GOUCHER JANE AUSTEN SCHOLAR LECTURE: "Translating Austen; Or, when Jane Goes Abroad"
Following are my notes from a fascinating lecture that takes place every other year at Goucher College, home of the Alberta H. and Henry G. Burke Papers and Jane Austen Research Collection. This year the scholar was Dr. Gillian Dow, Professor at Southampton University and of Chawton House Library.
Gillian has written a piece for Masterpiece on PBS that addresses my reading project:
What was "extensive reading" to consist of for Austen's female contemporaries and her fictional heroines? Certainly, a diet of pure fiction would not suffice. Indeed, many late eighteenth and early nineteenth-century novels employ the device of a warning from the narrator, directed at their female reader: beware of the dangers of fiction, the young woman is told, it enflames the mind and leads to romantic flights of fancy.
More of that article here if you'd like to read it. Let's continue on with my notes. It was a fascinating lecture!
(Note: if any of what appears below is incorrect, it is entirely my fault as I may have misheard as I tried to keep up.)
The talk took place in February, in the Alumni House at Goucher on an, if not warm, definitely almost-spring-like, evening. The room was packed. More than 100 people, with at least 20 students (a coup!). Her talk focused on the various translations of Jane in other countries. She began with a quote by T.E. Kebbel in The Fortnightly Review (1885): “Miss A could hardly be appreciated by anyone not thorough English.”
That said, Gillian told us that there’s a room in the Jane Austen House Museum where translations of Austen’s novels are kept on the shelves (wish I’d known this when I visited there last year – if you go, check these out). About 70 of them, from Japan, Serbia, Iran, and other European countries – Sweden, Denmark, Germany, France for example.
The first translation was in a Swiss periodical in 1813 – Pride and Prejudice.
The French seem to be the only nation that has translated all six of the novels. Persuasion and Pride and Prejudice were translated into German; in Sweden Persuasion and Emma, and in Denmark, Sense and Sensibility.
The novels weren’t translated into all mainstream European languages until the early 80s and on through the 1990s and 2000s. For example, into Basque in 1996, and Latvian in 1997.
Two models of translation:
Foreignizing Model (20th/21st Centuries):
The purpose of translation is to provide a guide to the original, an accurate sense of foreignness.
Domesticating Model (18th.19th Centuries):
Make the target language fit the horizon of expectations of the reader. The above mentioned translation of P&P in the Swiss periodical followed this model – making P&P sound like the sentimental Swiss novel of the time.
Franco-Swiss author Germaine de Stael (who wrote Corinne) called P&P “vulgaire” for talking about money and marriage. Those parts were cut out in the Swiss version. Elizabeth Bennett was made to sound more orthodox and less forthright. Mr. Darcy was more anglicized. The Swiss added to his clothes – boots and a whip. Their heroes were sports loving and this brought him more in line with what a hero was expected to look like in England (on Swiss terms).
This must have stuck because, if you’ll remember, when Colin Firth is walking to Pemberley after his swim in the lake, he’s wearing boots and carrying a whip.
Isabelle de Montolieu (wrote Caroline de Litchtfield) translated Sense and Sensibility n 1815. She compares the sisters in S&S. Her version is more like Sense versus Sensibility. She makes so much of this approach that she changes characterization, makes caricatures out of Marianne and Elinor. It becomes a novel with a heavy moral message.
Her Marianne is dreamy and melancholic and has a beaten air. Her name is changed to Maria. Gillian told us she guessed “Marianne” had revolutionary connotations of excess, bare-breasted warrior women – a symbol of the republic).
Examples of how Isabelle changed the story: she has a scene where Maria comes across Eliza and her baby (Colonel Brandon’s ward and Willoughby’s baby, to refresh your memory) and swoons. She also kills off Miss Grey (Mrs. Willoughby) and has Willoughby propose to Maria. He writes to Elinor who asks for her hand. But Maria refuses and wants the Colonel, if he will accept her hand, which he is happy to do.
Willoughby then marries Eliza, Brandon’s ward!
Montolieu’s translation is a classic example of the domesticating model.
“Translations from English are all over the place; translations into English are as rare as hen’s teeth.” David Bellose, Princeton University.
In Alberta Burke’s collection of Jane Austen works and related works at Goucher are translations the Burkes and their friends collected from all over the world. Many misread the period entirely, dressing the women as Southern belles, the men in Bowler hats, or like 1950s housewives or show Pre-Raphaelite models on the cover of the books.
So how to you rely on any one book for a true translation? Do you choose the most expensive? The best publisher? The year the book was translated? How do you choose from multiple translations?
Gillian concludes that the novels are read for their universal truths, quite as much as for their Englishness. She doesn’t want the translator to take liberties, however.
She likes the Emma Tennant continuations of the stories – they give the book a feminist reading (however these are mostly detested J)
As for movie adaptations, she considers there to be only one, the A&E Colin Firth version, of course!
And she thought the Billie Piper version of Mansfield Park was the worst she’s ever seen. Hear! Hear! (Though I do like Billie Piper.)
Gillian reminds us that, though the novels were written in English, we are now reading a foreign language ourselves – the language is 200 years old. The vocabulary is different. We don’t immediately understand all the references.
She would like to study early Indian editions because their education was in English. Unlike education in other countries where the works were read in the national tongue first then, later, English.
Gillian believes a translation should be accurate. Where the sequels are concerned, fiction should be fun – why not have zombies and vampires?
Unfortunately, Jane knew nothing about French translations and didn’t receive a penny from their sale (nor did the publisher).
A few days later, I drove out to Goucher again to meet Gillian before she left. She graciously gave me a half hour of her time. (Gillian on the right in pic.)
I’m very interested in applying to Southampton University, to the Masters program for 18C Studies. I told Gillian about this reading project (which is moving slower than a snail, if that’s possible, which is why I need the time and focus of an actual grad program, I think).
She was very encouraging and gave me some wonderful resources. Mary Wollstonecraft apparently has made lists of what women should read in her works. She also suggested A Dangerous Recreation by Jaclyn Pearson and Novel Definitions – An Anthology of Commentary on the Novel, 1688-1815 by Cheryl Nixon.
She was so charming and easy to talk to and very generous with her time and suggestions, looking up books on her iPad. She thought the program would be a great fit for me and, though on sabbatical, told me to contact her if I needed anything else or had questions about the program. She’d be back by the time I started there (if accepted). I would love it she could be my advisor!
It would be another great project to read these translations and compare and contrast but I'll leave that to another....