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Posts Tagged ‘ghost stories’

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Shopping ritual (Metropolitan)

Dear friends and readers,

I like movies and stories where the truth is told about Christmas, how ambiguous it is for most people, grating or desolating for many.

One such movie is Whit Stillman’s Metropolitan: it’s known as a free adaptation of Mansfield Park, but it’s a piece of art in Stillman’s oeuvre and story in its own right. It is also a tribute to the strength of Austen’s texture in her books as like other serious adaptations it seeks an analogies in today’s worlds.

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Not from Metropolitan: a prettied up version of what you see on Channel 11 (available on the Net this morning)

On Christmas eve, one of the heroes, Tom Townsend (Edmund character, played by Edward Clements) has Channel 11 in NYC with its burning log and incessant Christmas carol going. His parents were divorced some years ago, both families keep their distance. His mother spends the night sitting on the couch in the front room trying to watch an absurd noisy TV program. He has recently become aware that his father threw out his childhood toys and has faced the reality he likes to deny: his father neglects him, a phone call or so a year is not a relationship.

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Christmas eve (mother and daughter getting through)

The heroine, Aubrey Rouget (Fanny character, played by Carolyn Farina) fares better. She and her mother (apparently a long-time widow) go to St Patrick’s cathedral, a huge church in Manhattan where they join in the service and carols. They stand amid a huge crowd (people like them, some in pairs or groups, but many alone), but Aubrey-Fanny cannot manage to sing as the Tom-Edmund whom Aubrey has fallen in love with in a recent incident during a party stood her up, has shown indifference and preference for a shallow sharp-tongued, but sexy-glamorous “popular” girl (the Mary Crawford character) amongst them. Aubrey begins to cry silently for the beauty of the place and song as well. The mother is another character enduring it as best as she. She has more money than the Edmund character’s mother, is more upper class and thinks to take her daughter out. The distraction, walk in the cold and snow, meeting a friend and acquaintance on the cathedral stairs helps too.

There are a few stories which tell truth. Bobbie Ann Mason’s Drawing Names in her Shiloh and Other Stories: a 20th century middle class Kentucky family get together. They have a method of exchanging gifts by drawing names and making sure this way no one is angry they gave a more expensive gift than they got. During the time there the divorced daughter and the son who has disappointed them have to endure much tension. The Admiral liked Saki’s Christmas stories, and I remember one Christmas eve or day he read aloud to me an opening which was exhilarating in released bitterness, but as the Admiral is now dead he cannot tell which of the Reginald Christmas pieces it is (it’s not “On Christmas Presents” or “Christmas Revels,” which I’ve just looked at, as they don’t open the way I recall). Margaret Oliphant has a ghost story where “Lady Mary” (the ghost) is unable to retrieve the damage she did during life by being unkind and not altering her will in time to leave her money to a niece who endured her petty tyrannies nor can she reach the niece for sure to apologize. (A riposte to Dickens’s Christmas Carol.) Victorian ghost stories are implicitly and most of the time were written for the Christmas market.

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From 1974 Raven’s Pallisers (Prime Minister material: 8:15): coping with Xmas paraphernalia together

Trollope manages not to be too false by various ploys, including telling a real story which happens to occur on the winter solstice. He did leave us his thoughts on such stories in his Autobiography (published after his death):

While I was writing The Way We Live Now, I was called upon by the proprietors of the *Graphic* for a Christmas story. I feel, with regard to literature, somewhat as I suppose an uphosterer and undertaker feels when he is called upon to supply a funeral. He has to supply it, however distasteful it may be. It is his business, and he will starve if he neglect it. So have I felt that, when anything in the shape of a novel was required, I was bound to produce it. Nothing can be more distasteful to me than to have to give a relish of Christmas to what I write. I feel the humbug implied by the nature of the order. A Christmas story, in the proper sense, should be the ebullition of some mind anxious to instil others with a desire for Christmas religious thought or Christmas festivities, — better yet, with Christmas charity. Such was the case with Dickens when he wrote his two first Christmas stories [which were? we cannot be sure which ones Trollope was thinking of]. But since that the things written annually–all of which have been fixed to Christmas like children’s toys to a Christmas tree, have no real savour of Christmas about them. I had done two or three before. Alas! at this very moment I have one to write [said by Julian Thompson to have been “Christmas at Thompson Hall”], which I have promised to supply within three weeks of this time,— the picture-makers always required a long interval,–as to which I have in vain been cudgelling my brain for the last month. I can’t send away the order to another shop, but I do not know how I shall ever get the coffin made.

What Trollope seems to object to is the phoniness of pretending to emotion you do not feel, of enacting a ritual tied to charity when you have or give none: “The Widow’s Mite” is about the unimportance of feeling yourself deprived by having given a present; the important thing is to help, please grace the life of the person you are giving this gift too — he disputes a Biblical parable here. If you really feel an emotion, he will dramatize sympathetically, but like Samuel Johnson (“There is nothing so hopeless as a scheme of merriment” — harsh, brutal, probably out of irritation) and George Sand (in both Lettres d’un Voyageur and Winter in Majorca something about how what happiness we know in life comes unexpectedly, as a surprise), Trollope knows you cannot turn it on like a spiget, especially each year on cue.

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Emma (Doran Goodwin) safe upstairs in her room at Hartfield at last (1972 Emma)

Back to Austen, Metropolitan is not the only movie to do justice to a great text when it passes through Christmas. Sandy Welch’s 2009 Emma shows the characters both enjoying themselves as best they can and enduring tension (see stills); Glenister and Constanduros’ 1972 Emma makes centrally climactic Elton’s emphatic proposal about two swelled-up overpreening people, with Emma rightly desolated and appalled afterward. Victor Nunez’s Ruby in Paradise (Northanger Abbey) has an allusion as the year passes. Most of the others join the chorus Trollope and Saki deprecate. Other adaptations of great texts for this season include Tony Huston’s adaptation of Joyce’s “The Dead” which I still can watch because the Admiral downloaded it for me from the Net (he also transferred a video into an MP2 so I have it in two versions) and Caroline rescued it in a transfer to this Macbook Pro. Profound melancholy rooted in Irish landscape and time.

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From closing shots of The Dead: Donal McCann as Gabriel meditates

… snow was general all over Ireland. It was falling on every part of the dark central plain, on the treeless hills, falling softly upon the Bog of Allen and, farther westward, softly falling into the dark mutinous Shannon waves. It was falling, too, upon every part of the lonely churchyard on the hill where Michael Furey lay buried. It lay thickly drifted on the crooked crosses and headstones, on the spears of the little gate, on the barren thorns. His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.

Ellen

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To translate seemed to me a beautiful thing to do — Victorine de Chastenay on her beginning Radcliffe’s Udolpho

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La Coeur et la raison: title of Goubert’s translation of S&S, so the allusion is to Pascal’s La cœur a ses raisons que la raison ne connaît pas [The heart has its reasons, that the reason doesn’t know]

Dear friends and readers,

I send along a brief review of Helen McMurran’s significant book. Her argument implies that creative and attentively alive linguistic translations as well as translations that paid close attention to changing the text to something acceptable to the targt culture were at the core of the spread of the novel across Europe.

Next up will be a two part evaluative review of Pierre Goubert’s study of Jane Austen: he finds out the traits of her mind and character as shown in the books and letters, and has himself written one of the powerful accurate translations of her book into French: La Coeur et la Raison, a translation that enables me to approach Austen’s text afresh the way Ang Lee’s great film adaptation (1995), together with Davies’ 2008 imitation also function. Goubert is much closer in spirit to Austen.

Then I’ll return to Austen’s letters, probably beginning with just Letter 95 (Jane from Henrietta Street, to Cassandra, at Godmersham, 3 Nov 1813).

What troubles me about the reviews of this book is most reviewers seem not to have bothered to read carefully enough to present its arguments about translation or simply (as usual) don’t care about translation studies to see its significance. Her views are consonant with David Bellos which a recent review of Virginia Woolf’s collaborative translations from the Greek with S. S. Koteliansky show hardly anyone takes into serious consideration. The writer found her alterations of Koteliansky deeply effective but had to dismiss it as not accurate, so wrote a muddled even puzzled account of the Hogarth project.

McMurran’s book is presented as having dual purpose: it also explains how novels spread and that was probably what attracted reviewers and a publisher as it’s what was mostly discussed by the reviews I read. The images in this blog are of translations of Austen into French from her own era. See Francophone Jane for listing.

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This is Isobel de Montolieu’s translation: it contains her preface, a short life, and the whole of her text.

McMurran traces the history of translation in the 18th century. She argues that translation in the 18th century either refused to obey the norms of earlier translations which meant to obey the norms of classical culture as if it were universal; translations were also original (or idiosyncratic, depending on your perspective) in how they obeyed the target language’s literary norms (3). An influential study by Venuti divides translation types into domesticating or foreignizing. She says this division fails to take into account another way of thinking about translation. Before the 18th century the point of translating a text was to transmit it, and often the original and translated texts were used as learning tools.

Foreign language at the time was taught by method like Latin: silent, translating; in school texts we see words placed against one another as equivalents (9). (For my part I think this kind of study still essential in learning a new language.) You were transmitting the Latin and Greek (through Latin); your purpose to render and transmit; you produced what was understood and re-valued in original; you are engaging with, imitating, bringing up to date revered originals. There were classicists who did argue that a given text was not translatable, by which they meant it was necessarily at as good as the original. Such an argument would never be made when it came to Malory’s translations of 5 French romances into his romance epic of Arthurian Tales because the French texts were not respected (often not known). But it was applied in the case of Homer and Virgil especially. Now putting them into vernacular meant you were supposed to convey the essence of the author as you filtered it in your idiom. So Johnson complains that Pope loses the wild savage essence of Homer.

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This Archipoche edition gives the complete and unaltered early 19th century translation of Austen’s MP as Les Trois Cousins by Henri Villemain.

In the later 17th century the historical sense was beginning to emerge, just glancingly but it was coming. People became aware that older texts were from another time and culture and the distance between themselves and this earlier time. They begin to update texts. The most infamous examples are the Shakespeare alterations in drama. 18th century scholars continue to see the much revered texts as partly timeless — not wholly as the verse imitations by Pope of Horace and Johnson of Juvenal show. But they never see the texts written in their own time as timeless. When they translate texts in their own time, they are not reviving or renewing. Translaters begin to see themselves as enriching their own readerships of their particular nation and language by translation. Literary translation becomes a transnational exchange; texts are seen as representative of a nation

Think of the difference between Curtius’s European Literature and Latin Middle Ages and Auerbach’s Mimesis

A very important sub-argument of this book is that translation in the era was not seen as hackwork. She has a long section showing simply that most translations we have were done of out love of a text, interest in it. Yes there were hacks, but they are in the minority because so badly paid. She suggests this sort of motive persists to our time.

It’s certainly true of Feneon’s Catherine Morland for Northanger Abbey which by chance, talent, perhaps spiritual affinity made this anarchist’s French text a genuine match for Austen’s:

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The historical sense changed the way texts themselves were viewed in histories of the novel. Early histories of novel, starting from later 17th century just assumed earlier novels were written out of a universal impulse to tell a love or adventure story. They would connect texts across centuries and make no effort to discover if there was any author of the particularities of a time or place. De Sade’s history is the first person to look at circumstances and say the one romance comes from one culture and time and another from another. Scott developed this into an important insight: he was the first to begin to look at texts as forming national identity. Watt sidesteps all this to begin with new definition of novel that takes us back to universal aesthetic impulses (divided into neat binaries). But he too (McMurran does not say this) begins with this assumption there was something new in the 18th century which made a break with the past.

McMurran’s book may be a companion to Moretti’s Atlas of the Novel, showing us how much novels at the time represent an interaction between the French and English. But more importantly it’s an application of Bellos’s perspective on translation.

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An anonymous 1816 translation of Emma, included in Valerie Cossy’s JA in Switzerland

McMurran tells us how trawling through catalogues tells us so little about the books — how nebulous and hard it is to make any sense of these catalogues, first pages, what little information is available and paratexts — and erects it into an understanding of the era as polymormous, as being indifferent to who the author was as they could not know. It was not until much later that it was admitted texts were changed to suit a political point of view, to sell to the taste of a public. Cossy’s book is an attempt to delve the people who produced the French translations of Austen, their political and personal views, and that of their immediate audience. It takes a long book to analyze just a couple of Austen’s translations (Montolieu, excepts from Pride and Prejudice) this way.

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This is Eloise Perks’s 1822 text unchanged

She then moves into the translations themselves. It’s interesting to see (from what evidence we do have) that in the early parts of the 18th century 30-35% of fiction read in the UK were translations from French, but as century wore on less and less translations, there were more indigenous English texts in the UK. In France the proportions move the other way: little translation from the English until mid-way and then a flood of English texts translated into French begins, but these English texts were (it’s important to recall) naturalized, made to reflect French aesthetic and moral ideals.

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This is Isobel de Montolieu’s text unchanged; unfortunately Helen Seyres has altered Montolieu’s text (as well as title, to Raisons et Sentiments) for Archipoche, making the reprint worthless

McMurran then turns to “rendering practices” in prose fiction. She explains that she ascertained what 18th century translators did when they departed from their text. Well it depends and was individual, but two common resorts are amplification to make more vivid, or condensing to make more forceful. I’ve found that later is typical for the two good male French translators of Radcliffe, Soules and Morellet (and sometime also for the poorer ones, Moylin and Fourier, but they might do that for anyone). Amplification allows for change of perspective such as we see in Smith’s Prevost and condensing such as we see in Chastenay’s Udolpho.

Behn then studies Eliza Haywood’s translations. I did not know that Haywood translated a lot (as did Behn) and I cannot resist thinking both did it for money. Haywood looks to heighten the impression of the text. My respect for her went up when I learned that that she translated Boiguibert’s Marie Stuart, Reyne d’Escosse, Nouvelle Historique, Mary Stuart was an attraction to Madame de Lafayette too (in her Princess de Cleves as the wife of Francoise). Haywood wrote about her methods justifying them Apparently many have thought her Mary Stuart an original book; she also wrote a fictionalized biography, The Life of Madam De Villesache, but this one she presented as a translation.

This real interest in French reminds me of Aphra Behn’s really fine work in French which only recently has gotten some attention (mostly libertine love poetry).

Quite career for Eliza Haywood as a translator. What’s interesting is how she deviates from her texts. Most of the time I dislike her fiction intensely (even her more domestic later fiction) which I find sarky and heartless or crudely didactic — it matters to me what her strength is exercised for; but here she emerges with a certain humanity. I did not know she translated a good deal of Prevost’s Memoirs of a Man of Quality; this is astonishing really.

McMurran then has a matching section on La Place as a French translator of English texts; his translation of Oroonoko influential; he sympathizes intensely with the African characters as native Caribs in a history of Imoinda; he manages to go outside a Eurocentric view of these characters according to McMurran.

About mid-point in her book the cross-channel emergence of the novel becomes her topic. Again she sees translations as central; part of this was the emergence of the nation state, for the first time the idea a language is not easily translated into another because of cultural differences is voiced regularly. McMurran loos at de-nationalizing strands too and turns to look at Richardson’s novels in translation.

It’s here I left off, but will return eventually, but again I interested to see a new perspective (so many have studied Clarissaand Richardson in translation you see). The new perspective informs Robert Frail’s more recent enquiry into transation, A Singular Duality which again is defeated by reviewers who remain wedded to the idea a translation is first and foremost a crib of a specific text. See Gillian Dow. “A Singular Duality: Literary Relations Between France and England in the Eighteenth Century (review).” Translation and Literature 17.1 (2008): 127-131. Project MUSE. Web. 26 Feb. 2013. .

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The modern Pleiade texts

McMurran begins with the idea that a national cosmospolitanism characterized the outlook of readers and translators alike in the 18th century; people read the second language of either English or France while they were in Europe. As there was intense hostility between France (and hence French and French book) and the UK (books in English) so there was also intense admiration. This too describes some of the motives for translating central to the function and nature of translated texts in the era.

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A still from Victor Nunez’s Ruby in Paradise, an appropriation of Austen’s Northanger Abbey: the image resembles a common motif in women’s painting (e.g., Jane Freilicher).
Ellen

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Claire Bloom and Julie Harris conveying frightened terror as they simply listen to incessant sounds coming from a house (The Haunting, 1963 from Shirley Jackson’s equally famous tale)

Dear friends and readers,

Although I’m no longer teaching gothics and ghost stories regularly, I have by no means given up reading and studying and writing about them. We read two on Trollope19thCStudies and three by Edith Wharton on WWTTA this winter solstice, and I was delighted to review Tyler Tichelaar’s Gothic Wanderer in the context of Teaching The Gothic (an MLA anthology of essays) this past fall.

A stimulating query was put on Victoria (a list-serv run by Patrick Leary) by Judith Flanders. Is it true as she just read that ghost occurrences in 19th century ghost stories tend to occur on bridges and marketplaces and in the 18th century in private houses? It seemed to me the most befuddled sociological-metaphysical “theorizing” must have given rise to such a notion, plus the person could not have read many ghost stories. So I answered the query in order to bring the subject back to accurate mapping.

Ghost stories are inward stories of terror, most often written by women and when not by women using heroes who are vulnerable, male victims in the position of the typical gothic heroine. The aesthetic techniques of many are those found in what’s called l’ecriture-femme, or women’s writing. One of the most famous where the ghost occurs in the streets (so marketplaces and perhaps bridges) is the mid-19th century Gogol’s “Overcoat.” Scrooge’s ghosts take him all over the streets, bridges, and marketplaces, as do all of Oliphant’s: “The Open Door” has them in the wood, so does Gaskell’s “Nurses Story” (out in the snow). Snow is deadly, stands for death in ghost stories.

There are few 18th century artful ghost stories until the later 18th century; those most famous are paradoxically at the same time strongly sceptical and the person who has the experience is lower-class, a servant. In Tom Jones Fielding has Partridge experience a ghost in a theater while he watches Hamlet. Later 17th and before and very early 18th century tend to see ghosts as manifestations of sin, an eruption from hell: the brilliance of one of the first artful narratives, Defoe’s “Appariton of Mrs Veal” is the question, has she gone mad? It does not matter where she is, the action occurs in her mind.

By artful I mean crafted by someone who is writing the story down or inventing a poem and at a distance from his or her material; not someone gripped by religious panic, fanaticism and ready to burn people (usually women) as evil. Ghost stories are not a joke; they come out of atavistic dangerous areas of the human mind.

I taught ghost stories for years. The artiful ones teach very well; they really tend to fall into a group of repeating patterns (evil, guilt, injustice/justice), lend themselves to precise definitions (a ghost is the soul/presence of someone who was once alive), and provide just the right amount of reading matter to give students for a presentation.

I like them for more reasons than I might care to say publicly here, but one I can is that they have a metaphysical dimension that’s central to them. The best single book on them since they became artful is Jack Sullivan’s Elegant Nightmares where he shows they are a sort of popular form of Kafkaesque. I can’t overpraise it or his Encyclopedia of Horror and the Supernatural which has definitions of ghost stories and examples. I find introductions to good anthologies often have the best information and insight into them: Michael Cox for the Oxford sets, J. A Cuddon for an out-of-print excellent set, The Penguin Book of Ghost Stories, Jessica Amanda Salmonson, What Did Miss Darrington (where the introduction used to be online somewhere). They do tend to be written by women (another anthology beyond the Victorian ones by Dalby is Restless Spirits), and a good book on the gothic which really tends to discuss the ghost story is Eugene Delamotte’s Perils of the Night.

The useful fault-line that is arguable, even demonstrable is between the ghost as really there, not just a psychological project, the ghost as both, and the ghost as sheer psychological projection. The three options make for different meanings. Some ghost stories continue to be all three but in modern ones (starting with 20th century, post WW1) there’s a strong tendency to opt for the last.

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Sherlock Holmes violent labyrinth: The Adventure of the Cardboard Box (Sarah Findlay and Ciarhan Hinds as sister and brother-in-law)

Another is less easy to use, much more blurry but there as recognized by Radcliffe is horror versus terror. The ghost story hits the inward being and thus terrifies our inward being; the vampire breaks bodily taboos and is more a horror story, physical brutality and breaking of taboos a mark (stories of body snatching say belong here, especially from graves). The ghost story unnerves us, the horror tale disgusts. The Cardboard Box really moves into horror (ears are cut off the victim) as do many of Conan Doyle’s: his are more masculine gothic (see The Gothic Wanderer). It is true that the wild action takes place in the marketplaces of the world, but the ears are delivered to the women in their home Christmas time.

I offered a bibliography with The Gothic Wanderer; to that I’d like to add just for ghost stories:

Owen Davies, The Haunted: A Social History of Ghosts (Palgrave)

Shane McCorristine, Spectres of the Self: Thinking about Ghosts and Ghost-Seeing in England, 1750-1920

Owen Davies’ five volume set: Ghosts: A Social History (Pickering & Chatto)–primary texts plus commentary, Reformation through the twentieth century.

Sasha Handley, Visions of an Unseen World: Ghost Beliefs and Ghost Stories in Eighteenth-Century England London: Pickering & Chatto, 2007.

Gaslight on line is a wonderful place to explore; the original list-serv which was opened when the site was first built and then active and lively was a place for reading ghost stories from the 1880s to 1910s.

I don’t deny that in older anonymous folk and faery tales different kinds of criteria might be needed to understand and enjoy (if you do) them, and very recently feminist and post-modern re-vamping of police procedural and detective stories are evolving new psychological and sociological insights into what ghosts and gothics have to tell us.

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One change is in the attitudes of the detached watchful figure (Helen Mirren as Jane Tennison)

Ellen

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