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Angela Wright (University of Sheffield), Corinne in Distress: Translation as cultural misappropriation in the 1800s

From the date of its publication in 1807, Germaine de Stael's Corinne, ou l'Italie was an enormous success. Between 1807 and 1810, fourteen editions or pirated versions were issued in France, England, Switzerland and Germany. Following the publication of Corinne in French in 1807, two competing translations of the novel swiftly appeared in Britain, both in 1807. The first, Corinna, or Italy, in three volumes, was translated anonymously. The second, with exactly the same title, was in five volumes and translated by Dennis Lawler. Whilst these two first English translations adopted the title, they nonetheless indulged in considerable artistic licence with the text of the novel itself. The essay to follow will explore these licences, and the differing emphases that they placed upon the Anglo/Italian tensions within Corinne. By exploring both translations, I do not mean to treat of both as one homogenised Europhobic reaction to the novel; rather I intend to argue that in their engagement with the original's subtle exploration of these tensions, some nuances have been lost. These losses reflect the anxiety about translation which followed the fierce debates of the 1790s surrounding the art. My essay will begin by exploring a small part of the 1790's debate in Britain on translation, focussing in particular on one important essay on the subject which appeared in 1791. Alexander Fraser Tytler's 1791 "Essay on the Principles of Translation" is without doubt the most significant critical work of the time on that topic. After having explored a small part of his essay, and its location in the 1790s debate on translation, I will then proceed to connect these debates to some of the contexts raised in Corinne and its subsequent 1807 translations into English. Having discussed the significance of these translations and the different emphases that they adopted to Staël's original, I will then offer some thoughts upon why Corinne was so swiftly parodied in 1809 with the anonymously-produced Corinna of England, and how the English translations may have contributed to this rapid descent into satire.

 

 

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