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My Fighting Life (1920)/ Ma Vie de boxeur (1921)

Interestingly, this is a case where an English-language autobiography, My Fighting Life (1920) seems to predate its French counterpart, Ma Vie de boxeur (1921, with a preface by Victor Breyer, editor of L’Echo des sports and perennial Carpentier superfan). No mention is made in either about its being a translation. Given the fact that the English version is considerably more fleshed-out and detailed than the French in addition to predating it, one might even speculate that the French text is a translation of the English, rather than the more probable reverse.

The two texts are indeed not identical and there are interesting differences between them, revealing the bi-cultural nature of Carpentier’s celebrity at the time of publication. To cite the most obvious example, the English volume is dedicated to “All British Sportsmen” and expresses Carpentier’s deep affection and gratitude vis-à-vis his English fans: “ Were I of their own country, I feel I could have no surer, no warmer, no more lasting place in their friendship,” while the French version is dedicated to “My good comrades, the sportsmen of France, whose ardent and generous kindness has been, through all the vicissitudes of my career, the most precious of all comforts.” A number of passages that flatter British readers and underscore the mutual love affair between the French boxer and his English fans do not appear in the French version. A ply to sell more books in England, to be sure, but perhaps not a cynical one; nothing Carpentier ever said or did would contradict the idea that his affection and gratitude for fans on both sides of the Channel were deep and sincere.

What the two books have in common is that they were published in anticipation of his upcoming mega-bout with Dempsey. Interest in the fight no doubt ensured brisk sales of the book. Because the English text predated the French, it ends with talk of the bout in more speculative terms (“At the moment of writing, no definite date or place has been fixed for a battle with Dempsey. […] I am, of course, hoping that Mr. Cochran will be able to put the fight on in London. […] Should [Dempsey] ask for the battle-ground to be pitched in the States, I go to America. Wherever the fight takes place, it will be a mighty one.” [251-253]) The French version, the dedication of which is dated March 25, 1921, does not specify a place for the bout, either, but does include a photograph of the contract-signing (as well as an account of Carpentier’s light heavyweight title fight with Levinsky, which took place after the publication of the English version).