The Word in 80 languages : the December 2018 Slavonic (and much more) item of the month

In the year 2000, the Institute for Bible Translation produced a rather remarkable volume containing the nativity narrative of Luke’s Gospel (2:1-20) translated into 80 languages of the post-Soviet Commonwealth of Independent States.

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Literary translations in the library tower

The UL’s Tall Tales exhibition has opened up to public view some of the treasures held in the seventeen floors of the library tower. One of the cases, to which I contributed, concentrates on literary prizewinners, a topic with which regular readers of this blog will be familiar. When selecting items to go on display, the challenge was to pick half a dozen titles that could somehow reflect the astonishing diversity of material to be found in the tower collections: the serious and the intellectual sit alongside works that are altogether less highbrow. Similarly, the range of literary prizes that are out there to be won is mind-boggling: could I include the Romantic Novelists’ Association Awards? (There are eight categories each year.) The Waverton Good Read Award, handed out annually by the residents of Waverton (a village in Cheshire) to the best debut novel published in the past twelve months? (It was set up in 2003, inspired by Le Prix de la Cadière, a similar prize given out by the Provençal town of La Cadière D’Azur.) The Bad Sex in Fiction Award? (It goes to some unlikely recipients: in 2016, it was awarded to the Italian novelist Erri De Luca, for his novel The Day Before Happiness (Il giorno prima della felicità). A less illustrious prize, perhaps, than the others he has collected during his career, which include the Prix Fémina Étranger.) Continue reading

Alice in translation

In October 1866 Lewis Carroll told his publisher Macmillan that his friends in Oxford “seem to think that the book [Alice’s adventures in Wonderland] is untranslatable”.  History has proved his friends very wrong, as a new three volume acquisition by the Library, Alice in a world of wonderlands : translations of Lewis Carroll’s masterpiece, edited by Jon A. Lindseth (S950.b.201.3527-3529), makes clear.

– Waddleton.c.1.395

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Gregory Rabassa, 1922-2016

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Gregory Rabassa in 2007 (Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg News)

Many of the Latin American Boom’s greatest writers owe much of their international acclaim to one man: Gregory Rabassa, who passed away last month.

Rabassa’s English translations of Julio Cortázar’s Hopscotch (9743.c.74), Mario Vargas Llosa’s The green house (9743.c.108) and, in particular, Gabriel García Márquez’s One hundred years of solitude (9743.c.116) sold millions of copies and brought these authors to a much wider audience. He enjoyed a particularly close and mutually appreciative relationship with Cortázar and also translated the great Brazilian authors, Clarice Lispector, Jorge Amado and Machado de Assis, amongst many others. Continue reading

A Matter of Morals: Victorian Britain versus Europe

This guest post is written by Dr Jaap Harskamp (formerly Curator of Dutch & Flemish collections at the British Library, who is now working on the University Library’s early Dutch books)

Vizetelly editions in the UL (1887.7.469, 1888.7.490, 1888.7.491)

Vizetelly editions in the UL (1887.7.469, 1888.7.490, 1888.7.491)

Victorian Britain was obsessively engaged in battling obscenity in print. In 1888/9 publisher Henry Vizetelly of Catherine Street in London was twice convicted of indecency for issuing two-shilling English translations of Émile Zola’s fiction. His prosecution was the result of pressure from the National Vigilance Association, a social-reform group established in 1885 which argued that readers needed protection from explicit sexual descriptions contained in novels such as La terre. The translations were suppressed, but not the French originals. In other words, literary value was contingent on a work’s presumed audience, rather than on its content. In response to the Vizetelly trial, The Methodist Times published the following editorial comment: ‘Zolaism is a disease. It is a study of the putrid … No one can read Zola without moral contamination’. Victorian society rejected the author as an ‘apostle of the gutter’. Continue reading