Northanger Abbey: Volume II, Chapters 15 - 16 (30 - 31)

Re: On reading NA and MP in French and Italian Translations

I'd like to share a few thoughts about reading _NA_ in French -- which is what I have been doing off and on -- and Italian -- which I have been enabled to do since I asked and Edith sent me the address of the store in Rome where she bought her Tutti I Romanzi di Jane Austen.

MP translats into French remarkably well. Unlike most other translations from the English to the French (and vice versa) I have ever read, the text was not forced. All my translators are contemporaries. The modern translator into French of MP is Denise Getzler. I thought she got close to the spirit of the original; she managed a similar epigrammatic feel; she is also abstract, uses wit, antithesis, and understatement to express a strength of feeling together with a variety of ironies.

NA did not seem to translate into French as well. It may be the translator, Josette Salesse-Lavergne, is not as apt. But I don't think so. Again the language is not forced; the French is not made to work against its nature (embedded clauses, a kind of patterning that is not typical of English), but the French loses something of the emotionalism of the English.

I did discover by reading NA in French and looking back to the English I have become aware throughout how much less epigrammatism there is in Austen's NA than her MP. Austen's NA is looser in style; there is less abstraction. There are a large number of words from Gothic romance and the Gothic world. This I notice because I have had to look words up and I usually don't. The ironies are not as intense. I would say in fact that in a way NA is a less controlled work, less "gone over;" less is packed in, it's less polished.

What the French brings out is the mockery, the strong undercurrent of continual quiet laughter. Maybe it brings it out too strongly. The opening in French of Chapter 24, is stronger than the English; Catherine's underlying motives come out too strongly: "Le lendemain, Catherine n'eut pas l'occasion d'entreprendre l'exploration des mysterieux appartements." An eageness, a lust or appetite for indulging in Radcliffian explorations of attics is brought out more strongly than the more guarded: "The next day afforded no opportunity for the proposed examination of the mysterious apartments."

I read _NA_ in Italian in selected chapters here or there out of curiosity -- and to practice my Italian. As with the French translations of Austen's works (which are available from Jane Austen books and published as a single series in separate volumes), each of Austen's novels has a different translator. The modern translator of L'abbazia di Northanger is Italia Castellini.

Now Italian sentences move and are constructed very differently from those of French and English; it is not a language of place (meaning where a word is place gives it its sense) in the same way as these are; it has a good deal "left over" from Latin structuring. On the other hand Italian does not tend to abstraction, and not at all necessarily to epigrammatism. It is startling different to read to see where the words end up (so to speak), but I don't feel the language works against the grain. However I doubt Italian could easily gain the tightness and tenseness of an Austen sentence; however that's not what's wanted here, and in the earlier chapters where Catherine has phantasmagorias of imagery from Gothic romance going through her mind, the Italian is very good and I think captures the original text very well.

To come to this week's and the whole section of Gothic parody in general, what the Italian engages is the depth of musing. Instead of gay mockery, instead of pointed motives brought out, there is a real sense of indepth reverie. It is in short more romantic, more illusionary. The whole sequence of Catherine finally making her way into Mrs Tilney's room and the many intense and then humiliated emotions she feels is rendered very well. To read these sentences and then go back to the French is to see two faces of Austen.

To quote the same sentence in Italian that I quoted in French and in Austen's own idiolect above, the Italian takes more seriously than Austen herself the gravity of Catherine's goal; it is important that she realize some opportunity to break away from the tyranny of the General to find out the truth: "Il giorno seguente non forni a Catherine alcuna opportunita di realizzare il proposito di esaminare gli appartamenti miseriosi."

There is a similar difference in James's letter, Catherine's response to it, and then the reading and interpretation of the letter by Henry and Eleanor with Catherine listening to them. The French picks up the austere judgement, the overview, the justice; the Italian, Catherine's immediate shock and dismay and James's misery. There is something very touching in the Italian rendering of James's final line: "Carissima Catherine, fai attenzione a chi doi il tuo cuore." I once spent 5 weeks by myself in Italia (when I was about 22) and I remember how when someone called me "carissima Elena" it was a strong way of addressing me. "Dearest Catherine" has an old-fashioned feel for us as much as an emotional one; the French "tres chere Catherine" is soft, not caressing.

As anyone who visits my homepage will see, I have long had an interest in translation. I think a lot may be learned about a book when you have read the original many times in the original language and then suddenly you read it recreated in another language (for with Renato Pioggioli I think translation a creative as well as interpretive art). When reading MP in French I found myself noticing things I had begun not to notice simply from the familiarity of the text; I have had the same experience with NA in French. Now since my Italian is nowhere as good as my French, I find I have to read L'Abbazia di Northanger much more slowly and and that too -- the lingering -- has been revealing.

Ellen Moody

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Page Last Update 22 March 2003