In the past twenty years or so, since the publication of Seamus Heaney’s "Beowulf", a number of poets have turned to the translation of literary works from the Middle Ages, a period which stretches from the fall of the Roman Empire to the Renaissance, from "Beowulf" to the writings of Chaucer.
During the course of this seminar I would like to explore the current fascination for the Middle Ages in translation. In the past twenty years or so, since the publication of Seamus Heaney’s Beowulf, a number of poets have turned to the translation of literary works from the Middle Ages, a period which stretches from the fall of the Roman Empire to the Renaissance, from Beowulf to the writings of Chaucer. Over the semester, we will focus on two specific aspects of this fruitful literary and translational interaction: firstly the translation of medieval poetry which allows contemporary poets to experiment with language and their own literary and linguistic creativity; then the way the literary and stylistic codes of epic poetry and Arthurian legends carry over into young adult novels in the XXth and XXIth century, and how these codes can be translated into French.
How do writer-translators set up a dialogue with some of the fathers of European literature? While some contemporary poets write out a literal translation, others opt for a more creative approach—sometimes an adaptation, sometimes a more marked form of rewriting. Simon Armitage draws Sir Gawain and the Green Knight into the present through the neologisms and colloquialisms he scatters in his version of the romance; in Environmental Studies Maureen Duffy devises poetic glosses on Anglo-Saxon riddles; Lavinia Greenlaw retells the story of the two young lovers, Troilus and Criseyde, as she appropriates Chaucer’s narrative. Caroline Bergvall’s multisensory performance “Drift” is based on The Seafarer. Do these versions qualify as translations? If so, how do these inventive translational takes on the medieval source text push back the boundaries of translation studies? How does translating works from the Middle Ages allow contemporary poet-translators to dig deep into their own creative resources? Lastly this fruitful interaction brings the past to life but also tells us about the sociocultural reasons behind this enthusiasm for (all) things medieval.
We will then move on to prose writings of the XXth and XXIth century, which draw on the codes of epic poetry and medieval romances: fantasy novels but also tales woven around motifs found in medieval literature. We will begin with books whose target readership is older, The Lord of the Rings (Tolkien), A Wizard of Earthsea (Ursula K. Le Guin), and then focus on the study of, for example, Bilbo the Hobbit (Tolkien), The Dark is Rising (Susan Cooper), The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (C. S. Lewis). Each excerpt will be chosen according to certain literary and stylistic characteristics sourced in the Middle Ages. We will examine how translators transfer these codes into French in relation to the target readership: place names, names of characters, descriptions of places, the building of suspense, through an analysis of lexis, syntax and imagery.
The purpose of this course is to provide a detailed view of the living literary influence of the Middle Ages as it ramifies into the present through creative forms of translation. A theoretical framework will be provided based on the critical writings of theorists who have analysed the creative dimension of translation (Bassnett, Berman, Eco, Jakobson, Scott, Venuti) or who specialise in children’s literature in translation (Douglas, Nières-Chevrel, Diament-Gibello-Kiefé) and neo-medievalism. Our approach will be translation-oriented but will also involve literary analysis, stylistics and linguistics. Relevant elements to do with the social and cultural background, which factors into the shaping of these various translations, will also come into play.
There will be a very practical side to the course as students will be asked to do exercises in class regularly: translate from modern and Middle English into French, write out glosses, analyse and compare translations.
This course is geared towards students who are proficient in both English and French, are interested in translation and translation studies, and love poetry.