In the long winter of 1784, which I passed in Normandy, this little Novel fell into my hands … for their amusement, I translated [into English] as I read [the French], the most striking passages of the story; which appeared to me so interesting that I was induced to translate the whole; or rather to write it anew in English — Charlotte Smith, from her preface to her Manon
The idea of making a name for myself in the Republic of Letters animated all my faculties — Victorine de Chastenay, on first beginning to translate Radcliffe’s Udolpho
Dear friends and readers,
You will instantly recall that last month under a similar heading, I wrote about how I was working on a proposal to give a paper at this coming summer’s Chawton conference on women and translation: I didn’t fall asleep over my book after all (!). Well I did a good deal of reading and sent along two different options.
I discovered that Charlotte Smith really changed Prévost’s Histoire de Chevalier des Grieux et de Manon Lescaut (1731) and Gayot de Pitaval’s Causes Célèbres et Interessants (1734-44) to bring into the English imaginary explosively transgressive reality-based material from sexual and familial life. In Smith’s Manon L’Escaut, or the Fatal Attachment, Prévost’s enigmatic text intended to justify amoral decisions for aristocratic male readers becomes a story genuinely focused from the point of view of a pro-active heroine with a realistic pragmatic consciousness. I also found that her Ethelinde, or the Recluse of the Lake (1790) her first fully poetic landscape novel was translated into French by M. De Montagne, who made of it a romantic “paysage.” Montagne’s romantic translation is really melodious, I loved the sounds of the French, it was like verse in prose. Smith turned gothic and sentimental romance into vehicles for critiquing the ancien regime as it was experienced in the UK at the time. Montagne helped make these sort of landscapes an accepted mode in France.
When I went back to Chastenay’s 1798 translation of Radcliffe’s Mysteries of Udolpho (1794) I discovered Chastenay resembles Radcliffe in her reformist radical agenda, in her case much modified by her family’s devastating experience of the revolution (including imprisonment, lose of property, and her father having nearly been guillotined). She also identifies with Emily St. Aubert, Radcliffe’s heroine. What Chastenay loses in subtlety, she replaces in much more social understanding of real life experiences of unjust imprisonment, familial abuse, murders, and harrowing hostage experiences. She carries over Radcliffe’s sheer sensibility of into a focused forceful romantic paysage which adds to Radcliffe’s nightmare scenarios of dreams of nervous distraught pursuit and chase, and perhaps remembered experiences of near rapes (incest?).
Nonetheless, I wanted to suggest that reading these texts (as people still do) as sheer female gothic obscures their critiques of the social, economic and political order which are valuable in themselves, which influenced other important books (e.g., George Sand’s Consuelo/La Comtesse de Ruddolstadt, influenced by Radcliffe through Chasteney).
Alas, I think I wrote about this more clearly here than I did in the official mandarin-type proposal. I am just so much better at writing casually in letter style. I thought by having two sets of texts I could make my argument about the value of these translated texts more strong. I would not present an analysis of each text as that would take far too long but just my findings. It interested me too that Smith’s Manon was suppressed — perhaps people thought her strong amoral heroine dangerous — and people are still today unaware of how she alters that text to make Manon the center and an active heroine (at least in Manon’s mind). Montagne’s Ethelinde is also a nearly anonymous and thus disrespected text. So they make a neat comparison with Chastenay’s whose text is still read in France and countries where French is read. There are on the Net still the frontispieces for the volumes of her 1798 text. I saw a popular copy in a good bookstore when I was in Paris for 2 weeks once. Hers also has prestige and is well-known and yet I think there is but the one article by Dorothy Medlin on 4 (!) different translations of Udolpho into French and only one small part is on Chastenay text.
On the other hand, it would be fun to to expand more on Udolpho and on Mémoires de madame de Chastenay, 1771-1815 (written between 1810 and 1817, published 1896). Chastenay lived to the mid-19th century; she knew and spoke with Napoleon (who treated her with respect); she translated Goldsmith’s The Deserted Village as Le village abandonne as a genuinely protest text. I’d really like to tell more people, expand on what I’ve already written about Radcliffe’s A Journey Made in the Summer of 1794 (published 1795) (see my Nightmare of History in Radcliffe’s non-fiction Landscape). Radcliffe is so beautifully well-read in art books, architecture, cultures, and she is a sort of Girondist (rather like Madame de Roland), a serious reformer who means her novels to be taken in the way other novels of her era were which critiqued society. In her case the ancien regime.
Using Smith’s Prevost, Montagne’s Smith and Chastenay’s Radcliffe, a configuration of the three texts, I’d write and talk about translation. If I study Radcliffe & Chastenay’s lives, life-writing, travel, I’d write and about the two women writers, though the centerpiece would be a comparative translation study.
My larger goal is to call attention to a large body of work still ignored, to which these translations belong. When these books are studied the arguments often resemble those film adaptations once had to contend with: evaluation and judgement based solely on a one-to-one literal comparison with the assumption the first text is necessarily the most important and better. I want to show micro-analysis is still at the core of translation study but when we change our assumptions how much we have to learn and how many new and fascinating texts to read.
I really enjoy reading and doing translation. It’s a real urge as such. One sits with books and books, dictionaries, thesauruses, different previous translations. Sheer language endeavour. Poetry as such. Books I’m interested in from this terrain include Isabelle de Montolieu’s influential translations of Austen into French (both of which I just bought from Amazon, complete with prefaces): Raison et Sensibilite (someone retyped the whole text, four columns a page), and La Famille Elliot, ou L’Ancienne Inclination (a facsimile, the volume labelled I contains the whole text). When Montolieu writes her prefaces to her translations of Austen, she assumes in the first no one will ever hear of Austen a decade from now nor S&S, and in the second her respect has grown enormously (she’s read Emma and MP) and feels she must translate more strictly but her sense of Austen’s place does not come near how she regards Smith (she translated one of Smith’s Solitary Wanderer‘s tales and provides a preface again).
I have written on and just delighted in Felix Fénéon’s gem, Catherine Morland (1898/99, reprinted by Gallimard 1946), and recently bought Pierre Goubert’s serious literary biography of Austen, a rare treatment in French (biographies of Austen do not abound outside English, not in French either); he translated her earlier novels and wrote about them in the Pleiade. I’ve read one of two 1807 translations Stael’s Corinne, ou L’Italie into English (one read and much admired by Austen), and it’s a cross between Radcliffe and Austen! have wanted to try Isabel Hill’s 1884 Victorian and did read thoroughly the brilliant Corinne or Italy by Sylvia Raphael (often unmentioned, she died young, her book printed as an Oxford Classic, 1998).
And I do want to read more translation studies. On my TBR pile is Belllos’s Is that a Fish in Your Ear? and Suzanne Levine’s The Subversive Scribe: Translating Latin American fiction. I need some outside goal, deadline, to help me do all this for if it’s so pleasurable, it’s hard work.
My proposal was turned down. I think probably most unfairly. To do myself justice and also keep my thoughts where I can find them again and share them with others, I’ve put my proposal on my website. “To translate seemed to me a beautiful thing to do: Translation as Matching Creative Act”. I’ve at least done myself that much justice. (Freedom the press and speech belongs to the woman who has a website.) As you know if you ever read my Sylvia blog I’m just an honorary Duchess aka ex-adjunct lecturer.