Friday, 30 September 2011

Remembering St. Jerome

It's not often my thoughts turn charitably to religious figures, but today's the Feast of St. Jerome. He was a 4-5th century priest, ascetic and enthusiastic troublemaker - reading between the lines, he enjoyed little more than diving into Church politics with his claws out.

But that's not why we're celebrating him. He's the patron saint of translators, of whom there aren't enough. We anglophones are far too resistant to learning other languages and to reading work written in other tongues: about 3% of books sold are translations (and I bet most of them are Murukami).

Translation's always going to be second-best to reading a text in its original language, but we owe it to ourselves and to other cultures to make the attempt, or we end up as insular, arrogant and xenophobic.

So here are a few of my favourite books translated into English:
Kate Roberts, Feet in Chains (from Welsh)
Eugene Ionesco, The Bald Soprano (French, by Donald Allen)
Ismail Kadare, The Successor (Albanian)
Thomas of Britain, The Romance of Tristan and Ysolt (French, by Roger Loomis)
Dafydd ap Gwilym, Poems (Welsh, by Evelyn Lewes)
George Perec, Species of Spaces (French, by John Sturrock)
Guiseppe di Lampedusa, The Leopard (Italian)
Tove Jansson, Comet in Moominland (Swedish, by Elizabeth Portch)
Torquato Tasso,  The Liberation of Jerusalem (Italian)
Anon, Laxdaela Saga (Icelandic/Old Norse, by Muriel Press)
Karl Marx, The Communist Manifesto (German, by Samuel Moore, ed. David McLellan)
Robert Henryson, The Testament of Criseid (Middle English, by Seamus Heaney)
Jacques Derrida, Of Grammatology (French, by Gayatri Spivak into crit-speak, not English)
Anon, The Mabinogion (Welsh, by Sioned Davies)
Fflur Dafydd, Twenty Thousand Saints (Welsh, Fflur Dafydd)
Ariosto, Orlando Furioso (Italian, Guido Waldman)
Various/Anon, The Anglo-Saxon World: An Anthology (Anglo-Saxon, edited by Kevin Crossley-Holland)
Roland Barthes, Mythologies (French)
Luigi Pirandello, Six Characters in Search of an Author (Italian)
Anton Chekhov, The Kiss and Other Stories (Russian, by Ronald Wilks)
Wiliam Owen Roberts, Pestilence (Welsh)
Mikhail Bulgakov, Master and Margarita (Russian, by M. Glenny)

Apologies to those translators whose names I haven't noted - you really are cultural heroes and deserve your moment in the sun. Without you, we'd be even more isolated and moronic than we already are.

Looking at this list, it's apparent how narrow my cultural landscape is: I've read a lot of Latin, and more Russian, Chinese, Japanese, Hispanic and Irish work than this suggests (shamefully, very little from Africa), but these really are my favourites (today).

1 comment:

The Red Witch said...

I am never going to learn Russian even if I love Dostoevsky. Old Norse is already hard enough with all the strange letters. I don't know why I never bothered to read Zola or Balzac in French. I read French well enough. I was going to write a blog about Old Norse and Beowulf today. Maybe I should say something about Jerome instead.