Literary Retranslation in Context

by Susanne M. Cadera (Volume editor) Andrew Samuel Walsh (Volume editor)
Edited Collection VI, 246 Pages


The present study examines the interrelation between literary texts, their successive retranslations and the corresponding historical, social and cultural backgrounds that inform these versions. In the case of each text, the authors analyse both the external factors (sociohistorical circumstances, publishing context, authors, translators, etc.) and the internal ones (text analysis, translation procedures or strategies) that influence this interrelation. The book also considers how the decision to retranslate a literary work may be due not only to the commercial criteria established by publishers, but also to external developments in the historical, cultural or social environment of the target culture, or to an evolution in the poetic and aesthetic considerations of the translations themselves, since translational activities and approaches change and evolve over time. Consequently, the procedures inherent in translation may influence the reception and perception of the original text in the target culture. Finally, the book explores how the retranslations of a work of literature may even change the image of an author and the perception of his or her work that has been established by previous translations.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Introduction (Susanne M. Cadera / Andrew Samuel Walsh)
  • Literary Retranslation in Context: A Historical, Social and Cultural Perspective (Susanne M. Cadera)
  • Retranslation: Definition and background
  • Limiting the research subject
  • A socio-historical and cultural perspective
  • A contextual and systemic approach
  • Bibliography
  • Part I Retranslation and Ideology
  • 1 Lorca’s Poet in New York as a Paradigm of Poetic Retranslation (Andrew Samuel Walsh)
  • Introduction
  • Previous translations
  • The role of translation in Poet in New York
  • Rolfe Humphries (1940)
  • Ben Belitt (1955)
  • Stephen Fredman (1975)
  • Greg Simon and Steven F. White (1988 and 2013)
  • Pablo Medina and Mark Statman (2008)
  • Textual examples
  • ‘El Rey de Harlem’ [The King of Harlem]
  • ‘Danza de la muerte’ [Dance of Death]
  • ‘Panorama Ciego de Nueva York’ [Blind Panorama of New York]
  • ‘El Niño Stanton’ [The Little Boy Stanton]
  • ‘Cementerio judío’ [Jewish Cemetery]
  • ‘Grito hacia Roma’ [Cry to Rome]
  • ‘Oda a Walt Whitman’ [Ode to Walt Whitman]
  • Conclusion
  • Bibliography
  • Primary references: English editions of Poet in New York
  • Secondary references
  • 2 Retranslation as a Reaction to Ideological Change: The History of Spanish Versions of Gay American Twentieth-Century Novels (Ana María Roca Urgorri)
  • Introduction
  • Corpus design, description and representation
  • Ideological changes in the target system: Homosexuality in Spain since 1936
  • Analysis
  • Conclusion
  • Bibliography
  • Part II Retranslation and Censorship
  • 3 Postcolonial Literature Retranslated into Spanish: The Case of Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart (Susanne M. Cadera / Patricia Martín Matas)
  • Introduction
  • How to study retranslation in the postcolonial context?
  • Things Fall Apart in context: The current situation of African postcolonial literature in English translated in Spain
  • External aspects: The case of Chinua Achebe in the Spanish translation panorama
  • Socio-historical context of Things Fall Apart in Spain
  • Commercial aspects in the retranslation of Things Fall Apart
  • Internal aspects of Things Fall Apart and its translations into Spanish
  • The title(s)
  • Identity through text and language
  • Language use elements: Vocabulary and Igbo words
  • Conclusion
  • Bibliography
  • Primary references
  • Secondary references
  • 4 Zeno Cosini Comes to Spain: The Response to Italo Svevo and the First Censored Edition of La coscienza di Zeno (1956) (José Luis Aja Sánchez)
  • The response to Italo Svevo in Italy
  • The response to Italo Svevo in Spain
  • La coscienza di Zeno in the translation by José María Velloso (Barcelona: Seix-Barral, 1956): A censored edition
  • Methodological justification: General Administration Archive
  • Analysis of the censored extracts
  • Conclusion
  • Bibliography
  • Primary references
  • Secondary references
  • 5 The Six Lives of Celestine: Octave Mirbeau and the Spanish Translations of Le Journal d’une femme de chambre (Chapters I and II) (José Luis Aja Sánchez / Nadia Rodríguez)
  • The translations of Octave Mirbeau in Spain
  • Editions of Le Journal d’une femme de chambre in Spain
  • The first translation of Le Journal d’une femme de chambre (1901)
  • The second translation of Le Journal d’une femme de chambre (1925)
  • The third translation of Le Journal d’une femme de chambre
  • The fourth and fifth translations of Le Journal d’une femme de chambre
  • The sixth translation of Le Journal d’une femme de chambre
  • Proposal for a contrastive textual analysis
  • The transmission of narrative orality and the pragmatic approach to Celestine’s discourse
  • Stylistic intensification strategies
  • Conclusion
  • Bibliography
  • Primary references
  • Secondary references
  • Part III Retranslation and Reception
  • 6 Franz Kafka’s Die Verwandlung and its Thirty-One Spanish Translations (Susanne M. Cadera)
  • Introduction
  • Franz Kafka’s Die Verwandlung: A brief history of its first editions
  • The Spanish translations
  • The reception of Kafka’s Die Verwandlung in Spain
  • Reception through retranslation
  • Reception through newspapers
  • Conclusion
  • Bibliography
  • Primary references
  • Secondary references
  • 7 Georg Büchner’s Fiction in Spain: Translations of Lenz (Andrea Schäpers)
  • Introduction
  • Lenz
  • The reception of Lenz in Germany
  • The arrival of Lenz in Spain
  • The Spanish translations of Lenz
  • The first Argentinian translation (TT0)
  • Rafael Gutiérrez Girardot (TT1)
  • Carmen Gauger (TT2)
  • Bilingual version: Planeta Agostini (TT3)
  • María Teresa Ruiz Camacho (TT4)
  • Rosa Marta Gómez Pato (TT5)
  • Conclusion
  • Bibliography
  • Primary references
  • Secondary references
  • 8 Ossian and Werther in Spain (Arturo Peral Santamaría)
  • Ossian and his direct influence in Spain
  • Die Leiden des jungen Werther and Ossian
  • Werther in Spain
  • Werther and Ossian in the press
  • Ossian through Massenet’s Werther
  • Conclusion
  • Bibliography
  • Notes on Contributors
  • Index
  • Series information

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The present text is the product of the research conducted by the RETRADES (Studies on Cultural and Textual Interaction: Retranslation) research project, which began in 2012 and was led by Prof. Susanne M. Cadera at the Department of Translation and Interpreting of Comillas Pontifical University in Madrid. The fundamental aim of this project was to answer the following question: What is the interrelation between literary texts and their translations with the socio-historical characteristics of the period in which they were produced? The central thesis to be explored was that each new translation must represent a socio-historical change and that, although the decision to retranslate a work may undoubtedly be due to a commercial decision on the part of the publisher, it must also be linked to external changes in the historical, cultural and social context of the target culture or to changes in the poetic and aesthetic considerations of the translations themselves. As tends to occur in any other discipline, translational activity and awareness change over time and the procedures inherent to a translation may influence the reception of the text and the perception of its author in the target culture. Consequently, the retranslation of a work may even change the image of an author and the understanding of his or her work that had been established by previous translations.

The conclusion reached by the research conducted during the first three years of this project was in fact contrary to the initial hypothesis proposed, as we discovered that there is not always a clearly identifiable relation between the importance of authors in their original culture and the retranslation of their work. Indeed, in the case of peninsular Spanish, there are many instances of established authors from the canon of world literature whose work has not been retranslated at all. This curious question in itself as to who has not been retranslated and why not would be worthy of a profound and systematic study which unfortunately escaped ← 1 | 2 → the confines of this first period of our research project. In other cases, the phenomenon detected was the precise opposite; that is, some authors such as Kafka have been retranslated so many times that it is difficult to carry out a detailed study of the differences between all of the retranslations. As in the case of the lack of retranslations, a more detailed study of the reasons for the abundance of retranslations of certain authors would be of interest as a topic for future research.

In several chapters in the book, special consideration was also given to the retranslations published during Franco’s dictatorship due to the possible manipulation that these texts may have endured because of the censorship system in place at the time as well as the possibility of self-censorship that was widely practiced to avoid problems with the regime.

The book begins with a meta-theoretical chapter which offers an overview of the critical controversy surrounding the phenomenon of literary retranslation and the various theoretical approaches and hypotheses that have been proposed and used in the field. In particular, this chapter marks a critical distance with the well-known Retranslation Hypothesis which was refuted by the findings of our collective research into this question. The volume is then divided in three thematic areas: The first one is devoted to the question of Retranslation and Ideology and includes a chapter that analyses the historical vicissitudes experienced by the various English language translations of Federico García Lorca’s Poet in New York, translations characterized by changes that reflected the radical transformation in English-speaking sensibilities in terms of the language used to refer to racial origin and homosexuality. This last question is then further explored in a chapter which analyses the history of Spanish versions of Gay American twentieth-century novels and examines the Spanish retranslations of authors such Truman Capote and James Baldwin in the light of the burgeoning gay liberation movement that was born during the transition towards post-Francoist, democratic Spain. The second part of the book focuses on issues related to Retranslation and Censorship and begins with a chapter devoted to postcolonial literature retranslated into Spanish, specifically the case of China Achebe’s Things Fall Apart. The issue of censorship in Francoist and pre-democratic Spain is further explored in chapters that study the first censored edition of Italo Svevo’s La coscienza di Zeno and the Spanish ← 2 | 3 → translations of Le Journal d’une femme de chambre by Octave Mirbeau. The third section of the book is entitled Retranslation and Reception and it examines in greater depth three cases of the aforementioned phenomenon of abundant retranslation that have significantly conditioned the reception of the respective authors into the Spanish culture system. The first chapter in this part of the book examines the thirty-one translations into peninsular Spanish (the addition of the Latin American versions would have multiplied this figure considerably) of Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis and the textual controversy surrounding the initial but mistaken attribution of one these translations to Jorge Luis Borges. The theme of reception through regular and plentiful retranslation continues with an analysis of the translations of Georg Büchner’s Lenz in Spain and the text concludes with a wide-ranging historical analysis of the reception of both James Macpherson’s Ossian and Goethe’s The Sorrows of Young Werther in Spain and the part played in this literary phenomenon by retranslation.

Finally, the editors would like to thank all those who helped in the process of writing and revising the present text, in particular those members of the Department of Translation and Interpreting at Comillas Pontifical University in Madrid who took the time to read the manuscript and were generous enough to offer their pertinent and thoroughly helpful corrections and suggestions and, last but not least, they would also like to express their gratitude to the group’s interns, Danel Ocio, Marina Rodríguez and Alba Chico Rizaldos for their help in the development of a database and the preparation of the final text.

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Literary Retranslation in Context: A Historical, Social and Cultural Perspective


This chapter aims to introduce the theoretical frame of this volume based on the approach to research into retranslations of canonical literary works carried out at the Comillas Pontifical University in Madrid. The chapter begins with a summary of the evolution of retranslation studies during the last decades in order to define the background. After this short introduction, I propose a new perspective in retranslation studies focused on a contextual and systemic methodology of analysis. Starting from the thesis that translations are bound to their historical, social and cultural context, comparative analysis of retranslations can help to reveal both the influence of the socio-historical context on different translations and the influence of these translations on the reception of the work.

Retranslation: Definition and background

It is commonly known that many canonical works are translated several times into the same language and within the same target culture from the moment of their first publication. In Translation Studies, the term retranslation has been generally accepted when the text is translated more than one time into the same language and culture (Gambier, 1994; Pym, 1998; Venuti, 2004; Zaro Vera and Ruiz Noguera, 2007). However, there have also been some different definitions of the term. Gambier (1994: 413) mentions the ambiguous use of the term retranslation when it is defined as a translation that has been translated from other translations in languages different from the original one. These types of translations are also called indirect translations or in German Übersetzung aus zweiter ← 5 | 6 → Hand [second-hand translation] (Kittel and Frank, 1991: 3). In Toury (1995), the term intermediate translation is also used for the same concept. Gambier (1994: 413, my translation) makes a further distinction between the term retranslation and others with which it could be confused such as backtranslation, adaptation and revision, adopting the following definition: ‘Retranslation is a new translation into the same language, from a text already translated completely or in part’. Studies on this topic based on different translations of the same text prove that this definition has gained general acceptance.

There has been particular interest in this phenomenon since the edition of the monographic volume of Palimpsestes (1990) in which Berman (1990: 1–7) and Bensimon (1990: IX) proposed a hypothesis that has later been defined by Chesterman (2000) as the Retranslation Hypothesis (RH). According to this Retranslation Hypothesis, the first translation of a literary text is more target language oriented whereas retranslations are nearer to the source text and language. The hypothesis is based on the presumption that the more time that passes between the original and the translated text the more accurate it is likely to be (Berman, 1990: 1–2; Gambier, 1994: 414–415), although there are a number of ‘great translations’ that do not become obsolete at all, in spite of the existence of later retranslations (Berman, 1990: 3–4). Another supposition is that retranslations place more emphasis on the source text language and culture because, over the course of time, these elements can become much better known and understood by readers. The function of the first translation is to introduce the work into the target culture and, thus, it has to be comprehensible for a reader who is not familiar with the culture of the source text (Bensimon, 1990: IX).

Nevertheless, more recent studies have shown the need for empirical studies to prove, amplify or debate the Retranslation Hypothesis arguing that a linear evolution from domesticating towards foreignizing translations does not reflect the real complexity of the retranslation process (O’Driscoll, 2011, Paloposki and Koskinenen, 2004). One can find both studies which confirm the Retranslation Hypothesis (Dastjerdi and Mohammadi, 2013) and those which reject it (Paloposki and Koskinen, 2004, 2010; O’Driscoll, ← 6 | 7 → 2011; Desmith, 2009). The question is whether or not it is possible to generalize about the characteristics of retranslations in order to make them universally valid (Desmith, 2009) for all of the language and culture combinations that take part in translation processes. Descriptive case studies on the differences between the original and subsequent translations of the same text demonstrate that texts can be retranslated for multiple reasons (Venuti, 2004; Brownlie, 2006; Palopski and Koskinen, 2010; O’Driscoll, 2011) and, therefore, their characteristics cannot be categorized in a simple way. This poses a problem for any theoretical research on the topic and perhaps this is the reason why there has been no significant evolution in Translation Studies on this question since Gambier (1994: 413) argued that the phenomenon had not been properly studied. Researchers have drawn attention to the fact that there is a proportional imbalance between the frequency of retranslations and the poor theoretical advances on the topic (Deane, 2011; Enríquez Aranda, 2007; Desmith, 2009; Pintilei, 2010). Apart from studies that either confirm or reject the Retranslation Hypothesis, Susam-Sarajeva (2003: 2) argues that ‘retranslations often serve as case studies illuminating other aspects of translational research rather than drawing attention onto themselves as topic in itself’. The difficulty of identifying and classifying retranslations and the need to analyse large volumes of texts are other reasons mentioned by Paloposki and Koskinen (2010: 36) to explain why basic research on retranslation has not increased. Apart from methodological difficulties, scholars have also emphasized the need for corpus or data based studies on retranslation (Gambier, 1994: 416) in order to obtain comparable synchronic and diachronic data (Brissnet, 2004: 63) combined with historical and descriptive translation studies and research (Desmith, 2009: 679).

However, new recurrent studies on the topic show that there is still interest in exploring this phenomenon in more depth. Deane-Cox (2014) published a volume on retranslation, and the journal Target edited a monographic volume on Voice and Retranslation in 2015. Both show that the study of different translations of the same work can reveal new aspects concerning literary translation strategies and translators’ working methodology. This is the case, for example, when the voice of the first translator ← 7 | 8 → influences further translations (Koskinen and Paloposki, 2015: 25–37) or, on the contrary, when works are reinterpreted in the effort to produce a different translation (Deane-Cox, 2014: 12–18).

Limiting the research subject

As Paloposki and Koskinen (2010: 36) state, an ‘all-inclusive list for any one target language is nearly impossible’. The complexity of the retranslation phenomenon and the laboriousness of research in this field make it necessary to limit in some way the corpus and the area of study. Paloposki and Koskinen (2010) describe how they had to change the focus of their research project on retranslation. They began with the aim of testing the Retranslation Hypothesis, but it soon became apparent that this approach was not enough to cover the complex field of retranslation (ibid.: 34). Therefore, the next step consisted of limiting the area, the context and the period:


VI, 246
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2017 (June)
literary retranslation retranslation and ideology retranslation and reception
Oxford, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, New York, Wien, 2017. VI, 246 pp., 1 fig.

Biographical notes

Susanne M. Cadera (Volume editor) Andrew Samuel Walsh (Volume editor)

Susanne M. Cadera is Professor of German Language, Culture, Literature and Comparative Translation Studies in the Department of Translation and Interpreting at Comillas Pontifical University in Madrid. She has collaborated on various international projects and currently leads the research group INTRA and the project «Studies on Textual and Cultural Interaction: Retranslations» (RETRADES) at Comillas Pontifical University. Her recent publications focus on features and translations of fictive orality in narrative texts and on contextual translation studies. Andrew Samuel Walsh is Lecturer in English, Translation and Communication Studies in the Department of Translation and Interpreting at Comillas Pontifical University in Madrid. He has also taught at the University of Granada and the Autonomous University of Madrid. His research interests lie in the fields of literary translation and comparative literature.


Title: Literary Retranslation in Context