Part shoemaker, part actor

In December 2015 we posted a piece about translator Ralph Manheim, written by his widow Julia Allen-Manheim. At the same time Mrs Allen-Manheim presented the Library with several of Ralph Manheim’s unpublished literary translations of texts by authors such as Arthur Schnitzler, Ödön von Horváth and Christoph Hein. (Enquire in Manuscripts Reading Room for MS Add. 10108.) The donation also includes the typescript of an unpublished lecture Ralph Manheim gave at Indiana University on November 4 1981, which gives a fascinating description of his life as a literary translator, and includes references to Michel Tournier, Rainer Maria Rilke, Adolf Hitler, Thomas Mann, Karl Jaspers, Ernst Cassirer, Bertolt Brecht, Louis Ferdinand Céline and Peter Handke. The following extracts give a flavour of the whole …

— Unpublished literary translations of texts

“I say I drifted into it [i.e. the trade of literary translator]. If that sounds disparaging, I’d like to correct that impression. One can drift into good things as well as bad. I think very highly of the trade. As I see it, a literary translator is part shoemaker and part actor. Shoemaker because he works alone and much of his effort goes into craftsmanship, into motions that he masters by repetition and testing; actor because if he takes his work seriously he has to impersonate his author…

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Ralph Manheim

Ralph Manheim was a prolific and gifted American translator, who spent the last seven years of his life in Cambridge. He currently has 226 entries in the University Library catalogue, and although he died in 1992, many of his translations remain in print or are regularly reissued. He worked mostly on German and French, but he also translated from Dutch, Serbo-Croatian and Polish; and, during the course of his work, he built a close working relationship with a number of major European writers from the second half of the 20th century. He is, perhaps, best known for his literary translations, but he translated a significant body of non-fiction in the fields of philosophy, psychology, politics, history of religions, art history and belles-lettres. Ironically, the work that launched him on his career was Mein Kampf.

Guest contributor Julia Allen-Manheim here paints a vivid portrait of some of her husband’s literary connections. Continue reading