversity and mutual acceptance of the community or family of ‘monsters’ which contrasts with the exclusionary human society; and the desire for social recognition as an artist mentioned above, which contrasts with romanticised notions of ‘outsider artists’ for whom art is a purely private therapeutic activity. I read an earlier version of my translation of the story out loud during a presentation around these themes to artists with lived experience of mental ill health at Glasgow disability arts charity Project Ability ( This led four artists to produce works in response, which I will write about in my thesis and which I hope will lead to future projects around inclusion, although I don’t actually yet have a job in this area!

What have been some of the most rewarding, and the most challenging, aspects of translating Chauveau's fiction?

I would say his fiction is both rewarding and challenging to translate for the same reason: its quality, as well as the fact that Chauveau tends to be very concise, packing many elements into not many words. To take this story as an example, the translation needs to combine multiple qualities: technical accuracy about the sculpting process; emotional force in conveying affection and despair; irony in the description of the ‘friends’; and a timeless, folk-tale quality conveyed through not naming the characters and using quite a high literary register. Also, the combination of ‘sons’ and ‘children’ becomes more complicated in English where the generic masculine is used less often, but the translator needs to convey the hybrid, genderless nature of the monsters as well as the author’s mourning for real sons.

Are there other authors you'd like to translate, or whose work you'd like to see in English translation?

I’ll give one example of a book I’d like to translate, and one I’d like to see translated by someone else. I found Vercors’ Le Silence de la mer and Melville’s film of the same name very moving, but Cyril Connolly’s translation stilted, so would like to attempt a new version of this story about intercultural encounters and the power of words in a new language. While poetry is not my specialism at the moment, I hope Bertony Louis' Recoudre les horizons (Sowing the horizons back together, Montpellier: L’Appeau’Strophe, 2023) can find an audience in English. I met Bertony during his Artist Protection Fund Fellowship at the University of Glasgow last academic year, and was impressed by how he communicates both the history and current plight of Haiti to audiences unfamiliar with the country.

Can you tell us anything about what you're working on next?

Yes, I’m very pleased to announce that I’ve been awarded the Art in Translation Student Prize for 2023 (, and that Gilbert Lascault’s essay on Chauveau, ‘The familiarity of monsters’, will be published in English with my introduction in Issue 16.2 of the journal (Summer 2024).

Thank you so much, Nat!

Nat Paterson is a translator from French and Italian, and a doctoral researcher on Léopold Chauveau at the University of Glasgow. His first book translation, Echoes of a Lost Voice, was published in 2017. His most recent academic publication is this account of his recent research residency at the Institut Giacometti, Paris.
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