Chapter 7 – Three Prefaces
The time has come to try and pull things together. We have looked into several aspects of three different translations of the same passage. We noticed similarities and differences between them. We discussed how later translations built on or distanced themselves from earlier ones. We commented on a couple of patterns and inconsistencies.
On the basis of these observations we can formulate some tentative hypotheses about the three translators’ preferences and priorities. If we want to go beyond these and reach for explanations, we will need additional, external evidence. We will come to that in a moment. First, a brief summary of the main findings of our analysis.
- Nahuijs 1868 seemed willing to omit various details and to ignore instances where language was used self-referentially. In his version the story line comes across very well, at the expense of some detail and of characterization. Although the scene is set in Amsterdam, its Dutchness is not emphasized.
- Siebenhaar 1927 seemed keen to locate the story in Amsterdam and to remind the reader that the characters are meant to be speaking Dutch. His version appeared more complete than Nahuijs’s and allowed Drystubble to show himself in all his smugness and pedantry, missing only one trick (the disambiguation instance: compare Siebenhaar <37> with Edwards <26> and <37>). He ran into trouble with the self-referential uses of language, drawing on British-American spelling differences when Drystubble is meant to be a Dutch-speaker and using un-English ways of referring to addresses.
- Edwards 1967 appeared to have learned lessons from his predecessors and seemed intent on offering a very complete translation. He made the characters as well as the scene unambiguously Dutch and took care to be as consistent in this as possible. His version appeared comprehensive, even expansive.
Can we link these apparent preferences to other evidence and suggest that they represent deliberate choices and therefore strategies informed by particular ways of viewing the original text? Methodologically this means moving from analytical results to an attempt to explain or at least understand the findings more fully by grounding them in the translators’ different perceptions of the original.
To do this, we need evidence outside the translated texts as such. Paratexts, such as prefaces, can help here. As it happens, the prefaces that accompany the various Max Havelaar translations contain clues enabling us to appreciate the translators’ interpretation of the original. When we know what the translators regarded as significant in the original, we can understand why they rendered it as they did, that is, why they were keen to convey certain aspects and jettisoned others.
For the purposes of the present exercise we will assume that the prefaces express the translators’ own views, and that these views are reflected in the translations. The preface to Siebenhaar 1927 is actually by D.H. Lawrence. We will still assume it presents a view shared by the translator.
Let’s now turn to these prefaces one by one, starting with Nahuijs 1868 in the next chapter.