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Translating German Novellas into English

A Comparative Study

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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 VIII – Summary

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CHAPTER VIII

Summary

To summarise my effort and endeavours, let me emphasise that with this book, I intended to demonstrate that even the slightest divergence from the original usually has an immediate and significant impact on the perception of the text. I started cautiously by only discussing the most important and significant aspects in relation to the novellas by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Theodor Storm and Gerhart Hauptmann. But with the works of Thomas Mann and Franz Kafka, I extended the exploration about the meaning of the original and the challenges and obstacles the translator faces. I will mention in this summary just a few, though decisive, conclusions the reader can draw from the different chapters.

I chose to start the discussion with Goethe’s The Sorrows of Young Werther, because the language the translator is confronted with is particularly challenging, as a result of the source text being in the form of an epistolary novella. Goethe’s protagonist in this work is very young and full of intense, conflicting and uncontrolled emotions, which he conveys with immediacy in his letters, in a manner typical for the epoch of storm and stress and sentimentalism. This work is ideal for a discussion of questions of equivalence related to a youth language, and how to assess a character full of uncontrolled feelings and exclamatory remarks. Still, of course, the language Werther uses is that of a sophisticated and very well-educated man, but it stands out...

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