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Cinthia Garcia SoriaCinthia Garcia Soria is a freelance translator (from English to Spanish) and she’s working towards a Master’s degree in Applied Linguistics in Translation Studies at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México. Her research focuses on the translation of irony in three novels by Jane Austen. She’s a long-time Janeite and in 1999 she co-founded JAcastellano, a Jane Austen group for Spanish speakers. Here’s the link to the Yahoo Group. JAcastellano is also on Facebook and Twitter (@JAcastellano).

Last month, Gillian Dow talked about the first French translation of Emma in her guest post for Emma in the Snow; today I’m pleased to introduce Cinthia’s guest post on Spanish translations of Austen’s novels, particularly of Emma.

She’s also sent a photo of two snow-covered volcanoes near Mexico City, where she lives. Here’s her description of them: “The one in the left is the Iztaccihuatl (Nahuatl, from ‘White Woman,’ also called the ‘Sleeping Woman’ because of the shape it has, and because it’s considered a dormant volcano). On the right side is Popocatepetl (also Nahuatl, from ‘Smoking Mountain,’ and yes, it is an active volcano). The legend is that Iztaccihuatl was an Aztec princess who fell in love with one of her father’s warriors, Popocatepetl, and he was sent to war with the promise that on his return he could marry her. She was told he had fallen in battle, and the news caused her to die of grief. It was a lie—when he returned and found out he took her to the valley and stood beside her watching in eternity over her. The gods turned them into ‘mountains.’”


Jane Austen was almost unknown for most of the twentieth century in my part of the world. Those of us who discovered her before the big boom of adaptations in the mid-1990’s certainly struggled to find copies of her works in our language and only a few of us were adventurous enough to read her in English.

The first Spanish edition of EmmaIt was a little more than a century after Austen’s death that three of her novels were first translated into Spanish: Persuasion in 1919, followed by Northanger Abbey in 1921 and then Pride and Prejudice in 1924, issued by Calpe—later known as Espasa-Calpe. Twenty years later, in the wake of the interest created by the 1940 Pride and Prejudice film, more editions of that novel appeared and also the other three novels were at last translated into Spanish: Sense and Sensibility (which has been given at least five different titles in Spanish) in 1942, Mansfield Park in 1943 (with Chapters 11 through 20 omitted in that first translation), and Emma in 1945 (translated by Jaime Bofill y Ferro, in an edition published by M. Arimany). Yet for most of the 20th century, Jane Austen was almost unknown in the Spanish-speaking world, because only editions of the first three translated novels remained available.

Cartas Jane AustenThings changed in those last five years of the past century, as they did almost everywhere else, and since then, we have tried to catch up. Of course Pride and Prejudice has remained popular. But the other novels became available again by the end of the last century, and even some of minor works were also at last translated. Then, in 2012, all the letters were translated. This edition of the Cartas (Letters) of Jane Austen, published by D’Época Editorial, is a real highlight, because no other Spanish translation of Austen’s writing has reached its level of quality.

Although there are still Spanish-speaking countries and places where it isn’t possible to find translations of Austen’s novels, the number of editions in Spanish can easily reach two hundred. (Over 50% of these are translations of Pride and Prejudice.) Frankly, the problem Spanish-speaking Janeites face now is not the quantity but the quality of the translations and editions (and I admit we can be very fastidious readers).

Although the original English text of the works of Jane Austen has long been in the public domain, some people think, mistakenly, that Spanish translations are also free of copyright, but that is not so, since not even a century has passed since most of the translations were first published.

In addition, a single translation can be used for different editions, printed either by the same publishing house, or by a different publishing house. Sometimes the translator is not identified, and only when you compare texts can you discover who it was. There are translations credited to different individuals—yet some of these do seem to have been based on previous translations instead of the source text. Some translations are still credited to the first translator, even though someone else has since modernized the text (and such modernizations don’t always improve the translation). Some apparently new translations are identical—character by character and dot by dot—to a previous one. Or the syntax has been rearranged in order to conceal that the translation is based on a previous one. The number of translations is thus significantly lower in comparison with the number of editions.

It is difficult to answer which is the best translation as many factors are involved. There is no perfect translation of any author or any work. Inevitably, something is lost in translation, and even the most accomplished translator slips once in a while. To this we can add that Jane Austen is not easy to translate, partly because of her wit and irony, but also because of the differences between cultures and the 200-year gap between her time and our own.

For some of us, the many reference books published in English about Jane Austen’s life and times help to provide some context for her writing, but unfortunately none of them has been translated into Spanish. Introductions to the novels might help, but not many editions include one, and sometimes only a brief general biographical notice of the author is included. In the case of Emma, at least three of its translators have written introductions to the novel, but, unfortunately, two of these include big plot spoilers.

If Jane Austen’s contemporary readers—Maria Edgeworth included—found it difficult to understand Emma, it is not surprising people abroad nowadays may similarly dislike the novel because they think nothing happens in it. No aid is provided for readers to understand what is going on below the surface in the many editions and translations of the novel.

Spanish editions of Emma

I could enter into details about other problems that could be found in the translations into Spanish, but for now I’ll just say that up to now it appears there are at least eleven translators of Emma into Spanish; however, only around six of them seem to have worked from the original text, some more successfully than others. Their translations continue to be in use, in some cases forty years (or more) after they first appeared in print.

One element of modern translations I dislike is the trend towards translations adapted for the reader’s environment, instead of translations that help readers to understand the world depicted in the original text. For example, English units are sometimes changed to their equivalents in the decimal measurement system, which is, I think, a controversial decision. It does not augur well for future translations or editions.

I wonder if something similar has happened in the translation of Jane Austen’s works into other languages.

For further reading:

Chryssofós, Iris (junio, 2014). Las traducciones argentinas de un par de novelas de Jane Austen: Northanger Abbey y Lady Susan. Paper presented at Jornadas internas en honor a Jane Austen de la Universidad Nacional de La Plata (UNLP). Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Crespo Allúe, María José (1981), La problemática de las versiones españolas de Persuasión de Jane Austen. Crítica de su traducción (doctoral thesis). Valladolid: Universidad de Valladolid.

Díaz Bild, Aída (2007). “Still the Great Forgotten? The Reception of Jane Austen in Spain” in Mandal, Anthony y Southam, Brian (eds.) (2007). The Reception of Jane Austen in Europe. London: Continuum; p. 188-204.

Dow, Gillian (2013). “Translations” in Sabor, Peter (ed.) (2015). The Cambridge Companion to Emma. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, p. 166-187.

García Soria, Cinthia (2013). ¿Lost in translation? La traducción de la obra de Jane Austen en el mundo de lengua española. Paper presented at Coloquio Interdisciplinario Jane Austen: Orgullos y Prejuicios en la Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM). Mexico City, Mexico.

Mandal, Anthony (2009). “Austen’s European Reception” in Johnson, Claudia L. and Tuite, Clara (eds.) (2009). A Companion to Jane Austen. Wiley-Blackwell, Oxford, UK, p. 422-433.

Smith, Ellen (1985). “Spanish Translations of Northanger Abbey” in Persuasions 7, Journal of the Jane Austen Society of North America, p. 21-27. http://www.jasna.org/persuasions/printed/number7/smith.html

Wright, Andrew y Alazraki, Jaime (1975). “Jane Austen Abroad – Mexico” in Halperin, John (ed.) (1975) Jane Austen Bicentenary essays. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 304-306.

Twenty-first 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 Carol Chernega, Sarah Woodberry, and Deborah Yaffe.

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Emma in the Snow