Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Jane Austen Speaks Norwegian

Jane Austen Speaks Norwegian: The Challenges of Literary Translation

Marie Nedregotten Sørbø
Volume: 219
Copyright Date: 2018
Published by: Brill
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Jane Austen Speaks Norwegian
    Book Description:

    Can Jane Austen only be fully understood in English? In Jane Austen Speaks Norwegian, Sørbø compares novels and their translations, while also discussing the strategies chosen by translators of literature.

    eISBN: 978-90-04-33717-6
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. List of Illustrations
    (pp. VIII-VIII)
  2. Introduction: Jane Austen Travels
    (pp. 1-18)

    Jane Austen should stay at home, was the somewhat defeatist conclusion of a 1975 comparison of six translations from around the world.¹ Some of them were competent, others weak, but they all seemed to struggle with the finer points of Austen’s style. Such a purist sentiment is all well and good, and quite understandable. Perhaps there is something untranslatable about all great authors; nuances that can only be found in their own language.²

    But Jane Austen will not stay at home. She has been travelling to other countries, speaking foreign languages, since her books started to come out. She has...

  3. CHAPTER 1 Austen Goes to Norway
    (pp. 19-36)

    Jane Austen’s early travels took her in several directions: to three central European countries, Switzerland, France, and Germany, to one southern European country, Portugal, and in the North to Sweden, Denmark and Norway. Norway was thus the seventh country and Norwegian was the sixth language to receive her. This nineteenth-century translation, however, has been unknown and unregistered until very recently.

    Twentieth- and twenty-first-century reception has produced eight more translations in book form, and two versions for a magazine.¹ At the outset, there are two remarkable things about them: they do not include Northanger Abbey, which has never been translated into...

  4. CHAPTER 2 Cuts and Simplifications
    (pp. 37-52)

    As is already evident, the versions of Jane Austen in Norwegian are different from the English original. Inevitably, a translated text will always differ from the source text. This has to do with the impossibility of achieving a word-forword equivalence between two languages, but also the fact that a translation is put to different uses at different times and places. As Susan Bassnett says:

    What happens in translation is that a text is reconfigured in accordance with the demands of the target culture, and there are occasions when that reconfiguration conceals or distorts the values of the source text or...

  5. CHAPTER 3 Additions and Elaborations
    (pp. 53-65)

    The notion that Jane Austen must be improved on also finds expression in explanations and new additions. This is the chosen method and most distinguishing feature of the oldest translation in our Norwegian material, and also frequently exploited in those from the mid-twentieth century.

    It may evidently be motivated by a wish to clarify the text and inform the readers. In other cases, it seems a sign of uncertainty about linguistic choices in the target language, and about the meaning of words in the source language.¹ The first bears witness of a well-informed translator, the second a weaker one.


  6. CHAPTER 4 Blunder
    (pp. 66-80)

    Even when a translator intends to give a faithful and equivalent rendering of an author’s text in its entirety (if that were possible),¹ his/her understanding of it may turn out to be insufficient. This is where the difference between translators become acutely clear. Of our seven translators, three have done a very competent job. The percentage is not encouraging: less than a fifty-fifty chance of getting a competent translation seems not very reassuring, and it might be a token of Jane Austen’s fairly modest status in Norway in the twentieth century.

    For it is the nineteenth- and the twenty-first century...

  7. CHAPTER 5 Shades and Nuances
    (pp. 81-94)

    Austen’s intricate elegancies sometimes cause serious problems. Whereas some of our Norwegian translators demonstrate a good and even admirable grasp of Austen’s language, others struggle. The Hauges particularly have difficulties dealing with complicated syntactical structures, and their tactics seem to be to pick out a significant word and invent a new sentence based on this. There are four illustrative examples in the chapter containing Darcy’s first proposal in Pride and Prejudice (II, 11).

    To start with, Mr Darcy talks of “the family obstacles which judgment had always opposed to inclination” (189), meaning that his reason tells him to set social...

  8. CHAPTER 6 A Sense of Style
    (pp. 95-107)

    Among a translator’s needed skills is an ear for stylistic register. It is not only a matter of finding words and phrases with an adequate semantic correspondence to those of the source language, but also those with similar usages and connotations, and expressions fitting the tone of the authorship in question. “They understood each other and both were good people” does not sound much like Jane Austen’s narrative voice, and, indeed, it is not.¹ She wrote: “they had for basis the excellent understanding and super-excellent disposition of Jane, and a general similarity of feeling and taste between her and himself”...

  9. CHAPTER 7 Wanted and Unwanted Repetitions
    (pp. 108-120)

    Repetition is in itself a neutral term, denoting neither a stylistic virtue nor a vice. Novelists and (even more so) poets will use repetition for an intended purpose, as, indeed, does Jane Austen herself. But repetition is also often seen as a stylistic weakness, and students and writers are warned against repeating themselves in their work. Careless repetitions are often considered dull and undesirable.

    There are two seemingly opposite observations to be made at the outset of this chapter: sometimes translators discard Austen’s repetitions, and at other times, they introduce their own. Both tendencies inevitably alter the style of Austen’s...

  10. CHAPTER 8 Choice and Repertoire of Words
    (pp. 121-139)

    A curious and illustrative example of the choices of translation is found in the description of Elizabeth Bennet performing at a party at Lucas Lodge in 1, 6 of Pride and Prejudice. How well did she play and sing? According to the first translator, Alf Harbitz, she “sang nicely, but really nothing more”. But the second translator, Lalli Knutsen claims that she sang and played “very well, but not extraordinarily”. The third variant, by Eivind and Elizabeth Hauge, is “quite well, although it was in no way anything special”. Merete Alfsen says she played “nicely, but in no way outstandingly”.¹...

  11. CHAPTER 9 Foreign or Domestic?
    (pp. 140-155)

    Among the translator’s most basic strategies is the choice of whether to let the foreign text still seem foreign in translation, or whether to make it appear as if it belongs in the receiving culture. The best example to start with is the treatment of the author’s name in two of the early translations of Jane Austen. An 1822 German translation gives the author’s name as Johanna Austen. Two years later, a French translation named her Jeanne Austen (see page 8 above). This is domestication even of the author, and a sign that her name was not famous at the...

  12. CHAPTER 10 Irony
    (pp. 156-173)

    The peculiar Austen tone of narration has been noticed by critics and readers since the first articles were written about the author, and probably by her first readers, her family and friends, before that. Her brother, Henry, certainly seeming to want to protect her against misunderstandings, explains, in effect, that she never meant to mock her neighbours: “Though the frailties, foibles, and follies of others could not escape her immediate detection, yet even on their vices did she never trust herself to comment with unkindness …. She drew from nature; but, whatever may have been surmised to the contrary, never...

  13. CHAPTER 11 Censorship
    (pp. 174-185)

    In Norway, Jane Austen has not fallen victim to the more serious forms of censorship, such as states banning books for ideological or political reasons. Neither the receiving culture nor the author makes such a thing likely in this case. In fact, it is rather a surprise when the suspicion arises that she has been subjected to censoring by individual translators. Intriguingly, certain aspects of her stories and characters are evidently considered unwanted or unsuitable for the intended readership.

    The majority of these examples are found in Alf Harbitz’s translation of Pride and Prejudice from 1930, although some are also...

  14. CHAPTER 12 Amending the Love Story
    (pp. 186-197)

    Studies of French translations of Jane Austen document an overwhelming tendency, particularly in the nineteenth century, to adapt Austen’s stories to the model of popular romances and novels of sensibility.¹ This sometimes meant modifying her characters, plots and language in order to achieve a more conventional, sentimental story. In the extreme cases, new characters are introduced, events are added and a more romantic vocabulary employed. As Isabelle Bour comments on observing the alterations and modifications in Isabelle de Montolieu’s 1815 translation of Sense and Sensibility, “she must have felt … that Austen was too unromantic”.²

    The Norwegian reception is never...

  15. Conclusion
    (pp. 198-202)

    The point of comparing translations with their source and with each other is first to find out how an author has been read in different contexts in different times. Is the Norwegian, French or Indian Jane Austen the same as the English Jane Austen? If, as is to be expected, an authorship will never be exactly the same in different languages, what then are these differences? Are there specific national characteristic differences, or, on the contrary, similar transformations of her texts in translations all over the world? These questions can only be answered by means of a plethora of translation...

  16. APPENDIX 1: Jane Austen’s Anonymity in Nineteenth-century Translations
    (pp. 203-204)
  17. APPENDIX 2: Timeline: Jane Austen’s Presences and Absences in Norwegian Contexts
    (pp. 205-207)