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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 IV – Theodor Storm: Der Schimmelreiter


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Theodor Storm: Der Schimmelreiter

In well-known and well-established histories of German literature, Theodor Storm’s late work Der Schimmelreiter, published in 1888, is considered today to be a highlight of realistic novelistic writing.1 Indeed, that seems reasonable, but the novella includes so many spooky if not supernatural elements2 that it is impossible to translate the work in a purely realistic way. The atmosphere created by the old storytelling master Storm is sometimes so full of dense, frightening vocabulary that it seems to be unavoidable for the translator to present a ghost coming back from the dead into life. Is it possible to render this simply with a realistic vocabulary? Do we not do an injustice to the original, if we merely translate the novella realistically? But at the same time, is the translator not stretching the point if he takes too much note of the spooky elements?

Let us start with the title. In 1996, Denis Jackson chose the title The Dykemaster as an adequate translation – or perhaps we should call it an adaptation instead – for his published English version of Der Schimmelreiter. This decision was obviously influenced by the general content of the novella, since indeed the story tells of a Dyke ‘Master’, Hauke Hansen. But as mentioned previously, literally translated, Schimmelreiter means Grey Horse Rider or White Horse Rider, it also does not mean Ghost Rider, ← 69 | 70 → which we find in dictionaries as a supposedly adequate translation...

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