Many people consider that they have read a book after reading a translation of it. But is that the case? For translation researcher Lars Liljegren the reply is not obvious.
“A translator works within the framework set by the author, but also places his or her stamp onto the work. How often have you heard a reader or reviewer say ‘Oh, I just love Lorca!’. And when you ask what it is they love about Lorca, the answer is: ‘His beautiful language’. But since Lorca wrote in Spanish, it’s not Lorca’s language they love, but the translator’s”, says Lars Liljegren. Photo credit Magnus Johansson
For older works that have been translated during a period of censorship, the contents may have become completely different from the original. Lars Liljegren has looked in detail at translations of August Strindberg’s books from the early years of the 20th century, and shows that much has been changed. And this causes problems still today, since people all over the world read these translations, and they are required reading in many university courses.
“One of the problems is that when buying an older – translated – book over the internet, the e-commerce site may refer to the first translation that was made. So even if a new translation is available that is closer to the original, they try to make us purchase the older translation”, says Lars Liljegren.
This is the case with August Strindberg’s work Married (Sw. Giftas) from 1884. Strindberg is now regarded as something of a Swedish national treasure, but he was controversial for both his work and his life. His text was not acceptable in 20th century Britain when the first translation was published, in 1913. When Lars Liljegren started to study this translation he discovered – completely unexpectedly – that it differed significantly from the original, and was, furthermore, based on a German translation.
“All the shameless and shocking things that Strindberg had written had been removed. At the time in Great Britain, it was thought that obscene literature gave rise to obscene living.”