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.


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  2. I really liked your Information. Keep up the good work. Quality Arabic translation