books, Chawton House Library, Emma, Fiction, Jane Austen, literary tourism, literature, novels, reading, translation, travel
Gillian Dow is curating an exhibition focusing on “Jane Austen’s Emma at 200: From English Village to Global Appeal,” which will be open to the public at Chawton House Library from March 21st to September 25th. She’s an Associate Professor at the University of Southampton, and Executive Director of Chawton House Library, where she has worked in a variety of positions since 2005. She has published essays on translations of Austen in the Cambridge University Press Companions to Pride and Prejudice (2013) and Emma (2015), and she and Clare Hanson edited Uses of Austen: Jane’s Afterlives (2012), which “shows how Austen’s life and work is being re-framed and re-imagined in twentieth- and twenty-first-century literature and culture.” Feminisms, Fictions, Futures: Women’s Writing 1660–1830, a collection Gillian edited with Jennie Batchelor, will be published this year by Palgrave.
I’ve been following the updates about the “Emma at 200″ exhibition on Twitter (@ChawtonHouse) and the Chawton House Library Facebook page, and it’s been fascinating to learn about what will be on display. For example, thanks to a collaboration between the Library and the Lady’s Magazine Project “Stitch Off,” visitors will be able to see examples of embroidery based on patterns published in the Lady’s Magazine in 1775 and 1796. In fact, there’s even an opportunity to contribute to the exhibition, which might be of interest to those of you who are skilled in embroidery. (See “The Great Stitch Off Goes to Chawton House Library” for details.) I wish I could make the trip to Chawton this year, but for now I’ll have to content myself with reading about all the wonderful things that will be on display, including first editions, the first French translation, and Charlotte Brontë’s letter about Emma. (I’ve also sent a donation to help support the exhibition, and I’ll include the link to the donation page here in case some of you feel inclined to do so as well.)
I’m delighted to introduce Gillian’s guest post for “Emma in the Snow”—and the fabulous images that accompany it. So far in this series, we’ve had pictures of editions of Emma, and pictures of snow (and pictures of palm trees and flowers…), but we haven’t seen Emma in the snow. Until now. Thanks, Gillian!
When Sarah contacted me to invite me to take part in her “Emma in the Snow” series, I had only the roughest of outlines of what I wanted to say. But I knew at once what image I would use to accompany my post. Here, in a walking outfit, is a 1951 Finnish Emma in the Snow—complete with muff, and a delightful bustle. A transposition of language and, of course, period. This Emma might have walked out of the fashion pages of the 1880s or 1890s. And so might the figures walking away from her in the background—Jane Fairfax and Frank Churchill? Harriet Smith and Mr. Elton? Was claret the winter colour for 1888? Is this Emma inspired by the New Woman in literature of the 1880s—by Ibsen, Henry James or indeed Olive Schreiner? So many questions to ask the Finnish publishing house, the designer, and the translator.
In recent years, my own work on Jane Austen—and indeed my place of work—has led me to think about the importance of understanding place and period in an understanding of the novels. It’s a historicist argument, of course. The late great Marilyn Butler wrote, forty years ago in Jane Austen and the War of Ideas, that “No book is improved by being taken out of its context.” And I’m well placed to consider context and authentic setting: my office overlooks the kind of landscape described by Emma in Emma on her visit to Mr. Knightley’s seat. Donwell Abbey—with “its abundance of timber in rows and avenues”—and rambling and irregular Chawton House—with “many comfortable, and one or two handsome rooms”—have a great deal in common.
Certainly, literary tourism would not exist if generations of readers did not feel that much was to be gained from a visit to authors’ homes, and the places that inspired their work. And yet an immersive fictive experience—which I am sure most readers of this blog will agree Austen’s Emma is—cannot, must not, depend on where one is when one reads a book. Whether sitting under an English Oak, next to a cactus, or up a brutalist skyscraper in the centre of a metropolis, one creates the world of a novel oneself. I reread George Justice’s edition of Emma in the snow myself this January, when I had the good fortune to spend a few days in the French Alps. The Alpine setting neither enhanced, nor detracted from, Austen’s characters and their world.
This has some implications for the popularity of Austen’s Emma in the global literary marketplace—something I explored in an essay for Peter Sabor’s Companion to the novel (The Cambridge Companion to Emma ). I was very taken by Janet Todd’s recent post for this series on the English nationalism apparent in Emma. I quite agree. But the continent of course impinges—and not only through Emma’s own reading (remember it’s Stéphanie-Félicité de Genlis’s Adelaide and Theodore that Emma brings to mind when she reflects on the birth of a daughter to Mrs. Weston). I’m still struck, when looking at the fate of Emma abroad, how little the English setting of three or four families in a country village mattered to foreign publishers and translators. They have always reworked the novel to suit the tastes of their original readers.
Take the first French translation, published as La Nouvelle Emma in 1816, just a few short months after the original English was brought out by John Murray, himself a publisher with a finger in many continental pies (he had published Germaine de Staël’s De l’Allemagne in both French and in English translation just two years previously). Nearly all the names for Austen’s characters in this first French translation are made more appealing to the first readers. Emma Woodhouse remains “Emma,” and Augusta Hawkins is still Augusta, but Frank Churchill becomes “Franck,” and other names are turned into their French equivalents: “Jeanne” and “Jean” for Jane Fairfax and John Knightley, “Georges” for Mr. Knightley himself, and in the case of plain Harriet Smith, the Frenchified “Henriette.” Some passages are shortened: Miss Bates’s monologues seem to have tried the patience of the first French translator much as they did Emma herself. And by the third volume, the translator seems to have been running out of steam—more small cuts are apparent in this volume than in others.
There is also one very notable change in the text that cannot have been due to exasperation or fatigue. The passage in which Mr. Knightley comments on Frank Churchill’s character is very well known:
No, Emma, your amiable young man can be amiable only in French, not in English. He may be very “aimable,” have very good manners, and be very agreeable; but he can have no English delicacy towards the feelings of other people: nothing really amiable about him. (Volume 1, Chapter 18)
A contrast between the French and English characters, to the detriment of the French, is commonplace in British Romantic-period fiction, and of course has its roots much further back in literary history. Michèle Cohen has demonstrated convincingly that during the eighteenth century “sprightly conversation,” paying of compliments, and verbosity began to represent “the shallow and inferior intellect of English women and the French” (Fashioning Masculinity: National Identity and Language in the Eighteenth Century ). In Emma, French manners represent a genuine threat to the English social order and customs: the threat is embodied in Frank Churchill himself, with his appetite for “abroad” fuelled by perusing “views in Swisserland” (Volume 3, Chapter 6). Here is how the translator of La Nouvelle Emma renders Georges Knightley’s discussion of Franck Churchill:
Non, Emma, votre amiable jeune homme ne peut l’être qu’en italien et non en anglais. Il peut etre très-agréable, tres-bien élevé, tres poli, mais il n’a pas cette delicatesse anglaise qui porte a compatir aux sensations d’autrui.
There is elision here, certainly: Mr. Knightley’s “nothing really amiable about him” is completely lost in translation. More striking, however, is the replacement of the counterfoil to true English delicacy with not a lesser French “amiability,” but an inferior Italian sense of the word. The translator must have felt that this slight to the French character would be too much for the intended readers in the French-speaking world.
It’s perhaps a testament to her broad appeal and her durability that Austen’s novels have crossed borders and settings—in print and on screen—since their first appearance. This Emma Abroad is perhaps not exactly the Emma we Anglo-American readers know and love. But she has countless admirers of her own.
Sixteenth in a series of blog posts celebrating 200 years of Jane Austen’s Emma. To read more about all the posts in the series, visit Emma in the Snow. Coming soon: guest posts by Margaret Horwitz, Kate Scarth, and Kirk Companion.
Subscribe by email or follow the blog so you don’t miss these fabulous contributions to the celebrations! And/or follow along by connecting with me on Facebook, Pinterest, or Twitter (@Sarah_Emsley).
Thanks for hosting, Sarah, and for your kind words about – and donation to – our Emma exhibition at Chawton House Library. I do hope some of your readers will be able to join us for it!
Sarah Emsley said:
My pleasure, Gillian. Thank you very much for celebrating Emma with me on the internet. Perhaps I’ll get to Chawton for the 200th anniversary celebrations for Persuasion and Northanger Abbey. All the best for “Emma at 200”!
The French translation taken as an example here is old. Two centuries have passed and new translations have come – fortunately. I have always been rather flabbergasted by the British assumption that Jane Austen’s novels are objects of delight for other countries. As to the French, they read her novels when they are students and have to read them or when they are scholars and aademics, in new translations and/or English but her fiction is NOT popular and widely known. Jae Austen is one writer from long ago without special attraction for the majority – and if the majority knows her. The majority does not even know their French “classic” writers! Therefore, do not dream: Emma is not known abroad and certainly not in the 19th century translation. Pure wish dream here.
Thank you, Camille, for this comment. Yes, my whole point was that new translations have appeared, and that Jane Austen is remade for new audiences – in translation, just as in film. I was not suggesting that Jane Austen was a very popular author in France. My – French – mother-in-law had never heard of her until she met me, and most of my French friends and relations are in similar – or similar ish – positions. Indeed, my husband still hasn’t read her (although he probably wouldn’t thank me for saying this in public!) And of course the 1816 French translation isn’t widely available or known – it’s a very rare book, available in research libraries. But there are currently 3 rival translations of Emma available in print in modern editions for French readers (as opposed to 5 rival translations of Pride and Prejudice), so there is clearly a market, just as there is in other European countries. Publishers wouldn’t bother printing them, and paying new translators to translate them, if there wasn’t. And one only has to look at new Austen societies in the Netherlands, Italy and other countries – or indeed read our guest book at Chawton House Library, or the guest book in the Jane Austen House Museum – to see that Austen has many foreign admirers.
You might find Valerie Cossy’s article on why Austen can never be a ‘classique’ in French – published in a Persuasions Online special issue I edited some years ago – of interest:
The best translation, as far as I know, is the one in La Pléiade, which is the reference edition for many writers published there as there is a whole critical apparatus. The one in 10/18 is not bad either. I like less the one in “le livre de poche” even if they tried to make it glamorous with new covers, including one designed by the couturier Christian Lacroix some years ago. Of course, and fortunately, they change the translations. As the text may still be read in English (as La Princesse de Cleves would not be read in modern French), it would be difficult for young French readers to come to foreign readers they have to read (and not much for pleasure) in dated French! It is already so difficult to make them read… Or to make people read at that…
I am very doubtful as to these societies, seeing how much people become involved in one author and read, say and write such insanities and stupid things about books and sad writer – woever he/she is. Most become “superfans” with no critical eye. I see that with “Janeites”, “Trollopians”, “Dickensians”, feminists etc. And, worse than that, with second-rate authors who are put on a pedesteal when they would be better left in the attic.
Jane Austen does not belong to our ulture and civilisation and I truly do not wish for her superfans to invade us.
Thank you for a thoughtful post. I must confess I have never really thought about how Jane Austen ‘translates'(in this case literally) into the French mind and sensibility. Very interesting…all the more so considering the book that is under discussion. Emma seems to me the most rich in ‘Englishness’ of all Austen’s books–her settings and characters designed to be almost a paean to English ways and traditions. While just finishing up an audio version of Emma recently, I was struck by Emma’s walk on Mr. Knightley’s grounds, her warm approval of the satisfying vistas: ‘It was a sweet view—sweet to the eye and the mind. English verdure, English culture, English comfort, seen under a sun bright, without being oppressive.’ I thought the ending qualifier significant… ‘without being oppressive’. This is the sister sentiment to her famous quote, ‘let other pens dwell on guilt and misery’. And in this reflective walk of Emma’s she is hinting toward an ending to the book that would secure a future of this happy view–and the future of like Donwell Abbeys, in the stabilizing marriage of Mr. Knightley and Emma. Whereas, in the case of the Churchill and Fairfax union…they will be traveling a great deal! 🙂
Thank you for your comment! I take exactly that line on ‘English verdure’ as the starting point for the essay I wrote on translations for the Cambridge Companion to Emma. And the ‘without being oppressive’ seems to me to be a reference to those nasty continental suns of Southern Europe, of course. But it’s curious how little that matters to continental translators. Scores of different translations were published in Italy alone in the 1950s and 1960s.
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Abigail Bok said:
Ha! I loved how the French translator passed the disparagement southward! Possibly so the French readers wouldn’t dismiss Mr Knightley as unworthy of their regard? But I sympathize with the translator’s inability to reproduce the contrast between aimable and amiable.
I love it too! So many gems of (mis)translation in the nineteenth-century versions. Isabelle de Montolieu’s early translation of Sense and Sensibility is a delight – she changes the ending completely.
How interesting! I was struck, in part by the changes in the French translation, but also how freely authors’ work was usurped and, really, butchered without anything the author could do about it. No royalties paid, no compensation at all, and no control over what appears under her name. This was the case for a long time, too – I recall reading about Beatrix Potter’s books being published in the US without a penny going back to her. And this was almost a hundred years later.
I love the discussion, too, about how important context and place are to the books. I think that it is books like these that cemented my sense of what’s English in just the same way that Anne of Green Gables cemented my sense of what’s Canadian. A modern Canadian writer – Louise Penny – is a favorite who has completely captured the “Canadian” in her writings. It adds so much, as opposed to those who try to make their settings “anyplace”. There’s no flavor in those works, to my mind.
A most thoughtful discussion, thank you so much, Gillian! And Sarah – it is a real testament to you and your thoughtful handling of these collaborations that you are able to find such wonderful guest writers and convince them to join in the discussion!
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Very glad you enjoyed it! And yes, international copyright law stayed that way well into the nineteenth century, with Dickens in particular absolutely furious that his work sold so well in the US, and on the continent, and there was nothing he could do to control the spread of his intellectual property, let alone receive any payment for it. There’s no evidence that Jane Austen had any idea her work was translated in her own lifetime. But I suspect John Murray might have known – although I can’t prove it, yet!
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Sarah Emsley said:
How interesting that Murray might have known….
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Sarah Emsley said:
Thanks very much for your kind words about the series. I’m delighted to hear that you’re enjoying it, and I’m grateful for the contributions from readers as well as from those who are writing guest posts. Many thanks to all of you!
Victoria Ciliberti Skelly said:
Given the violence and aftershock of the French Revolution and later the threat of invasion by Napoleon, it is not surprising that Austen shaped her characters’ dialogues to reflect what she saw as the best of English culture at the time. Taken at face value today, Knightley’s comments on the superiority of English sensibility towards the feeling of others seems a bit, well, provincial. Perhaps a modern day Knightley and Emma along with Frank and Jane might take a world tour to discover that amiability, manners, and sensitivity to the condition of others is cherished in civilized places the world over, even south and west of the English Channel! Perhaps a trip around England would be in order too, where one would find in many places that the English citizen is not always the most “amiable”- according to Knightley’s standards.
“Emma” is not only technically brilliant in ways that are best appreciated by those with a thorough love of the English language, but the story also does offer hope that communities of thoughtful people can find their way to mutual happiness, regardless of all seeming impediments- gypsies, duplicitous charmers, upstart nouveaux riches, spoiled children of spoiled parents, etc., etc.
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I quite agree (as a Scot, married to a Frenchman). Interestingly, the preface to that first French translation (which is really quite long – six full pages) sees it not so much as a novel, as an accurate guide to the English character. England was sometimes seen as a bit of an amusing backwater for the French under the Bourbon restoration. And I’m always reminded that Germaine de Stael seems only to have one word to say about Austen’s fiction – vulgaire. Which meant not really ‘vulgar’, but, well, provincial.
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