BMCR 2006.11.16

The Oxford History of Literary Translation in English. Volume 4: 1790-1900

, , , The Oxford history of literary translation in English. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005-2010. volumes 1-2, 4 ; 24 cm. ISBN 9780199246205. $150.00.

Table of Contents

The Oxford History of Literary Translation in English is a large-scale project that aims to provide for the first time a critical and historical overview of the development of translation in the English-speaking world. The general editors, Peter France and Stuart Gillespie, along with Oxford University Press, deserve our gratitude for conceiving the idea and our congratulations for bringing it to fruition. The project provides a crucially important contribution to translation studies, which is a significant element in reception studies, probably the fastest growing area in the field of classical studies.

The subject of this review is Volume 4, covering 1790-1900. This is the second in the series to appear; Volume 3, on the years 1660-1790 (edd. Stuart Gillespie and David Hopkins), appeared in 2005; we can look forward to Volume 1: To 1550 (ed. Roger Ellis), Volume 2: 1550-1660 (edd. Gordon Braden, Robert Cummings and Theo Hermans), and Volume 5 :1900-2000 (ed. Lawrence Venuti). The editors of the particular volumes look like very good fits for the periods; for example, the approach of Venuti, one of the gurus of translation theory, works well on post-colonial literature but would find fewer connections with earlier material. The range of scholars tapped for individual contributions is extremely wide, suggesting an effort to find the best-qualified people; for example, the 37 contributors to Volume 4 come from ten different countries. As someone who has spent a great deal of her time editing others’ work, I am in awe of the achievement of the editors in marshalling so many scholars, especially when the brief was evidently to produce short essays (many are less than ten pages long) on each individual topic. Curbing scholastic prolixity and enthusiasm is no mean task.

The skill of Peter France and Kenneth Haynes, the editors of Volume 4, lies not only in eliciting fine contributions from fine scholars, of course, but also at an earlier stage, in the conceptualisation, selection, and organisation of the essays. There are many ways in which one could cut this particular cake. The editors obviously asked themselves, what are the key issues for this period? what kinds of information are available? what changes take place during this period? The organisation strikes me as largely excellent: Chapters 1-4 provide the necessary context for understanding specific works of translation; Chapters 5-7 focus on literary translation in three groups of languages, Greek and Latin, medieval and modern European languages, and eastern languages; Chapters 8-11 are organised according to types of literature—such as translations of popular fiction, children’s literature, hymns, opera, sacred texts, philosophy, and travel writing—and Chapter 12 presents biographical sketches of the translators. This organisational strategy inevitably throws up a few repetitions and overlaps, as the editors readily state, but since few of us will read the book from cover to cover and most of us will dip into specific sections, this is hardly a flaw. For a classicist, the most obvious quibble is the decision to locate ‘Greek and Roman Philosophy’ not in Chapter 5, Greek and Latin Literature, but in Chapter 11, ‘Philosophy, History, and Travel Writing’. But this is merely a quibble. The volume strikes a fine balance between providing an overview and exploring the specifics. Inevitably, the editors and contributors have had to make difficult decisions about what and what not to include. Given my partial and deficient knowledge of nineteenth-century literary translation, my only negative reactions related to the omission of favourite translations or to dwelling too long on insignificant ones. Since the scope of Volume 4 is very broad, I propose to limit myself to the material of most relevance to the classicist, i.e. basically the first 200 or so pages. The first four chapters offer a full contextualisation of the cultural role and status of translation in Britain and the United States (Chapter 1) and a fascinating exploration of the identities of translators (Chapter 3). Chapter 2 tackles ‘The Principles and Norms of Translation’—a difficult topic, to be sure, but very well handled by Matthew Reynolds, although I have reservations about the chapter title, in that it is not clear that translators were aware of any ‘norms’. Chapter 4, with its overview of publication rates of literary translation, provides an invaluable snapshot of the period, or, better, the changes within the period. Four important phenomena in the world of translation emerge from this overview of the hundred and ten years covered by this volume. (1) The number of translations published increased enormously (the statistics in Chapter 4 usefully provide eloquent comparative figures). (2) The range of source languages drawn from expanded from the previously predominant Latin, Greek and French, to include German, Old Icelandic, Russian, Sanskrit, Persian, Arabic, Chinese, and more besides, as the concept of ‘world literature’ established itself in the Anglo-American world. (3) There was expansion in the types of individuals producing translations (see Chapter 3 plus the biographical information in Chapter 12). (4) The readership of translations expanded from the elite into the middle classes and beyond. In this connection, I especially welcome the attention given to the economic dimension of translation activity in the focus upon the role of institutions, presses, journals and publishing houses.

Translation from Greek and Latin is the first specific area studied, as befits the continuing high status of classical learning during this period. Chapter 5 (pp. 155-207) is entirely devoted to translations of Greek and Latin literature, with sections, after Kenneth Haynes’ introduction, on Homer, Greek Drama, Latin Poetry, and Greek and Latin Prose. The other section of the volume directly relevant to classicists is Alexandra Lianeri’s discussion of translations of Greek and Roman philosophy in Chapter 11.

In his introduction to Chapter 5 Kenneth Haynes rightly emphasises the impact of the growing interest in Greek literature during this period (he reminds us that the first translation of Aeschylus into English seems to date from 1773 (p. 158)) and draws attention to the development of interlinear translations and ‘classical library’ sets (pp. 164-5) as new vehicles for translation. David Ricks’ discussion of Homer is bookended by the Arnold-Newman debate and Samuel Butler’s Odyssey. Adrian Poole uses the translation history of the Greek dramatists to assess their popularity during the 19th century, finding that Aristophanes, in bowdlerized form of course, was surprisingly popular. John Talbot starts his discussion of translations of Latin Poetry by remarking that for the first time since the Renaissance, translation from Latin verse was not central to the work of major English poets—which is certainly the case. For my taste, though, Talbot passes too quickly into discussion of particular poets—Catullus, Lucretius, Virgil and Horace all receive individual attention while Propertius, Ovid, Juvenal and Martial are grouped together—when a brief consideration of what is missing would have served to indicate more clearly the shift in taste during the Romantic era. The virtual absence of Plautus’ comedies, Seneca’s tragedies and Lucan’s epic from the radar is surely worth a comment. Catullus definitely deserves his prominence in this essay, but the ‘notable amateurs’ named in the final sentence (p. 189), Sir Richard Burton and Aubrey Beardsley, are worth more than a mere mention, as they both have novel approaches. Given the range of material Stuart Gillespie has to cover in his discussion of Greek and Latin Prose I feel churlish in pointing out that Phaedrus’ fables are written in verse, but I readily concede that this the obvious place in which to cover the fable. Gillespie rightly draws attention to the nineteenth-century preparedness to tackle voluminous Greek authors, including Herodotus, Thucydides, Xenophon, Polybius, Plutarch and Lucian. He also produces a snapshot of the relative popularity of different authors, for example Tacitus over Suetonius and Apuleius over Petronius; it is a shame he did not have space to go into more detail. Also belonging in Chapter 5 is Alexandra Lianeri’s discussion of Greek and Roman Philosophy (pp. 473-80), which opens Chapter 11; had it been properly integrated with the other material in Chapter 11 I would not say this. (This is more a comment on the other contributors to the Chapter than on Lianeri.) Lianeri notes the shift of interest during the period from Aristotle to Plato, culminating in Jowett’s Dialogues of Plato, first published in 1871. All in all, a huge amount of ground is covered by these contributors and they are to be applauded for their range.

I find the format of the volume geared to attractiveness and utility: there are no footnotes and the bibliography cited is printed at the end of each section. This is maximally convenient for the reader and it consitutes an intelligent, even courageous, decision, given that it is not cost-effective, with many works being cited repeatedly. Moreover, so far as I can tell from a small sampling, the cross-referencing has been done very carefully and the indices seem sound.

This work, with the others in the project, will be indispensable reading and reference material for anyone interested in the reception of classical antiquity, as well as for students of English literature and comparative literature. I particularly value the opportunity these volumes offer us to range beyond the reception of Greek and Latin literature. They facilitate a more complete appreciation of cultural trends and shifts in each period, reflecting the impact on translation of political, religious, social and economic factors. Finally, Volume 4 offers us a valuable reminder that, whereas translations from classical poetry, especially epic poetry, dominate the preceding period—I mean, of course, Dryden’s Aeneid and Pope’s Iliad —, the translation event of the 19th century was indubitably Edward Fitzgerald’s 1859 Rubáiyát of Omar Khayám.

Contents page with contributors below:

Chapter 1: Translation in Britain and America

1.1. Translation and British Literary Culture, Kenneth Haynes

1.2. Translation in the United States, Colleen Boggs

1.3. Readers and Publishers of Translations, Terry Hale

1.4. Translation, Politics, and the Law, Susan Bassnett and Peter France

Chapter 2: Principles and Norms of Translation, Matthew Reynolds

Chapter 3: The Translator

3.1. Professionals, Margaret Lesser

3.2. Amateurs and Enthusiasts, Peter France

3.3. Writers, Stephen Prickett and Peter France

3.4. Academics, Adrian Poole

3.5. Women, Susanne Stark

Chapter 4: The Publication of Literary Translation: an Overview, Peter France and Kenneth Haynes

Chapter 5: Greek and Latin Literature

5.1. Introduction, Kenneth Haynes

5.2. Homer, David Ricks

5.3. Greek Drama, Adrian Poole

5.4. Latin Poetry, John Talbot

5.5. Greek and Latin Prose, Stuart Gillespie

Chapter 6: Literatures of Medieval and Modern Europe

6.1. German, David Constantine

6.2. French, Peter France

6.3. Italian, Ralph Pite

6.4. Spanish and Portuguese, Anthony Pym and John Style

6.5. Early Literature of the North, Andrew Wawn

6.6. Modern Scandinavian, Robert Bjork

6.7. Celtic, Mary-Ann Constantine

6.8. Literatures of Central and Eastern Europe, Peter France

Chapter 7: Eastern Literatures

7.1. Arabic, Wen-chin Ouyang

7.2. Persian, Dick Davis

7.3. Literatures of the Indian Sub-Continent, Harish Trivedi

7.4. Chinese, Lauren Pfister

7.5. Japanese, Anne Commons

Chapter 8: Popular Culture

8.1. Popular Fiction, Terry Hale

8.2. Popular Theatre, Terry Hale

8.3. Children’s Literature, David Blamires

Chapter 9: Texts for Music and Oral Literature

9.1. Hymns, J. R. Watson

9.2. Opera, Oratorio, Song, Denise Gallo

9.3. Oral Literature, Kenneth Haynes

Chapter 10: Sacred and Religious Texts

10.1. Christian Texts, Kenneth Haynes

10.2. The Revised Version of the Bible, David Norton

10.3. Sacred Books of the East, Richard Fynes

Chapter 11: Philosophy, History, and Travel Writing

11.1. Classical Philosophy and History, Alexandra Lianieri

11.2. Modern Philosophy, Theology, Criticism, Susanne Stark

11.3. Modern History and Socio-Political Theory, Ian Patterson

11.4. Exploring the World, Laura D. Walls

Chapter 12: The Translators: Biographical Sketches.