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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 V – Gerhart Hauptmann: Bahnwärter Thiel


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Gerhart Hauptmann: Bahnwärter Thiel

Gerhart Hauptmann’s ‘early’ novella Bahnwärter Thiel, published in 1888, is certainly one of the highlights of so-called German naturalistic writing.1 The reason for this high regard is its extraordinary complexity. Though by all means a naturalistic novella, other elements, symbols and metaphysical allusions can be found in it, especially in relation to nature and the animal world.2 This is a story of a lineman carrying out his duties with great care and determination. He lives the life of a simple working man, marries, and has a child, but unfortunately his first wife dies, and his relationship with his second wife causes problems for various reasons, which have to be analysed. However, Stanley Radcliffe – the translator whose works we will discuss intensively – translated the title through a simple word-for-word rendering, using Lineman Thiel for Bahnwärter Thiel. Of course, the reader can argue that the German word Bahnwärter can be both singular and plural, and from the title it is not quite clear whether Thiel is one of a thousand or just the one and only Lineman Thiel, as Radcliffe suggest. But in this case, it is not possible to find an English equivalent; the translator must come to a decision, and can successfully argue that it is just the one, singular Thiel the narrator tells us about. It is certainly most unlikely that the reader will think that Hauptmann’s story is about a great...

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