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Translating German Novellas into English

A Comparative Study


Marc J. Schweissinger

Translation of fiction is always interpretation. This book discusses the challenges facing translators of fictional works from German into English using as examples English translations of canonical German novellas by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Theodor Storm, Gerhart Hauptmann, Thomas Mann and Franz Kafka.
The author addresses the difficulties of translating in the poststructuralist era, when every fictional work potentially has a large number of interpretations and, therefore, at least the same number of possible translations. Considering interpretations of the original text in detail not only improves the reader’s understanding and ability to criticize the translated text, but it will also provide valuable insight into the possible intentions of the writer. An initial linguistic observation of a target text can therefore lead to a fruitful connection between the linguistic and literary analysis of translated works. This book offers new perspectives on the delicate negotiation of translating source texts for a contemporary audience while maintaining the values, ideas and hidden meanings from the source in relation to its original époque.
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CHAPTER II – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe: Die Leiden des jungen Werther


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Johann Wolfgang von Goethe: Die Leiden des jungen Werther

The Sorrows of the Young Werther (1774–1778) is a prime example and major achievement, since it made Goethe well known all over Europe and was the fictional work which, during his lifetime, maintained his European reputation. This book is important because of the language and style. In the last century, some literary scholars pointed out that the work clearly belongs to the Sturm und Drang (storm and stress) period, while others connected the work to the so-called period of Empfindsamkeit (sensibility). There are enough reasons why the novella can be related to both epochs, and leading specialists today indeed point out that the work includes enough elements to connect Goethe’s work to both periods.1 Both epochs, at least as reflected in novels and novellas, depend on specific attitudes of their fictional characters and especially on the use of a certain style of language. Language is important in this context because it supplies us with information about the attitude of the main characters, particularly in the analysis of an epistolary novella such as Goethe’s The Sorrows of Young Werther. Everything said in the novella comes instantaneously from the heart of the hero, who writes to a friend. There is no narrator who tells us about the thoughts and feelings of his characters. We can only judge from the letters themselves the state of mind in which we find the hero. We observe...

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