Thursday, December 30, 2010

Cinderella: Conclusions

This is the continuation of the previous two posts.

Perrault ended each of his Tales with a moral in verse. I can't emulate him, but I'd like to draw some conclusions from what has happened both to the Tales and to the 1001 Nights. There are stages that they went through in their passage from their original cultures to the British theatre, and they seem to me typical of what may happen in the translation of literature.

Discovery. Somebody has first to discover that the original work is worth translating. It may be a translator, a critic or a publisher. Antoine Galland discovered the Nights not only for Europeans, but even for Arabs, by whom they weren't highly regarded. Gregory Rabassa not only translated Latin American literature, he introduced Gabriel García Márquez to English-speaking readers. It helps if an author wins a Nobel Prize. No major English-language publisher was interested in Neguib Mahfouz until he did so.

Translation. The translation may be by a Professional Expert Translator or by an Advanced Native Translator. Robert Samber, the translator of Cinderella, was a Professional Expert who could equally translate fairy stories and mild pornography to order. Whereas Galland was primarily an orientalist and archaeologist, not a translator.

The translation may be direct between the two languages, as occurred with Perrault's Tales; or indirect via a third language, as happened with the first English translations of the Nights, which were made from Galland's French version. Indirect translation is common when the original is in a little-known language. The existence of a direct translation doesn't necessarily preclude an indirect one. By the 20th century there were a number of direct translations of the Nights from Arabic, yet that didn't prevent Edward Powys Mathers' indirect translation from the French of J. C. Mardrus becoming popular in the 1920s.

There are also the re-translations, that is to say new translations produced because of changes in language changes, literary taste, social mores, etc.; or even for mundane reasons like acquiring a version that can be copyrighted.

Diffusion in the new language. This requires publication and a publisher. Sometimes the translator has to go hunting for a publisher, but there are some imprints that specialise in translations: the American house founded by Alfred A. Knopf is a famous example.

The market receptiveness for translations varies greatly between countries and cultures. You just have to take a look at the bookshops in Spain, where over half of popular new publications are translations, and compare them with bookshops in Britain or America.

The critics have a certain influence, but they are notoriously superficial in their judgements on translations, commonly compressing them into a line or two.

Nativisation. This is my shorthand for 'incorporation into the literary canon of the receptor language and culture'. From this stage onwards, many readers don't even realise that the work was once a foreign product. This is certainly true of the Perrault Tales and the Nights. To my mind, the turning point for the Nights came when it exchanged its original title for one expressing a thoroughly English viewpoint: The Arabian Nights Entertainment. Titles and tales like Red Riding Hood and Puss in Boots, even Cinderella, are thought to be traditional English ones.

Adaptation. The translations of both the Nights and the Perrault Tales have been adapted endlessly for different readerships, both adult and child, and selections made from them. Indeed there are far more adaptations of them than there are complete and unmodified editions.

Inter-media adaptation. The medium is changed from book to theatre or film or even – in the case of Cinderella – ballet. That's how we got to pantomime. The summit these days for fairy tales (reached by both Cinderella and Aladdin) is to be adapted and marketed by Disney.

Imitation. Works that borrow the 'theme', the story outline, characters or style, etc. but are essentially and avowedly new productions. Some see the Cinderella theme in Pride and Prejudice:
A virtuous daughter, favoured by her father, succeeds despite foolish sisters and foolish mother. She marries the worthy D’Arcy to live on his tasteful estate, with psyche restored and fulfilled.
There are dozens of Cinderella imitations, old and new, cited in Russell A. Peck's Cinderella Bibliography (see References).

Maybe that's not all, but it goes far enough to end 2010.

The Book of the Thousand Nights and One Night. Thus rendered into English from the literal and complete French translation of Dr J. C. Mardrus by E. Powys Mathers. London: Casanova Society, 1923. 16 vols. Available through Amazon UK.
"Literal and complete" because Mardrus and hence Powys Mathers 'debowdlerised' the Nights, which are quite bawdy in places in the original.

Alfred A. Knopf is now part of the Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. http:\\

Cinderella. Story adapted from Perrault by Bill Peet et al. USA: Walt Disney Productions, 1950. Animated film.

Aladdin. Screenplay by Ron Clements et al. USA: Walt Disney Productions, 1992. Animated film.

Russell A. Peck. Modern Fiction. In Cinderella Bibliography.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Cinderella (continued)

This is the continuation of yesterday's post.

And so Cinderella reached the British stage. The following is taken, with a few additions, from a website called The Magic of Pantomime, which is a mine of information about the history of the genre.
It was in 1820 that the first real pantomime version of 'Cinderella' opened at Covent Garden in the heart of London. Entitled 'Harlequin and Cinderella, or the little glass slipper' it featured the famous clown Joseph Grimaldi as the Baron's wife in the panto tradition of men playing female roles. That year, in a Perrault importation by way of another country and another culture, Rossini's opera 'La Cenerentola' had premiered in London, introducing the characters of the Baron and the Prince's servant, Dandini.

The character of Buttons emerged from page boys, who were nicknamed 'Buttons' from the close-sewn rows of buttons on their uniforms. The character first appeared in 1860, given the Italian name of 'Buttoni', and underwent many changes of name from Chips, Alfonso, and Pedro, before settling down as the Baron's trusty servant, Buttons.

The 1860 production at the Strand Theatre, also in London, developed the characters of the Ugly Sisters. As in Rossini's opera, the first character names for them were Clorinda and Thisbe, and their names have constantly changed to accommodate the fashions of passing times. Other names include Buttercup and Daisy, Euthanasia and Asphyxia, Alexia and Krystle, right up to the Spice Girls – Posh and Scary.

During the 19th Century, over 90 productions of 'Cinderella' were staged. Then as now, was recognised that it attracts larger audiences than any other. In 1958 the Rogers and Hammerstein 'Cinderella' was staged at the London Coliseum as a pantomime with Yana as Cinderella, Tommy Steele as Buttons, Jimmy Edwards as the Baron, and Kenneth Williams and Ted Durante as the Ugly Sisters. Household names to British people of my generation.

Popular trends have dictated that the Prince, usually called Prince Charming and his valet, Dandini, were played originally by women, but in recent times more by men. Among the famous female Princes have been Dorothy Ward, Evelyn Laye and Pat Kirkwood.
"This most peculiarly British art form is alive and kicking because it speaks to our inner child," writes a journalist in The Guardian. So does Perrault.

Nigel Ellacott. Cinderella. the Magic of Pantomime.

Lyn Gardner. We're still behind you! Why we'll never grow too old for pantomimes. The Guardian newspaper, electronic edition. December 23, 2010.

Poster for pantomime Cinderella at The Wimbledon Theatre, London, 1924.

And with that...

To one and all, whatever your language(s),



Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Christmas Diversion: Cinderella

Christmas is here again. I've been preparing for it.

Last year, I celebrated it in my own way by telling the story of how a collection of popular tales in Arabic, The Thousand and One Nights, became over the centuries, by way of translation, nativisation, selection and adaptation of several kinds, one of the most popular and robust of British Christmas entertainments, the theatrical pantomime Aladdin. To find those posts, just type 'aladdin' into the Search box in the right-hand column. Each pantomime production is a unique adaptation, because although the story line and characters are preserved, changes are made to fit it to the players, who are often famous stars making 'guest appearances'. Pantomimes have survived by adapting to changing times and tastes.

This year I've taken another look at the pantomime scene, and guess what I've found – more translation.

First, though, a footnote to Aladdin. Fellow Canadian Pamela Anderson (ex-Baywatch, ex-Playboy), who last year starred in a production in the London suburb of Wimbledon, is appearing this year at the Liverpool Empire in the north of England. Again she doesn't play the title role but the character of the Genie of the Lamp. Perhaps she would be too unbelievable in the male role of Aladdin even for pantomime, although the character is often played by a woman.

Yet popular though it is, Aladdin is not the most often staged of the pantomimes. That honour belongs to another fairy tale, Cinderella. And not only Cinderella but also several other favourites – Little Red Riding Hood, Sleeping Beauty, Puss in Boots – all have a lineage in English that goes back to one French author and his English translator at the turn of the 18th century. The author was Charles Perrault.

Both the 1001 Nights and Perrault's stories are drawn from folk tales, but there the similarity ends. Whereas the Nights were a loose compilation of a vast number of tales, varying from manuscript to manuscript and augmented by oral tradition in Galland's translation, Perrault's book is made up of just ten stories. Whereas the authorship of the Nights remains a matter of conjecture and was certainly dispersed in both place and time, Perrault was a well-known literary figure in 17th-century France, a member of the Académie Française. Last but not least, there were plenty of French translators in London and so Perrault could be translated directly; whereas the Nights came from a little-known language and therefore via an indirect translation.

In 1695, when he was 67, Perrault lost his post in Paris as a royal secretary. He decided to retire and dedicate himself to his writing and his children. One outcome, today by far the most famous, was Histoires ou Contes du Temps passé (Tales from Olden Times), better known as Les Contes de ma Mère l'Oie (Mother Goose's Stories – see References). Its publication made him suddenly widely known beyond his own circles and all over Europe. It marked the beginnings of a new literary genre, the fairy tale, thus paving the way for the success of the Nights.

Perrault's book reached the English reading public in 1729, though many in Britain had probably read it already in French. It did so in the form of a translation by Robert Samber (1682-1745), probably for a bookseller. Strangely, no copy of the first edition has survived; not even the British Library has one. We know of it only from a newspaper: an advertisement in the Monthly Chronicle that year announced a translation "by Mr Samber, printed for J. Pote." "Mr Samber" was presumably Robert Samber of New Inn, London.

The choice of translator was important. It's true he did at least some of his work as a professional translator for booksellers – the booksellers ànd printers were the publishers of that time – but he was no 'Grub Street hack'. In 1721, Roger Greaves had paid him to translate La Motte's Fables Nouvelles (1719) as One Hundred New Court Fables, which was a good preparation for translating Perrault. He gained some notoriety in 1724 when he translated Venus in the Cloister, or the Nun in her Smock for the printer Edmund Curl (or Curll), who was promptly prosecuted for publishing pornography. However, the book itself describes the translator as "a man of honour". He was a very active freemason, an author, and as a translator he was prolific. He wrote several volumes of poetry and also translated and wrote scholarly treatises, including a Treatise on the Plague, in which he gives instructions for preventing the disease. In short, he was, by virtue of his experience, an Expert Translator. His translation of Perrault is still available (see References).

Samber's translation won wide popularity, as is shown by the fact that there was a seventh edition published in 1795, for J. Rivington, a bookseller, of Pearl Street, New York. It was followed by innumerable retellings and adaptations, mostly of individual stories. To cite just one of them:
Cinderilla, or, The little glass slipper: designed for the entertainment of all good little misses, ornamented with engravings. Albany NY: Printed by E. and E. Hosford, 1811,
which already follows another tradition, that of Perrault as an inspirer of book illustrators.

Until – as was almost inevitable in England and America in those days – Perrault's tales made their way to the stage.

To be continued.

Pantomime, abbreviated colloquially to panto: a British theatrical entertainment involving music, topical jokes and slapstick comedy, usually produced around Christmas time.

Genie: a spirit imprisoned within a bottle or an oil lamp and capable granting any wish when summoned. It came into English as a borrowing of the French génie, which was itself a blend of the existing word génie (genius) with the meaning of a similar-sounding Arabic word, jinnî.

Cinderella (aka Cinderilla as a text but not as a pantomime): from French Cendrillon, derived from cendre (ash). Italian Cenerentola.

Simon Hattenstone. Pamela Anderson. The Guardian newspaper electronic edition, December 18, 2010.

'Perrault d’Armancourt, son of Charles Perrault'. Histoires ou contes du temps passé. Avec des moralitez. Par le fils de Monsieur Perreault de l’Académie françoise. Purportedly published in Amsterdam, 1698, but the title bears the word “Suivant la copie à Paris” (According to the Paris text). 175 p. In fact written by Charles Perrault himself but put under his son's name because he was uncertain of the reception such a childish book would have from his fellow Academicians. It had an engraved frontispiece bearing the title Contes de ma mère loye (Mother Goose's Stories), and from it derives the title by which it is better known.

Charles Perrault. The Fairy Tales of Charles Perrault. Translated by Robert Samber and revised by J. E. Mansion. Introduction by Thomas Bodkin. Illustrated by Harry Clarke. London: Harrap, 1922. Reproduced as a Project Gutenberg eBook,
This is the Samber translation revised by the lexicographer Jean Edmond Mansion, editor of the great Harrap's Standard French and English Dictionary. I've quoted from Bodkin's introduction.

'Widow's Son'. Brother Eugenius Philalethes sendeth greeting. The Burning Taper, May 31, 2007.
Eugenius Philalethes was a pen name of Robert Samber.

Concise Oxford English Dictionary, 11th edition.

Image: Cinderella, by the English book illustrator Arthur Rackham (1867-1939).

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Translation in TESOL

Richard Vaughan, whose surname Spaniards commonly mispronounce as Voh-ggen, is the most popular English teacher in Spain. An expatriate American in Madrid who found a niche teaching English to corporate employees, he has come a long way and now has his own dedicated all-day television channel, Aprende Inglés TV. That’s all it does: teach English to Spaniards, and there’s a big demand for it. Undoubtedly a large factor in his success is his easy-going personality and mellifluous voice, which charms both his screen students and the viewers. English without tears in a one-on-one conversational setting. His method is to introduce new knowledge – mostly vocabulary and phrases – into the conversation naturally and with just a minimum of explanation. He has competent assistants, but none of them can match him.

Vaughan is a man after my own heart and way of thinking, because he believes in the use of translation in foreign language teaching. Besides his TV programmes, he’s published a book with a typically upbeat title: Si quieres, puedes (You Can If You Want To). It has something very unusual for a book about language teaching: not one but two chapters on the use and usefulness of translating.

Mind you, he makes a clear distinction between child and adult learning, and his students are all adults. He adopts the common hypothesis of a loss of mental ‘plasticity’ around the age of 12. Before then, language learning is instinctive and effortless; afterwards, it requires effort and you have to work at it. He emphasises hard work. He illustrates by the case of his own children, who became early bilinguals in English and Spanish without having to be taught, but who had as much difficulty as anybody else learning other languages later on.

The chapter on La traducción inversa (translation into one's second language) opens with his experience teaching a small class of recalcitrant Spanish engineers. He couldn't get them to do homework until he gave them a short list of useful Spanish sentences to translate into English. Then they all did it.
I discovered, thanks to my five engineers, men as rough-hewn as a limestone quarry, that the challenge of translating into one's second language is a powerful stimulus for inducing Spaniards to work at their English.
And he went on to compile and publish with great success three Translation Booklets, each containing 1,500 phrases.

He's very critical of the modern dogma that use of the first language should be banned from second language teaching. Indeed he positively rails at those he calls "the modern gurus of teaching."
Adults cannot accept a second language without some support from their first language... By puberty, human beings already have their brains, mouths and motor processes formed around their mother tongue.
In the short chapter on traducción directa (first-language translation) he recommends translating very literally from English into Spanish so as to point up the differences between the two languages and be more aware of the specificities of the English.

My own belief in the value of translation when learning a language comes not so much from teaching as from my own experience. I've always used translating and learning the translations by heart as one method among others for extending my knowledge and mastery of the other language. For Spanish, my favourite source book is one called Street Spanish, because it contains such a wealth of colloquial expressions. These are encapsulated in dialogues with the Spanish and the English on facing pages. I read the Spanish utterances and the corresponding English ones over and over until I can translate by heart from the English into Spanish. In other words, the English becomes a cue for my Spanish production. Then I seize opportunities to use the Spanish expressions in conversation. This is a vital step; it's by use that what start as a translation becomes incorporated into my direct Spanish production.

However, I've never gone so far as a Hungarian polyglot I once knew. He'd been brought up in a pious home where there were Bible readings every evening, so that he came to know long passages of the Bible by heart. To learn a new language, he would turn to the Bible in that language, read the passages corresponding to those he knew and mentally translate them into Hungarian as he went along.

Aprende Inglés TV. 2010.

Richard Vaughan. Si quieres, puedes: los consejos de Richard Vaughan para aprender inglés. 3rd edition. Madrid: Libroslibres, 2008. 254 p. 24 pounds from Amazon UK.

David Burke. Street Spanish: the Best of Spanish Slang. New York: Wiley, 1997. $12 from Amazon USA. Good, but use with care. It's an American production and many of the expressions aren't current in Spain.

Monday, December 6, 2010

TV Presenter-Interpreters

There’s a very popular TV programme in Spain called Más Allá de la Vida (Beyond Life). In it, an apparently gifted British medium, Anne Germain, transmits messages to members of the studio audience from their dead relatives and friends. The presenter is Jordi González (see photo). I don’t like him in the other programme he presents regularly (La Noria) because there he seems strained; but in Más allá de la vida I have to admit he too is gifted. You see, Anne Germain doesn’t speak Spanish, and of course her audience wouldn’t be able to follow her in English. Everything she says to the recipients of her messages therefore has to be interpreted. But there’s no interpreter – that’s to say, no Expert Interpreter. Jordi González does it all. I’d never have guessed from La Noria that he knew a word of English, but in this programme he does a very creditable, near-expert job in his auxiliary role; and he keeps it up through 90 minutes of short consecutive interpreting without taking notes, while at the same time carrying out his other functions as presenter such as introducing and interviewing the members of the audience who are selected. Quite a performance. He‘s not the only presenter who does occasional interpreting – the veteran Michel Drucker on French TV for instance – but I haven‘t seen another do it so sustainedly. Prime-time presenters like González and Drucker are certainly Professional Experts, but not Professional Expert Interpreters. It‘s another example of what I’ve previously (March 3 post) called unrecognised translators.

Jordi has also presented programmes in Catalan. Since he was born in Barcelona, we can presume he was an early bilingual in Catalan and Spanish. However, the official biography on his website doesn’t tell us how or when he learnt English. Or maybe he didn't. Maybe it's all a put-up job: see the Cavanilles reference below. But if it's not a genuine interpretation – and I'm inclined to believe that the interpreting at least is genuine – then it's a very good imitation of one.

Más Allá de la Vida currently appears on Sunday evenings on the Telecinco channel.

Jordi Gonzalez’s own website is at

Javier Cavanilles. Desde el más allá (más o menos): una médium de opereta [From the Beyond (more or less): a medium fit for a musical comedy]. El Mundo newspaper, electronic edition, August 13, 2010.
A scathing demolition of the medium and the programme.