Archive for the ‘translation art’ Category

… it is the words into which she is translating, not those from which she is taking her leave, that create her problems … [she] must keep the receiving language even more in mind than the original one …Horace is one of my favorite poets, though I frankly prefer to read him in translation — Burton Raffel, How to read [and write] a translation,” The Forked Tongue

‘Speech,’ she said, ‘is but broken light upon the depth
Of the unspoken — George Eliot, The Spanish Gypsy

A translation is an acceptable match for an utterance made in another tongue — [but then what is a match, acceptable, & what must the text crucially match] — Bellos

A pre-Internet multilingual translation dictonary — useless because it contains too few words from particular languages, sold to bargain-hunting people not serious translators, who don’t understand the art of translating for real

My copy of Roget’s Thesaurus, which I’ve owned since age 13, recovered twice, and is the one book I have I could not do without; words are grouped into terrains

Dear friends and readers,

As the year draws to a close, I know there have been several books I read important to me, that helped change the way I think about reading, writing and life too, but I’ve not blogged about them because often it’s precisely such books whose significant matter is hardest to convey. One such is Franco Moretti’s Atlas of the European Novel (it enabled me to write a proposal for a paper on Trollope’s imagined maps); another egan to be John Desmond’s Adaptation: Studying Film and Literature. Meant for students, this one had directions for essays that enabled me to push students into comparing films and books on a concrete literal basis, no impressionism and I was beginning myself to learn and teach before I was cut off from teaching.

I hope Bellos’s has a happier fulfilled conclusion. It’s a third. David Bellos’s Is that a Fish In Your Ear? is not just brilliant but fun (fun to read). In a way he doesn’t say much beyond what I intuitively would agree with and might even get to think myself, but he explains why most talk and expectation about translation is still so wrong. (We are improving on our understanding of film adaptations of books.) I’ve been wanting to write a blog on his book because many of his insights are these sudden utterances with accompanying paragraphs that I’d like to keep in mind and refer to. The book is there but not in my mind in a state that’s useful to me, only on my desk physically. And to go through the book this way is to make nonsense of it, asking to looking for sparkling needles in a haystack

David Bellos’s Is That A Fish In Your Ear is thus hard to grasp — like his title, apparently an allusion to a line in Douglas Adams’s Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Universe which include a Babelfish: if you put a babelfish into your ear, it instantly translates all languages into whichever one you want. When I bought it, partly attracted by the witty title, I thought he was referring to how when you machine translate a phrase you can come up with utter nonsense since the context of an utterance is central to how we understand its meaning, both literally and suggestively, how we use it to.

An outline of the book’s story or argument moves through the topics of general areas of prevailing misunderstandings of what translations are, how they function, what is a good translation, how one goes about translating, laws and customs governing publishing translations. He begins with the idea that we can’t avoid translations most days of our lives and that we don’t most of us know what a translation is, nor why it is that a given utterance can have many different translations (use different words using the same receiving language) and yet all be valid as translations. There are at least 7000 languages in the world; in practice many of these small groups of people also know one of 80 vehicular languages, a language learned by a larger group of people which enables them all to communicate with one another. Nine of these are spoken by a large majority of people; add 4 more to get to 13 and you’ve covered most of the people of the world.

Learn 13! One of these is English, the second most common French and after that German — the three most translated-into languages in the world.

He then goes on to make the obvious observation (but important) that different kinds translation are appropriate for different texts and situation (say a legal report versus a poem; or a subtitle in a movie versus a novel). At the end of this section he offers a translation of a poem and asks us why we call it a translation since if you look carefully most of the words have been changed into words of another language that have a different literal content — so the above dictionary would not have gotten you to them. A thesaurus would be much more helpful. Groups of words occupying the same terrain of meaning. And the book has barely begun.

His highway (main argument) offers information on why the particular languages most texts have been into and when, why these choices. Not only are translations influential (and still invisible — we pretend we have read Tolstoi when we read Constance Garnet) and can change the language translated into a (target or receiving language) but the language which has been translated (source language). “Continuing waves of translated works in particular fields leave the receiving language … in a different shape” (p. 187). Consider the impact of the translated Bible on Shakespeare and the Elizabethans.

It matters whether you are translating a text into a dominant language (up) or less prestigious language (down). Translations into prestigious languages (up) erase the source’s foreignness; translations into less prestigious languages (the less widely disseminated vehicular) try to keep a residue of the source.

More important to me — who can only translate into English and only from French and Italian anyway — are the paths that move away from and return to the road. In these he drops remarks and demonstrates important truths not paid sufficient attention to. What I want to do is go through the book typing out the brilliant convincing passages or utterances (as he might call them). Partly it would be good for me to have these nuggets before me as I study, evaluate or write about translations. Bellos gives me courage and helps me know my views are valid even if in most places I read contradicted by what others assert, including (especially perhaps) academic circles where the crib is still what’s wanted and thought to be the aim of a translation. He offers me insight into how to go about it too. Look at translation as a equivalent, a replacement text, originally creative in its own right with its own language’s arts. …

Film adaptation a particular kind of translation

To offer a few:

How should the foreignness of a text best be represented in the receiving language? (p. 41). This depends on the nature of the languages you are translating from and into. If it’s from English to French, w/o being perceptively anomalous, give a sense of the French phrases in the source by some literalness P. 50)

Our first learned language is the one we begin to speak when very young; it’s conveyed by the people who surround us intimately when very little. Our operative language is the language we speak when we go to school, read, learn to write to be comprehended by others.

An adequate translation reproduces the meaning of an utterance made in the foreign language (p. 67) it should contain not just the information you need to grasp not so much what is actually or literally said but what is going on in the saying of it (p. 69). Meaning does not inhere solely in specific words. (My paraphrase: you relive the utterance in the receiving tongue at its strongest even if that does not literally correspond to the source tongue; indeed differences in language means you often cannot or should not try to literally correspond.) What is literally said is only a fragment of what is going on (p. 72)

How can you tell if an utterance is meaningful. Chomsky said you can make grammatical sentences which are not meaningful: “Colorless green ideas sleep furiously,” but students wrote paragraphs which explicated the phrase. Bellos: you can see whether an utterance has a meaning by testing whether it can be translated into another language (p. 80).

The lack of exactly matching words is not a problem for a translator because words are not at bottom names for things or ideas. The idea that words are names of things or ideas comes from dictionary making. Yes he fingers the 18th century as a century which produced dictionaries which solidified the idea that words are names for things (despite Swift’s satire). We use words to stand for classes of things and ideas (like the word “head”), and there are many things, ideas, groups that have no specific name. We often use one word for another to explain it; translators are finding the other word in another language (pp. 8589). It’s hard to say what a word is. They are not just units in social practice. He suggest that “to know a language is to know how to say the same thing in different words [with ease]” (p. 102, my addition)

There is no such thing as a literal translation. None can be that. You can word a text, word for word as they come but it will appear gobbledy-gok except for those who know the source language (that’s my paraphrasing Bellos (p. 117) Nabokov’s famous demand is him dissing translation.

Translations can be scary: when induced by powerful people to genuflect (pp. 131-32) However, we must adapt to circumstances and context and what the translation is for (this is called adaptive translation). No language is an island (p. 203). This is the business of translating from an intermediary translation and yet producing a readable living text (Marco Polo) (p. 204)

For a few more insights and elaboration, see comments.

He has charts: I have a hard time understanding charts. One on books translated between 7 dominating languages (p. 210): Swedish, Chinese, Hindi, Arabic, French, German, English. Top four source languages: English, French, Russian, German (p. 216)

All very puzzling so let me say just that English is the medium as source or target for 75.12% of all translation acts (p. 217) and culture of translation (and publishers) are concentrated in France, Germany, Britain and US.

Important realities: French has been the most widely taught foreign language in the English speaking world. France has tradition of openness to foreign cultures (will translate). Germany a cross-raods for little studied languages. Middle Ages the lingua franca was Latin, and Arabic pivotal for Greek and Hebrew; while Japanese a relay language for translations of Russian into Chinese (a prestigious language). (pp. 218-20)

It’s not a coincidence that I found a French thesaurus some years ago but can find no Italian one: Le Robert has no section from English to French (which is such a waste), it’s all in French & as in Roget’s English Thesaurus it’s families of words, words inside a terrain. It’s become an important book for me.

Example study: “To translate seemed to me a beautiful thing to do: Translation as Matching Creative Act”.

The Wool WinderPussycat1759forYahooblog
Detail from Jean-Baptiste Greuze (1725-1805), The Wool-Winder’s [touching] Cat (1759): her poor ear isn’t in good shape and her body frail, wispy

What I’ve loved to do best is translate Italian poetry by women with a French intermediary text. Part of the joy is this vehicular text (Italian is not one of the world’s 13 vehicular texts) because know French better and love it more. A while back I found on the Net Elsa Morante’s Italian poem, “Minna la Siamese”. I also found an English translation which presented itself as the whole poem but left off the final stanza and was somewhat inaccurate. I did put it on my old life-writing blog because my cats are comforting creatures when trouble arises and bought a book said to contain this poem. When it came I discovered it had several poems on cats, and the language facing the Italian texts was French. Well with an intermediary text in French by Jean-Noel Schifano I produced my own translation, using my cat’s name:


I’ve a small beast, a cat named Clary.

Whatever I place on her plate, she eats
Whatever I pour into her bowl, she drinks.

Onto my knees she comes, gazes at me,
turns, sleeping tranquilly, so I forget
she’s there. If, remembering, l name her,
sleeping, her ear quivers, trembles, this name
then casts a dark shadow athwart her rest.

Blitheful, she has by her a muffled
tinkling stringed instrument, crinkling thanks
so sweet in play, I pet and I scratch her
turning neck & small upheld head, nudge, nudge.

If I consider history, time, things
separating us, disquiet comes. Alone:
of this she knows nothing. If then I watch
her play with string, her eye color tinted
by the sky, I yield. Laughter re-takes me.

When days off, for people, for us, make time
festive, pity comes to me for her who can’t
distinguish. That she too may celebrate,
for her meal I give her canned tuna fish.
She doesn’t understand why, but blissful
with her sharp teeth snips, gnaws, swallows away.

The Gods, to offer her some weapon, have
given her nails and teeth, but she, such her
gentleness, has adopted them for games.
Pity comes again for her whom I could
kill with impunity, no trial, no hell
thought of, no remorse, prisons. Just not there

She kisses me so much, licks and licks, I’ve
the illusion that she cherishes me.
I know another mistress or me to her
is all the same. She follows me about
as if to fool me that I am all to her
but I know my death would graze her but lightly …

It needs improvement but Bellos’s book has made me feel my translation is finer poetry than the one on the Net and not because mine is more accurate and includes the last stanza. I’ve made a vow to myself I shall translate all her cat poems.

Bellos doesn’t mention it but I know that when western men were taught Latin, western women were taught French (and in the 19th century Italian); that women began to publish through translation as masks


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Irene Soames (Gine McKay) as old Jolyon (Corin Redgrave) comes upon her in the grounds of Robin House for the first time (2002 Forsyte Saga, Part 5)

Dear friends and readers,

I’ve not had time to blog here again since Saturday. I’ve been off-line from Hurricane Sandy: I hope all who read this blog and are in the area affected by the vast intense storm. are now safe and have access to power again or know when they are going to have access and in the meantime have somewhere to go for sleep, rest, comfort, and food. And that eventually you are compensated and helped out of your losses again insofar as this is possible.

And for been weeks busy with my own tales of upstairs/downstairs (house improvements DIY). Not to omit writing some portraits (Henry and Eliza Austen, Aunt Jane) and about Austen’s letters on Austen Reveries.

I’ve a new plan I hope to go through with. Preparatory to the third season of Downton Abbey, I will at least post my blogs on the episodes from last season, culminating in the Christmas special, as well my continual watching of the two Forsyte Sagas, both 1967 and 2002, a pleasurable and instructive comparison: both are superb. I mean to return to serious film studies, to go through the first and second; the still at the head of this blog is one of Irene Soames shortly after the death of Philip Bossiney, her lover, and her escape from Soames. She wanders in the idyllic Robin House grounds where the idyllic interlude with the old man begins.

I’ve been reading Gaskell (Mary Barton, North and South), Trollope (Castle Richmond), Dickens (Bleak House and now Little Dorrit), not to omit Charlotte Smith (Ethelinde, and just finishing her first novel, Emmeline, or, The Orphan of the Castle), and about historical fiction. I do hope to share some of this with you, as well as translation studies and foremother poets to come.

Where I spill my life, much I love close at hand, near to heart

from Ellen and Jim

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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

Pierre Arnaud’s recent translation of The Romance of the Forest

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.

Lidia Conetti’s recent Italian translation of Radcliffe’s Udolpho: sometimes it’s better than Radcliffe or Chastenay

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?).

A later 19th century cover to Chastenay’s translation shows an awareness of the depth of inward strangeness in Radcliffe-Chastenay

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.

A frontispiece to a French text of one of the memoirs, life-writing, travel books to emerge from the French revolution & Napoleonic wars

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.

Hubert Robert’s Hermit in a Garden

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.


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It is plausible that no translation, however good it may be, can have any significance as regards the original — Walter Benjamin, “The Task of the Translator,” Illuminations

One must distrust the almost-the-same (sodium is the same as potassium, but with sodium nothing would have happened), the practically identical, the approximate, the or-even, all surrogates and all patchwork — Primo Levi, “Potassium,” The Periodic Table

Eugene Atget (1857-1927), The Petit Trianon

Dear friends and readers,

My theme: I’ve returned to an old love to do a new project: French-to-English and back again translations in the 18th century. I begin with Walter Benjamin and my own experiences, then cover Beebee’s book, Clary on the continent, Prevost’s different Clevelands, and various different telling individual cases (different Tom Joneses, Radcliffe’s translators); I end on Renato Poggioli’s “The Added Artificer” which deserves to be much better known.


I have a hard time remembering when I was not fascinated by translations. I think it began back in high school when at age 16 I read a probably poor translation into English of Victor Hugo’s Hunchback of Notre-Dame. I loved the book and wanted to know more about it, and especially I wanted to read it in French. Later on somehow reading a book in one language and then reading the same book in another gave me an experience of two weirdly interdependent books and thus worlds. When I was in college, I took French for all the years I could, extending my non-major following of it with one-credit courses: such courses met twice a week, but for one and one-half hours of sheer talk in French allowed using our books. We’d take turns using its conversations. Then in graduate school, I took a course in Italian over one summer to fulfill the language requirement (one had to pass two tests in two languages), and just loved the language, again enjoyed so much lining up a text in Italian aligned with its source or target text in English.

Anne Finch when young

During the 1980s I re-taught myself to read French and read French novels, and then for over 20 years starting the middle 1980s I taught myself to read and to translate Italian and translated Vittoria Colonna and Veronica Gambara’s poetry and then wrote an essay on Anne Finch’s translations out of the Italian though the French. Just what I had done at first for Colonna (and what I’ve done since for a poem by Elsa Morante I found in the original Italian with French text facing it).

So when over the past week I dropped one of my projects for this fall term, the paper on Paranoia and Infamy, I naturally turned to the proposal I wanted to send to Chawton, and was happy, even eager to reread some of my books on translation (Lawrence Venuti, The Translator’s Invisibility, The Scandals of Translation, Sherry Simon’s Gender in Translation). Did you know that over 90% of translations into the world are transations into English? how little translators are paid? How women’s writing begins in translation, how they express themselves through its covering medium?

I discovered my old folders filled with essays on translation, some read, some not read, and books and essays just on translation in the 18th century, the 19th and more recently.

Charlotte Smith by George Romney (1792)

My idea was Charlotte Smith’s translation of Prevost’s Manon Lescaut, or some study of intermediary texts between her later novels and Prevost and Rousseau, but to tell the truth I was not sure I could find something to extrapolate out of a tight narrow comparison. I do have Isabelle de Montolieu’s translation of one of Smith’s Solitary Wanderer’s Tale (Corisande de Beauvilliers, and all of M. Montagne’s (whoever he is) French translation of Smith’s Ethelinde, or the Recluse of the Lake, which I also own in English. And of course Montolieu’s translation of Sense and Sensibility (with her preface) and soon will have her translation of Persuasion.

So I went about to look for previous work on individual books I’d done. I’ve now remembered my careful comparative reading of the opening of Radcliffe’s Udolpho with Victorine de Chastenay’s translation of the same text into French, something of Chastenay’s life (she was imprisoned during the terror and lost family members and emerged somewhat shattered and depressed, and various essays on 18th century translations of classics (Riccoboni and Davaux’s Tom Jones, a French and a Dutch translation of Prevost’s Cleveland contrasted to the French texts) and of course Prevost’s Clarisse.

Victorine de Chastenay (translator into French of Radcliffe’s Udolpho)

And I’ve read away and reminded myself of what I once knew. So, I spent Tuesday I spent yesterday reading translation studies and then how women in particular use translation: how the earliest women writers began (felt they had license) by translating, how it works to free, a way to express what is otherwise forbidden (that’s how I see Smith’s translation of Manon Lescaut), a way of declaring love and wanting to share (Chastenay’s Udolpho).

Jean-Antoine Watteau, unnamed shepherdess

I read Mirella Agorni’s poignant, The Voice of the ‘Translatress’: From Aphra Behn to Elizabeth Carter Author, The Yearbook of English Studies, 28 (1998 Eighteenth-Century Lexis and Lexicography): 181-95, and I compared a literal translation of Ovid’s Oenone to Paris with Aphra Behn’s translation/adaptation. In her case (as is not uncommon among men as well as women) she did not have any Latin, so someone gave her an intermediary crib. Behn turned the poem into erotica — on behalf of Oenone, a nobody. Since reading Germaine Greer’s persuasive debunking of all the myths growing up around Aphra Behn, including that she was an aristocrat (born on wrong side of blanket), supported herself sheerly by her playwriting (when it seems rather she combined being men’s mistresses with playwriting and verse, including translations, and pop novellas), I can see why she’d identify with Oenone.

Behn is worth remembering and this unashamed revelling in idyllic
pastoral too. Some of her most moving verses defend her as a translatress:

I by a double right thy Bounties claim,
Both from my Sex, and in Apollo’Ns ame:
Let me with Sappha and Orinda
Oh ever sacred Nymph, adorn’d by thee;
And give my Verses Immortality.

Jane Austen died declaring her immortality in defiance against everyone spending their afternoon so trivially.

‘Oh! subjects rebellious! Oh Venta depraved
When once we are buried you think we are gone
But behold me immortal!


The Abbe Prevost (1697-1763) translated all Richardson and Frances Sheridan’s Sidney Biddulph

Speaking very generally, as the century progressed and the novel achieved more respect, translations became more ostensibly faithful. Paradoxically at the same time (especially if you are working on the literal old model that a good translation is a sort of excellent crib — rather like those who go to movies and critique a film adaptation by how “literally” like it seemed to them to the book), translations became more creative. You can see how the author expressed her or himself through the medium.

Some of the best general essays written thus far on translation are general philosophical ones. A particularly rich one is by Walter Benjamin, “The Task of the Translator”. He opens with what may seem a strange idea: “It is plausible that no translation, however good it may be, can have any significance as regards the original.” The analysis in defense of this is brilliant and rich with ideas. One train of argument suggests that any translation is about the encounter of the two languages and two cultures. I find this to be so in my experience of translation. I don’t own the words I use and must use the words of my time and culture and watch them interact with the words and cultural assumptions and whole world view of the other language — French or Italian. He says the desire to translate comes partly from a love of a certain language. Again I know this is so.

Lovelace just before the rape: Simon Brett’s late 20th century illustrations for the Folio Society edition

I reread some of Beebee’s Clarissa on the Continent, about 18th century to modern translations of Clarissa — and abridgements. I know now the Broadveiw edition provides a new edition of the 3rd edition of Clarissa, thus replacing the now out-of-print 4 volume Everyman.

Beebee’s book includes a close reading of two contemporary translations of Clarissa: Prevost and Michaelis’s. He compares these two texts to Richardson’s 1st and 3rd editions of Clarissa (which are themselves different, though both think they must Frenchify the text from the point of view of French taste and ethics). Beebee teaches us how to read translations. He has a chapter where he surveys later translations and abridgements. Particularly of interest to me was Dallas’s abridgement as Trollope wrote a critique of that; it was the book 19th century readers knew Clarissa. After Dallas when some 19th century person says she’s read Clary it’s probably Dallas’s Clary.

In last chapter of Beebee’s book he compares Sherburn’s 1970s and Burrell’s 1950s abridgements. Most of the time today Clarissa is read in an abridgement in the US. In France they read Prevost’s translation (quite different in a number of ways from Richardson); in the US when I was in college (1960s) we read Burrell’s abridgement for Modern Library; the last decade or so students read Sherburn’s abridgement for Rinehart. Margaret Doody has a long article lambasting Sherburn (by the way).

I had been really delighted to come across for the first time ever a close reading and discussion of Burrell. I was not sure of his full name. His edition had never been acknowledged or described in print as far as I knew. I had read Doody and Stuber’s exposure of Sherburn’s abridgement as a far too personal, rigid, a narrow take with interjections by Sherburn (!), but never came across any commentary on Burrell.

Lovelace attacking Clarisssa (Simon Brett again)

It was Burrell’s abridgement of Clarissa that I first read at age 18-19 and was riveted by. I had the not uncommon experience of not being able to put the book down, of being gripped to read on and on into the wee hours of the dawn. The most vivid memory I had though was of disappointment; somehow or other I had missed the rape. I still remember hunting around the text the following morning (after a little sleep) and not finding it. Later false memories began to tell me I had found it later, but now I realize that in fact I must’ve read the rape for the first time in the Everyman reprint of Richardson’s 3rd edition.

Well, guess what? Burrell omitted it! He censored out the scene. It was in the Everyman I realized that Lovelace raped Clarissa in front of the other women; there I first read the famous passage where Clary says she will be his, just give her a bit of time right here, right now.

Nonetheless, I believe that Burrell’s edition influenced me & strongly; Burrell produces a romantic (vexed word I know, but I’m trying to use it in the common sense way of overwrought individualistic emotionalism and rebellion) text. Burrell will omit much surrounding matter here and there which qualifies Clarissa’s subjective interpretations and outcries. I’ve never read Sherburn so didn’t realize he actually interjects his own interpretation and sometimes himself imitates Lovelace — falls into Lovelace’s vein. Beebee shows how both men cut the book in ways which erase some of the worst aspects of Lovelace’s character. Reading them, though, against Richardson’s books teaches us what was most deeply meant to be expressed in the original — especially after you have studied a variety of translation and adaptations.

Final duel (Brett)

I probably loved Clarissa, was more grabbed by it in Burrell’s edition than I would have been in Richardson’s whole text. Burrell omitted much of the long fourth volume, especially all the Job passages and the gruesome and to me egregiously spiteful nasty dramatizations of the deaths of wicked people. He kept Lovelace’s agon, time at the assembly ball, the lead-up to the duel. (See how vicious the Deity can get; watch out is my gut response to these Burrell thought them in bad taste.) Burrell also turned Clary into a pre-Byronic heroine and softened the presentation of Lovelace.

So I was at long last vindicated. 40 years later I learned I didn’t miss the rape after all. I had not fallen asleep over my book.


Samuel Palmer (1805-81), A Dream in the Appenines (1864)

Some of the best studies I read yesterday were about the clash between cultures, languages, created worlds through languages though having the same literal stories and denotative word content, and even syntax (at times). You do have to read more than one language to do translation studies and as the central hegemonic languages in the 18th century for new literary movements were French and English, these are the languages most studies are in. I went into Annie Cointre, Alain Lautel and Annie Rivera’s La Traduction
romanesque au XVIII siecle
, especially a long essay on Prevost’s
Cleveland — in French and English and Dutch versions. It brings home so many issues, including the way history was more valued than fiction and historians paid more, how this book applied to a naive desire to read history made easy and salacious (as in our time). This was by Ellen Ruth Moerman.

Abbe Prevost reading Manon Lescaut aloud to group of admirer (1856 painting by Joseph Caraud)

To do a translation study you must do book history. Prevost had several translators; his book came out in more than one edition and it was censored differently in different countries. The Dutch translator was quite content to translate anti-Catholic church commentary, but the Catholic French one was not. All of them stigmatize the Quakers (everyone dislikes quakers because people resent general non-conformity with the larger group). Then Prevost wanted partly to delude his British audience into thinking his book was really a history, really written first in English and had the English copy published before the French. There are two different prefaces: one published in English opens with a solemn discourse on the uses of history; the other in French is more tongue-in-cheek and he defends himself for writing a preface (what is this hypocrisy that prefaces are to be apologized for; they are needed) and insinuates if you enjoyed the Man of Quality, you’ll find him in this book again.

The 1997 BBC Tom Jones understood how important Fielding’s presence can be in the novel for the reader who wants over self-conscious wit, self-reflexive mockery

Two essays on the translations of Tom Jones, one by Kristina Taivalkoski-Shilove and another by Annie Rivara (on Riccoboni’s Amelie)
very worth while. It was fascinating to discover that the freer early translation by La Place was the Tom Jones most French readers knew and preferred; that it was a labor of love Davaux did when he translated faithfully and carefully and included all the opening narrator chapters. In the 20th century Tom Jones is reprinted in popular editions without these opening chapters. For me the book is ruined; much of the deep pleasure comes from the presence of the narrator. But apparently not for a mass readership who are said to lose “interest.” Amelia was not popular, and Riccoboni’s choice to do it came out of her deep engagement with its story of unhappiness in years of marriage.

From Christopher Cave I was delighted to learn that Andre Morellet, humane philosophe who translated Beccario’s treatise demonstrating that torture turns up no valid information translated Radcliffe’s Italian. He found in her a congenial reformist spirit, but he continually rationalized her prose. She produces a super-abundance of description which cannot depict reality so many experiences are piled into one. He choses a line of description that’s clear and readily pictured. What makes for her original depth psychologically and pictorially vanishes. It’s true you can’t make fun of her text and it’s no longer what some find tedious. I just love myself getting lost in labyrinths with endless doors and locks.

Piranesi, I Carceri (opaque)

Piranesci, I Carceri (clarified)

And I spent time with my old love, Renato Poggioli’s “The Added Artificer” (in a marvelous anthology put together by Reuben Brower, On Translation). Like Venuti, he shows that a translation is another text, and one that is creative in a different way. The translator (like an illustrator) can transcend the first text by transposing another personality into the key of his or her own. You strive after self-expression by looking into a pool of art. Instead of a translation being pouring new wine into an old or previously extant bottle, the translator is taking older wine and making a new bottle with it. The translator is herself a living vessel saturated with a sparkling spirit and recreates the container someone with whom he or she has an affinity has given a previous embodiment to. A good translation may be read for itself, without comparing it to the original work.

Eugene Atget, Grand Trianon, Pavillion de Musique (1923-24)


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Giovanni (Christopher Maltman) and Leporello (Erwin Schrott) awaiting the Commendatore (Anatoli Kotscherga)

“If the joke against him [Macheath, here Giovanni] is that he is vain to adopt the grand manner of the genteel rakes he at least stands their own final test; he has the courage to sustain it” (Empson, “The Beggar’s Opera,” Some Versions of the Pastoral)

Dear friends and readers,

Lately high art has once again been taking refuge in versions of the pastoral: last week Izzy and I saw Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland, this past summer, she, I and the admiral saw Benjamin Britten’s The Beggar’s Opera; and yesterday we went to see in HD form at a local “center for the arts” (renovated movie and play theater) Claus Guth’s 2008 Don Giovanni done before a full audience, all dressed up (as we could see — no dressing down there as we see increasingly in the US) at the Salzburg theater in Vienna (Austria).

The production is a masterpiece, at once suggestively of wide application, and locally (in the narrow story and characters) rooted. I would say for the first time I was made to realize why this opera is said to have such depth and interest.

Claus Guth set the action in a dark wood. Everything happens on a stage which is decorated as a simple rugged ugly forest and by the end of the opera it’s filled with torn garments, dying trees, and garbage from parties (cans, wrappings, dirty food, spoilt clothes — from blood). It opens with a few leaves on trees; mid-point the trees have gone bare; the last third, it’s snowing, as Don Giovanni and Leporello defy the Commendatore (who is digging the Don’s grave just behind their picnic)


We were in a modernist take on an 18th century art work which was a kind of anti-pastoral — and in this it reminded me of Gay’s Beggar’s Opera.

Christopher Maltman as the Don and Erwin Schrott as Leporello came across on one level as two sordid fools, a kind of Vladmir and Estragon who can’t think of what to do with themselves but chase women and fight pettily with one another. They are a homoerotic pair continually squabbling.

As in Saturnalia we have Leporello in the don’s costume with the ever bleeding don laid out in semi-hysterical exhaustion.

The play’s anti- ancien regime subtext came out strongly for the Don need only say he’s the Don and Leporello shuts up — as does everyone else. The women profess to adore him: Maltman is attractive, muscled and is made to behave sort of vampirishly (he drains everyone too), but it’s his position, that he’s my lord that matters. His face is wry and twists with feelings of noblesse oblige (a pretense his pain does not matter). I was also reminded of Faust: how naive these enacted self-glorifications how narrow and silly.

As many will doubtless recall, Empson identifies the pastoral by its level-headed bringing down to reality. Through its distorting x-ray mirror, individuals can be exposed for what they are.

Waiting for the bus

This is a opera where the women want sex with the Don, only on their own terms of power over him. Donna Elvira (Dorothea Röschmann) gets drunk when blindfolded and led away to think Leporello is the Don. Zerlina (Ekaterina Siurina) (this is the usual interpretation) prefers the don over the brutal jealous probably boring Masetto (Alex Esposito).

Elvira fooled by a glum Leporello

Zerlina on swing, Don below

At the opening of the play we see Donna Anna’s father shoot (pistols – modernized everything) and inflict a mortal wound in the center of the Don’s stomach (perhaps to the side a little). Thus Maltman is dying slowly throughout and, refusing to acknowledge so much as the blood itself, spends the opera making jests of his pain and anguish.

Stilling the pain

This is a version which sympathizes with the Don by making him half-mad, sick (a neurotic promiscuity is the idea). Bleeding throughout and he gets blood all over Zerlina’s white dress.

The best single singing moment was the tenor Octavio (Pavel Breslik) with his aria wanting peace with Anna (Svetlana Donev). It was poignant and he no macho male. (Everyone sang marvelously I don’t mean to say they didn’t but Octavio was transcendent). Here the “new” interpretation came into play by having Anna and Octavio attempt to drive through the wood in a not-so-recent cheap-looking car that promptly broke down. The Don looks into their motor as an excuse to get at Anna. The characters go in and out of the seats. Much stage business comedy. Octavio’s aria is undercut by having her inside the car smoking moodily away as he sings his heart out. It’s clear she’s bored. Jim said he felt for Octavio for the first time.

Donna Anna apparently unaware gives her hand to Giovanni

It’s also nihilistic. Like other performances I’ve seen the last chorus is dropped — people often take this coming on stage at the end as providential. See Giovanni is punished. It’s also things are going on as usual, for in the words Zerlina is planning to go off and live with Masetto and have children, Leporello at least free (but now without a source of money) to the tavern, Octavio and Anna to bury and carry on their upper class lives. Only Elvira is stranded but she is justified. All this was dropped in any event. I was glad for I find it grating.

It is however also very much an 18th century play. Donna Anna does not go off with a gun (presumably to kill herself) for love of the Don. In this production she does not pay much attention to Octavio — she grieves intensely for her father now and again.

Anna grieving over her father’s remains

The importance of the father reminded me of Clarissa, of The Marquise of O, of Tom Jones. At the close the father comes back and the drunken, half-dead Giovanni falls into the grave the old man has been digging for the last moments of the opera. The centrality of sex is very 18th century and the exploration of its underside too.

It’s comedy and hard comedy at that. The characters are mad egoists charging about like they do in a Ben Jonson or Moliere comedy.

The sidekicks, that hilarious don and his Sancho Panza servant, Leporello

They cling while they prey on one another

I liked the jokes with clashing anachronisms, the snazzy and prosaic street costumes and stage business. The Don puts on a Burger king crown towards the end; the dancing is modern club so no one really interacts with one another.

The characters live in disconnected worlds, apart from one another.

Finally, it was a relief from the Met’s crassness this year where the general manager thinks to impress us (and put bums on seats) by overproducing and making things ultra-Broadway like. There was nothing overdone, trashy, neon-lit about it the way the Met is often. The women were all relatively young and attractive, but no push-up bras and extravagantly (grotesque) sexy outfits. (American productions go over the top in tastelessness and vulgarity, I think, because at the same time the US remains a fundamentally religious country, as fervently anti-sex for women especially as ever.) I admit I missed the Met host (or hostess) behind the scenes, the interviews, and cameras staged behind the curtain so the audience can watch scene changes inbetween acts. But we did see lovely Salzburg, enough of the inside of the theater to get a sense of its size and feel (it reminded me of Carnegie Hall).

This is the first European production I’ve ever seen (I’ve seen English ones in London but their Anglo-ness connects them to US ones); and I liked it very much. I could make out the Italian words easily (partly because of the subtitles, but the enunciation was clear). It seemed far more tasteful than what is seen in the US, less commercialized somehow, more sharp and clean, no compromises. The stage had a strange beauty — far more so than last week’s Alice because they didn’t try so hard, didn’t overdo:

Leporello and Giovanni before a broken rotted tree, which stands in for a marble statue at the play’s close

A meaningful afternoon. We were charged $13.50 at half-price tickets. The H Street Playhouse (Washington, DC) is in a gentrifying neighborhood we’ve been to before — to another nearby theater to see Marat/Sade and to this one to see Orpheus and an In-series performance. The proprietor was there to introduce the movie and tell us to behave :), doubtless to persuade us to feel good about the experience and tell others. Jim felt word was not getting out: he had just happened upon the ad. But then no long previews, no clutter.

Simplicity Empson said was the byword for pastoral, simplification, getting into contact with the mysterious forces of nature

The finale: dance-like bowing of group holding hands before audience


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Aida Begic’s Snow

Filming Chabrol’s Les Biches [Bad Girls] in Paris

Dear Friends and readers,

For my third entry about the MLA meeting at Philadelphia just after Christmas this year, I’ll report on two film studies and two translation sessions. Both of these arts are injured by the persistent accusation they are secondary, inferior to originally written texts. I’ve been studying films for a few years now, and for about 15 years translated poetry.

I went to “Paris on the Periphery in Literature and Film” (Tues, 10:15-11:30 am) for the sake of the place named: the admiral, I and Izzy spent a magical time in Paris one Christmas, and at least a good time the following summer for a week, and there’s nothing potentially better (I prefer to think) than a film set in Paris. Izzy and I saw an intelligent Paris with Juliet Binoche just this fall (2008). The underlying theme was the irony of how Paris is an obsession as an (upper class) image while this is denied by keeping it at the periphery.

Maggie Finn’s paper was on Julien Duvivier’s still remembered and popular 1936 La Belle Equipe. It’s the story of 5 working class male friends who win a lottery together and pool the money to rebuild a ruined house. Three men leave the collective before it’s done: one goes to Canada, one is expelled from France, one falls off the roof. The remaining two becomes rivals for the same woman.

Male bonding (yes that’s Jean Gabin)

The construction story was not meant to be political, but rather about a community which forms through an act of territorial reconstruction. The film was immediately interpreted allegorically as leftist, a popular front film. Two endings were filmed; a vote was held, and the happy ending won. The collective ending could equally be fascist though, and the women are secondary creatures, and presented as having no knowledge of life outside their local France countryside. If we look at the story more closely though, we see that Duvivier wants us to see the untenable fractures within the group. What’s loved is the depiction of working class leisure activities, Sundays in the country, montages of appealing individuals. These moments are Utopian.

The second paper, Philip Usher’s “Sex in Saint Tropez: Paris as Periphery in the French film (1956-64),” centered on the mythic use of a fishing village not far from Paris where painters had gone in the 19th century. It became a quiet Utopian winter resort and then morphed into a glamorous summer one. Films privilege as a place where sex is fulfilling.

Chabrol’s Les Biches, which begins and ends in Paris, shows us two women who sexually desire the same man (Jean-Louis Trintignant) and one another; ironically Paris becomes a site of escape from St Tropez. This film uses the widespread myth that characterizes lesbians as narcissistic; the sexual tensions are strong:

Stephane Audran and Jacqueline Sassard

One of Brigitte Bardot’s films interweaves images of the island with her, and the island becomes a place associated with the female libido. In some stills she slowly emerges first naked feet and then her body on the sand.

Here she is traveling inbetween

Jean-Paul Belmondo became associated with these. Sous le soleil is the most recent instance of a Paris-St Tropez story.

The last paper, Lia Brozgal’s “The Center Cannot Hold: La banlieu parle cefran,” was about banlieu literature. Banlieu is a term which describes the immigrant suburbs of Paris where unconnected, underprivileged ghetto people live. She spoke of a trio of novels which features people who might as well live thousands of miles from France when it comes to participating in its culture, getting decent jobs or places in school. The author’s success was ironic she said, for how he is part of the Parisian elite. She denied he had had a coherent political message.

The respondent Patrick Bray made sense of this panel: he said he lives in midwest Illinois, a periphery of a periphery and finds that Americans react obsessively to the idea of Paris as an elegant upper class arty place. It’s highly varied, and the old spacial exclusionary places (the heart of the city around the river) has internalized a state of mind about itself. Paris becomes a presence in movies. The banlieu is the place of deprivation (one must see La Haine). If we look at what is filmed, we find that often Paris is shot in studios (made up), and so too can New York City be, but places like St Tropez must be shot self-consciously on location and in summer.

It seemed to me these films swirled about class envies, dreams, and exclusions more than anything else.

At noon on the same Tuesday (12:00-1:15 pm) I attended “Reading Women Directing, Reconceptualizing Women’s Spaces in World Cinema.” The general theme was how in Bosnian, Peruvian, international films by women center on how women have had to cope with the war conditions of counter-revolution in these countries, and especially rape. How they survive by scrounging a living and how they make tenuous friendships to do this. The Indian film differed: it’s about the emotional undergirding of family life.

The first paper, Patricia White’s “Aesthetics and Politics in Transnational Women’s Cinema” argued women directors have to struggle against stereotypes coming from a global Hollywoodization. She dwelt on The Milk of Sorrow by Claudia Llosa who lives in Barcelona. Her film is about mass rapes used by the army as a strategy of war. In her book, Theidon documents a number of testimonies from women who were raped by as many as thirty men at a time, atrocities that often times resulted in pregnancies.

While her aim is to redefine women so they will not be shown just as victims, she does concentrate on how women are abused: an earlier film is the story of a father who inflicts incestuous sex on his daughters. Desperate acts are everywhere: one woman puts potatoes in her vagina to prevent violation. Her mode is expressionistic rather than realistic. National and local identity are central to the lives of her characters. She addresses class conflicts: in one film a white women refuses to pay her servant who sang a folk song for her.

Milk of Sorrow: the woman is working out how not to be mistreated
Magaly Solier and Efrain Solis

Meta Mazaji, “Balkan Women Filmmakers: Marking the Trail in Aida Begic’s Snow.” The Balkan film industry (such as it is) used to be hyper-masculine (only men directors); now they join in world cinema festivals where 40% of the directors at one film festival were women. The problem is success is leading to returning these women to falsifying what the women’s movement is about. Begic is determined to disseminate how women experience war: they were raped as a matter of course during ethnic cleansing in the 1990s. Her movies do soften women’s experience which was devastating.

Prof Mazaj also discussed Jasmila Zbanic’s Grbavica has a heroine who struggles to create a life with a child who was the product of a horrifying rape. Vivid simple images convey her trauma; the words though are evasive, hesitant. She wants to evoke the pressure of situations on women. The story concerns Esma, a single mother, works two jobs while struggling to raise her 13-year-old daughter Sara amid the ruins and wreckage of Sarajevo’s Grbavica neighborhood, an area that functioned as a death camp during the Yugoslav wars of the 1990s.

Mirjana Karanovic

In these movies women escape to dream landscapes in which the female director constructs a life which reflects female subjectivities. Prof Mazaj also spoke of books which take the reader into this unfamiliar or little know territory of women’s cinema outside the western European and Hollywood-UK ambit, but I could not take down the names.

Expressionist dream scene from Begic’s Snow

The last paper, Srimati Mukherjee’s “The Impossibility of Incestuous Love: Women’s captivity and national liberation in Rituparno Ghosh’s Utsab. A Bengali family returns to their ancestral home; the family had moved away during the war to make money; we see the women reconceptualize themselves. The mother had been complicit in leaving her daughter in the home to bear the burden of family traumas. We see how women are used as a form of gift exchange (a trafficking in women), deprived of an identity. This girl’s husband displays horrible verbal brutality. The home does seduce as a place of comfort; instead we see it’s where she is violated, and where she re-enacts what led her mother astray. Some cousins’ love for one another is rare happy moment in the film, so too the deep love of this woman when a mother for her son. A very moving moment at the close of the film when the women now a mother makes breakfast for her son and has to watch him reluctantly walk away. She has suffered so and her one pleasure is making him breakfast.

Ritupparno Sen Gupta

The repression which takes such strong hold in Bengali family life is symptomatic of national public life. She suggested that incest (emotional more than physical) is a familiar if hidden feudal experience, and that rape functions as a voyeuristic experience. Such films are careful to present this difficult material gently.

This MLA meeting was supposed to have translation as its major topic and there were many sessions about translation. I went to two. Each one had one good paper. I probably make a mistake to go to one with such a general topic, “The Disciplinary Challenges of Transation Studies” (Sunday, 3:30-4:45 pm), but I thought translations of texts in languages I knew nothing about would be full of material I couldn’t appreciate. In the event the papers were too abstract: except for one.

Alisa Steadman’s “Releasing the Remainder: The Politics of Translation” hit sparks when it was realized the editors and publishers she was describing were in the room. Steadman had translated a minor French text, Julie de Murat’s Voyages de Campagne, 1699, a text originally marginalized because it had formalistic features outside of the mainstream. She called it a free-flowing hybrid text which combined classical with salon culture. As Venuti and other translation scholars have said, readers today want a fluid modernized text: you are literallly close enough, but you change grammar and tone, paragraph and syntax to make the sentences flow in the modern way. She had tried to stay close to the text: the term for parts of texts that stays close to marginalized features is “remainder.” She wanted to communicate the spirit of the original. It has been published 5 times in the 18th century.

She found that Bucknell editors didn’t want her text; they said it “lacked literariness.” Eventually it was published. She told her story to show us the difficulties of putting either a close translation or more free one into a respectable book marketplace today. Here you see a discussion of how it has been published in the modern form.. It’s really a delightful rich fairy tale.

It was a little demoralizing to watch Prof Steadman begin to half-apologize for her paper, and say how the press had been right to reject her translation; it was more upsetting to see how the people in the room regarded the kind of thing I’ve done: I put my work on the Net. But then I’m no professor and if I had told myself I needed to publish in a conventional book I would never have done the poems in the first place and I know lots of people have now read and loved them. Prof Steadman might have gone on (I thought the paper was going in this direction) to tell how such a marginalized unusual text can function creatively but she did not.

The thought did strike me that what Andrew Davies does is modernize, turn individual quirky and sometimes “remainder” type texts into something fluid in the filmic world.

The other session I went to should have been a rare eye-opening privilege to me since it was about Italian translations and texts. My two translations are from Italian poets, Vittoria Colonna and Veronica Gambara. It was not because not on translation art as such nor Italian poetics. Nonetheless, there was much of interest.

Irene Zanini-Corda’s paper on Elisabetta Caminer Turra did tell the truth about Turner that Turner’s journalism work is dull by talking of how Turner wrote for money and to make herself a career but this takes us away from the work; similarly Zanini-Corda emphasizes how vicious were the attacks on Luisa Bergalli Gozzi as a way of destroying her husband. We did see how treacherous the world of translation politics can be — as translated texts are often ones wanted for some political moment. Gozzi’s book was dedicated to women and she urged them to read and study, and her literal translation of a feminist text by Madame de Genlis unveiled a French enlightenment woman’s world to her readers.

She was the first woman to gather a large anthology of poetry by women together.

Paola Gambarota’s paper was on Melchiore Cesarotti’s Ossian, a central text for the romanticism of the later 18th century, loved by (among others) Germaine de Stael (an inspiration behind Corinne which Austen valued above Milton). Prof Gambarota said that Cesarotti tried for a balance between an available 18th century Italian and a text which conveyed the nostalgia, melancholy, romance of the imagined Scots identity. By using Italian conventions and figures Cesarotti challenged the idea of a national identity and presented a universal ideal. In his text the ideals of individual liberty are defended.

Casper David Friedrich (1774-1840), Sylphide, a visual manifestation of the romantic spirit the Ossian poems belonged to.

One more blog to come, a sort of miscellany: a paper on Margaret Oliphant from a Scots session, and then brief accounts of sessions on George Eliot, Simone de Beauvoir, and Margaret Atwood; a few remarks on eating in central Philadelphia and the hotels for a few very cold days, and how I watching Andrew Davies’s Little Dorrit on my laptop into the night. And I’ll have done.


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Thomas Holcroft by John Opie

Memoires of Francoise de Motteville, 17th century historian

Dear Friends and readers,

Here is my second blog about panels and papers at this year’s MLA in Philadelphia. Here I stay with long 18th century matters. You will learn about the radical Jacobin writer, Thomas Holcroft, his life, translations, and memoir (as revised by William Hazlitt). More briefly: Johnson’s aesthetic ideals and how he was used in the marketplace, a Bengali rewriting of Defoe’s Crusoe by a woman (and a rape in The Further Adventures of Crusoe where it’s ignored); two French women romancers, Mesdames de Scudery and LaFayette. Then again more detailed the remarkable histories of the Fronde told by Mesdames de la Motteville and Guette, one a kind of Machiavelli, the other a 17th century Lady Brilliana Harley as crossed by the spirit of Christine de Pizan.

First up, perhaps the best session (for me) that I attended this time: a Monday afternoon session (3:30-4:45) on the English Jacobin writer, Thomas Holcroft.

The first paper, by Miriam Wallace, “Translating Culture: Montolieu’s Caroline de Lichtfield and Holcroft’s theories of translation,” thrilled me because she talked at length — at length — about Isabelle de Montolieu’s epistolary novel, Caroline de Lichtfield, for which I have made an e-text edition of the net, together with a biography, bibliography, account of other of Montolieu’s works, and an e-text of a selection of her meditation-walks from her travel book, Les Châteaux Suisses, Anciennes Anecdotes et Chroniques.

Woman on a Balcony (1824), by Carl Gustav Carus (1789-1869)

The son of a shoemaker, wholly self-educated, Holcroft came to London and, as a writer and radical, became a close friend of William Godwin, Tom Paine, Joel Barlowe. To support himself he had worked at a race course, been a prompter for small parts at theaters, and, having taught himself mathematics, French and German, lost himself (as it were) in books, in the 1780s he sought a respectable living as a translator. He translated French texts, among them The Marriage of Figaro (it’s said from memory) and German, and there has been some scholarship on his translations from German.

Prof Wallace then outlined the story of Caroline de Lichtfield, its nature as an epistolary novel of sensibility with a woman-centered point of view (about the education of a young girl). See my Note on the E-text, the novel’s source. Prof Wallace saw elements in the novel which anticipate Holcroft’s 1792 epistolary Anna St Ives.

“Le comte de Walstein retrouve sa soeur Matilde et son ami le baron Lindorf s’aimant enfin”

She then compared the first volume of the translated text with Montolieu’s first volume. Holcroft is much harder on the courtier-father who, and ancien regime values which, coerce Caroline into marrying Walstein, though in both there is a clear judgement against parental tyranny. Holcroft has less idyllic passages. She saw this book as serving transnational purposes in Holcroft’s mind. I’ve argued in a paper and will in my book, The Austen movies, that it was this book which inspired Austen’s Sense and Sensibility. See my note on the contemporary reviews. At this point because of the proliferation of facsimile texts by google, you can buy all 3 volumes Holcroft’s text for around $90.

There was some brief talk after the paper and I asked her if she knew what Holcroft’s translation of Felicite-Stephanie’s Adele et Theodore was like — I own a copy of Genlis’s French text. She had not compared these texts but she did talk about the importance of these women’s texts, and how his translations of them were seen as a sign of his revolutionary sympathies.

Hilary Freezer’s paper, “Thomas Holcroft’s Translation of Male Desire in Anna St Ives,” was of intense interest to me because she articulated for the first time what I have left to be true: the homosocial loving friendship between the suitor-rivals for Caroline’s hand, Walstein and Lindorf is far more intense than the love of either man for Caroline; she then found a parallel for this in first Jacobin Anna St Ives. Frank Henley is working class, sone of a gardener, and becomes close to the predatory rake, Coke Clifton; in this depiction Holcroft comes closer to delving real male sexuality intimately inwardly and candidly in an earnest way than anyone else in the era. For example, Frank becomes impotent before Clifton. As in Caroline de Lichtfield, both men are competing for one woman, and the passages Prof Fezzey quoted reminded me of the French novel.

Clifton and Frank debate idealistic morality, and Clifton calls Frank visionary (naive). Clifton says “I was born to rule, not to be ruled.” There is much sexual tension between them: one says of the other: “I could kiss him one moment and kill him the next. Tellingly, Coke slaps Frank after seeing Frank come out of Anna’s room. Frank does win the contest for Anna’s love, partly because he’s feminized. An Irish character is called black, boisterous, is presented as the “other” and it’s he who abducts Anna and almost rapes her. Coke plans the crime, but does not act.

Holcroft also means to redefine what is a gentleman, and this is an egalitarian ideal which includes sensibility traits. Consciously, though, Prof Fezzey said, the novel does include surprisingly conservative or establishment views. Holcroft’s concept of manliness excludes drinking, gambling (as in life he had seen how destructive these can be). His hero, Frank, is against sexual promiscuity, for balance, benevolence. He hesitates to court Anna not because he’s of a lower class, but because he wants to keep his passion under control. Holcroft saw the Gordon riots as the result of people losing control over their baser passions, as an unparalleled daring outrage which led to desolation and destruction. Holcroft does not seem to blame catholicism here either: for example, Clifton is the one who pursues Anna; yet it’s he and not Frank who criticizes the murky climate (so to speak) of Catholicism. Holcroft’s most basic instincts were for moderation; he presented a heteronormative story for Anna and Frank; concludes with a bourgeois marriage story.

A 1792 painting: Mademoiselle Rosalie Duthé by H. P. Danloux

Arnold Markley’s excellent paper was on Holcroft’s memoir of his life, which exists nowadays only in the revised and censored form Hazlitt made it into under Godwin’s orders: Holcroft, Thomas and William Hazlitt (1852). Memoirs of the Late Thomas Holcroft: Written by Himself; and Continued to the Time of His Death. Longman, Brown, Green, and Longmans. Holcroft had dictated these memoirs, and had gotten up to Chapter 17 and his seventeenth year when he died. Holcroft wished to show how his specific experiences of a childhood of abject poverty led him to become a strong reformist. Hazlitt was hired to finish it because Hazlitt knew Holcroft and was felt to sympathize strongly with Holcroft’s ideals. The money they made was to help Holcroft’s widow.

William Hazlitt, a Self Portrait

Hazlitt supplemented the 17 chapters with letters, interviews of Holcroft’s friends and passages from Holcroft’s books. He finished the new book in 1810, but, having been castigated for his truthful memoir of Mary Wollstonecraft, Godwin insisted in alterations which were expurgations. Hazlitt remained committed and tried to do his best. He sought interviews with people who turned him down, including Wordsworth and Coleridge.

What can we tell about Holcroft from this memoir that has come down to us? Holcroft passionately wanted to tell the pure truth of this life, to show how he had ovecome difficulties by endurance and developing (not stifling or ignoring) his hidden talents, even if they did not seem to be remunerative to others at first. He shows how an adult emerges from a child. Specifics include how he taught himself math, acted in pantomimes, and taught himself not to be gulled (cheated, deluded). He wants to teach the reader never to gamble. Somehow he had taught himself how to care and trains race horses at the new market races where he saw such cheating, gambling. He was passionately against capital punishment: we see this came from his experiences his tramping of roads with his parents where they would sell tiny things; he saw the turmoil of such a life, the “singular wretchedness.” At age 15 he saw a man hanged and never forgot it; it was “intolerable” to him to look at the gloating mob.

How great the irony that this moderate man who worked so hard to improve himself was accused of treason in 1794 and for a while was waiting to be hung. What must he have thought and dreamed while this coming punishment was about to be inflicted on him. He and the others with him were reprieved; he was one of those released as not guilty; others were transported. But afterwards for a long while Holcroft was shunned, felt himself the target of venal manipulation and ugly tongues and left England. Hazlitt offers a length treatment of this trial. The whole experience was a particularly painful stigma for Holcroft to have to endure.

Hazlitt’s book includes accounts of Holcroft’s novels and plays which mirror Holcroft’s life and political goals. An early comedy, Duplicity, is on gambling; soo The Road to Ruin. A later novel (Hugh Trevor, 1797-8?) shows with horror the ugliness of a gambling life. We have a social climbing hero who is expelled from school for cheating; it’s a kind of map and dictionary of common vicious behaviors, cant language, showing criminals stealing big sums. Holcroft criticized capital punishment nonetheless, for it was meted out for tiny thefts too. He insisted people can be rehabilitated, and can be turned into useful members of society. Holcroft’s memoir, a major effort by a dying man, was his last effort to reach people with his exemplary life story and belief in the power of virtue.

There were not many people in the audience and the papers had been long; we had some comments right after each paper and then, alas, it was time to stop.

Unfortunately, my hands seem not to have been firm for two of the other three sessions, and my notes are too poor for me to do more than summarize the papers briefly except when it came to the Bengali Crusoe by a woman writer and the material on women historians. For the latter I was helped by my own knowledge of the era and woman historians so could get down more.

Earlier on Monday (10:15-11:30 am) I heard three superb papers on Samuel Johnson, part of the ongoing celebration of his three hundredth birthday (he was born in 1709). Molly O’Hagan talked about Johnson’s involvement in the production of the Lives of the Poets from the point of view of conflicts and struggles between Scots and British publishers over control of the texts of poets; Johnson’s name wanted for respectability. The publishers had only wanted the briefest introductions; in the event Johnson produced gems of biography that became a separate great work in its own right. She read a letter by Johnson where he eloquently defended the author’s ownership of his text.

Samuel Johnson intensely reading by Joshua Reynolds

Carrie Shanafelt showed how Johnson was critical of strong demands for realism and personal egoism in imaginative work. Thus Johnson praises Thomson’s visions in his Seasons and the beauty of ideals as well as detachment in Addison’s work: both understand the limited nature of an individual’s observations; the writer must move beyond the solitary nature of judgement (writing and reading too) to the outside world, avoid isolation. He wanted realism to be tempered by having ideals shape what is created; amoral fiction destroys out hope for bettering ourselves. Johnson attempted to maintain hope in literature as a guide, support, and expansion of experience.

Nicolas Poussin, Winter; or, The Flood

I have to admit that Sara Landreth’s “How Doctor Johnson broke the laws of motion,” went over my head. The admiral was with me; in case you don’t know, gentle reader, Jim is ABD in math and had many courses in physics, and he said the paper was superb, better than any of three he heard in a session on 18th century science.

The talk afterwards was lively and led us into Defoe. Somehow Defoe’s Moll Flanders came up as work intendedly realistic where there is no sense of consistent shaping ideal, and someone said how students enjoyed it from an unconscious or unexamined cynical perspective. I wondered how cynical they were since both 1996 Moll Flanders movies show the film-makers shaping the story to promote a moral outlook consonant with our own time: Pen Densham makes her into a poignantly good mother and anti-racist as his version of ideal feminism; Davies turns her story into a parable of survival in a hard capitalist world. The talk then turned to films — which people usually enjoy talking of. Not that Johnson was forgotten altogether :)

The third 18th century session I attended devoted to an individual was on Daniel Defoe (Wednesday, 10:15-11:30, shortly before we left to return home). The papers attempted a new perspective on Defoe’s work caught up in the title: the Global Defoe. Jeongoh Kim discussed how Defoe’s works are filled with the power networks, information and commodities of human geography in his era. Rivka Swenson discussed The Further Adventures of Robinson Crusoe; she suggested that Defoe was writing to promote the union of Scotland and England but his texts shows how communities are becoming refragmented despite all efforts to join them nationalistically.

Moll (Alex Kingston) and her third husband, her brother as it turns out (Tom Ward) sail to the US (1996 Moll Flanders)

Christopher Loar dwelt on the importance of technology and violence in the same book: an island is discovered by colonizers; the two different groups want control, and a massacre ensues. Crusoe dreams of a neutral space where trade and improved lives can take place; it is quickly shattered when someone kidnaps a woman, and a group of people seek revenge, a rampage using guns erupt so a free peaceful place becomes a murder zone. Loar dwelt solely on the nature of the warfare.

At the end of the session when I asked him about the woman, who she was, why did it matter so much, was she raped, was she returned to her original tribe or did she stay with the new group, he appeared startled at the questions. He had not thought about this central event which began the barbarism. At first he made a slight joke, well, it seemed someone had “taken liberties” with her, but he changed his tone partly because of the next and last paper and partly because it was obvious he had omitted a significant part of the event and suffering.

Consider, gentle reader, the massacre is begun when “a woman” is “kidnapped” or raped. Neither speaker Knew for sure what had happened. I asked if she survived. Neither had noted that detail.

Women’s experience in the Global Defoe was represented by Rashmi Bhatnager’s paper on “Heroines in the Bengali Muslim Robinsonade in Colonial India, 1908.” Robinsonades refers to a multitude (really) of rewritings, elaborations, free translations and adaptations of Robinson Crusoe since it first was published. Isabelle de Montolieu did one of the free translations: Journal d’un père de famille naufragé dans une île déserte avec ses enfants.

The novel Prof Bhatnagar discussed is Englished as The Sultana’s Dream (translated by Barnita Bagihi, a 2005 Penguin paperback). It’s a story of a girl’s rebellion against a coerced marriage. A non-European woman is imitating Crusoe’s rebellion against his father, and she gains a sense of power by imagining herself a castaway on an island. The heroine’s brother teaches her English when her father is asleep. Language, the vernacular Bengali becomes a place and way for one to fight one’s predestined fate. Urdu was identified with Islam and oppression. In the book the heroine does marry an enlightened husband and becomes Begum Rocaca; her husband encourages her to go to the library as an act of liberation; he and her brother support her against her father.

It was the public libraries with English books (some in translation, some not) set up in Bengal in the 1840s which allowed this, a sphere of freedom for the reader to formulate an identity for herself by reading and translating. In these places there was a readable translation of Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe. These readers also enjoyed Victorian melodramas which when translated into Bengali with memories of Defoe’s book plus Defoe-like Robinsonades took on Indian values too. A new amalgam emerges. Defoe’s book is thus opening new worlds and ideas and freedoms.

Such a book presents the condition of Indian womanhood indirectly. We are in a female imaginary which escapes the narrowing of Purdah society. The heroine is exhilarated and awkward as she walks the streets and public space. Often, though, these dreams have not a single man on the street too. Still this is a place or text where female subjectivity can be expressed, a kind of Utopia where women are not secluded.

I asked if the book dealt with the fear of rape. She said yes, the heroine is nearly raped. I wondered why she had not brought that up herself as women are secluded precisely to prevent them from having sexual experience their families can use for themselves. I never got a chance to ask as the session ended.

Again Moll (Kingston) stirred deeply as she looks out at sea and imagines the adventure before her

The last 18th century session I went to brought me back to multiple writers, two of whom were women historians of the Fronde. This area is of particular interest to me since I’ve read so much about the English civil war, and especially books by English women, memoirs, letters, biographies, poetry, recording their experience of what happened — and 20th century studies of this literature too. It was called Histories/Histoires (held on Tuesday, 3:30-4:45 pm).

The first paper was Helene Billis’s on Corneille. She saw Corneille as engaging in the real politics of the day through the themes and characters of his idealized tragedies where he supported the absolute state as the only way to stave off war and have grandeur (experience beauty?) in life.

Emily Kugler also discussed romance and historiography in the work of Mesdames Scudery and Marie-Madeleine LaFayette. She spoke of a similar movement froma God-centered history to one concerned with human motivation. She said stylization, character development and plot-design shaped the partly romances they wrote so when they wanted to include history and signficant themes the problem was how to weave history in.

Prof Kugler then quoted a funny passage from Charlotte Lennox’s Female Quixote. Lennox had made money by translating French letters and publishing editions of Madame de Maintenon (among others). We see our heroine is having a hard time distinguishing romance from reality because she is viewing the world through Scudery romance eyes.

She then quoted Devoney Looser’s book on history in England in the 18th century, a book I haven’t been able to see as about history since it’s mostly about novels. A new definition of history and respect for the subjective approach of memoirs, the fragmented nature of letters and autobiographies, as well as travel books has to come in before any new understanding can be achieved. Since Prof Kugler too did not seem to have thought about considering a non-fiction text as history which male chroniclers, and objective historians since don’t think of as history, she really couldn’t get say much that was new beyond see how romance and historical memory mix.

I have read parts of Clelia (in a 17th century English translation), La Calprenede’s Cassandra, which purports to tell the private lives of post-Republic classic heroines and heroines; also read several times and taught the masterpiece novel, La Princesse de Cleves twice. I read Zayde once and remember thinking of how beautiful and still it was; a distillation in little of the enormous books of Scudery. All these books are women’s novels, very different from Lafayette’s history of Charles II’s sister, Henrietta, and Scudery’s letters, or say Lucy Hutchinson, Anna Halkett or Catherine Macaulay.

I did enjoy listening to Kugler quote some passages from these books aloud in French with an English translation (provided by her). The famous map of tender love by Scudery (above) and the quietly erotic cover of the recent edition of Zayde epitomize the tone of these romances she concentrated on.

Mihoko Suzuki discussed the memoirs of Mesdames de Francois de Motteville and Catherine de Meurdrac de la Guette. Her paper was lucid, well thought-out, informative, in short excellent. She began by telling us that these two memoirs are ambitious books with events told from the subjective point of view so often taken by women; they are consulted by historians and read today.

Like Lady Brilliana Harley, Guette was a provincial wife and mother protecting her property. She supported Mazarin and the Regent and involved herself successfully in negotiating on behalf of peasants as a mediatrix, and she presents herself as having a gift for negotiation between opposing parties. Her credibility derives from her distance from the court and knowledge of local conditions and nobility, her grandfather having been a nobleman of the robe. She does exaggerate her mother’s education.

In Catherine de Meurdrac de Guette’s work we find extreme violence; she remembers scenes of rapine, solders breaking down and destroying all before them, pillaging. She experienced hunger herself and as someone who had to cope with the results of the violence afterwards. She does try to mitigate the inferences one might draw from such scenes but she is resolute against any praise of them. Like Brilliana Harley, she copes with a seige; in her case, she persuades a Duke and his army not to attack her land and people. She is of course the heroine of the piece (she tells us she read widely — and she apparently did as this book shows it), but the overall result is an exposure and critique of the violence of the era.

Francoise de Motteville was a woman in the court itself, and her memoirs may be read something in the spirit of Madame Campan’s on Marie Antoinette. Motteville is witty, satiric, fills her book with aphorisms. Her purpose is to explain and justify the private motives of powerful people in public dispassionately; she assesses Richelieu, deconstructs state-level rhetoric. She shows he was working for himself, not the public good at all. She was Anne of Austria’s confidant, but when her judgement is not in accord with the queen, she criticizes her. She displays real independence of thought.

She also renders character sketches with credibility, men and women both, and uses the interpolated tale in the manner of Marie-Madeleine de Lafayette as a way of ironically commenting on her major story and characters. In her book women as centrally causes of what happens as men. She insists on the truth of what she has written. She retrieves for us what happened behind the public scenes, outside the documents, thus explicating enigmatic pamphlets.

Prof Suzuki suggested that Motteville is the closest historian of the French 17th century to Machiavelli in his Discourses. Guette is a 17th century Christine de Pizan in her gravity, morality, and woman-centered perspective.

I asked if she thought any particular woman beyond Brilliana Harley was analogous to Motteville or Guette. She felt perhaps Lucy Hutchinson was an historian equal to Motteville but her tone and outlook were so different that the books can’t be compared fruitfully. She thought we needed to move to the 18th century (say Catherine Macauley and Mary Wollstonecraft) to find equivalent broad and sceptical views like those we find in Motteville.

A 19th century illustration for Alexandre Dumas’s romancing of these women historians (Le collier de la reine): the illustator has imagined the intelligent woman being appealed to by a subordinate court male; notice the powerful body she’s given

My friends, I relearned a lot by transcribing out these notes tonight.


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