Saturday, December 31, 2011

A Royal Child Translator

Today is December 31.

On this day in the year 1544 – in the words of Anne Lake Prescott, a distinguished American scholar of the English Renaissance –
"the eleven-year-old Lady Elizabeth presented Catherine with her own beautifully bound and embroidered translation of Marguerite's long poem Le miroir de l'âme pécheresse."
This was a red-letter day in the annals of child translators. Lady Elizabeth was the future Queen Elizabeth I of England. Catherine was Catherine (or Katherine) Parr,
"the sixth and last wife of King Henry VIII, destined to outlive the mercurial ruler... She was an admirable wife to Henry and a loving stepmother to his two youngest children, Elizabeth and Edward. She was also the most intellectual of Henry's wives, caught up in the turbulent religious climate of the times."
Marguerite was Marguerite de Valois (aka Marguerite d'Angoulême, 1492–1549),
"queen consort of Henry II of Navarre. Her brother became king of France as Francis I, and the two siblings were responsible for the celebrated intellectual and cultural court and salons of their day in France... As an author and a patron of humanists and reformers, she was an outstanding figure of the French Renaissance."
As for her poem Le Miroir de l'âme pécheresse (The Mirror of the Sinful Soul), it is
"an outpouring of surprising intensity: over 1,400 lines of self-accusation and self-abasement. The Reformist orientation is apparent in the poem's Pauline-Augustinian bent, as in the prominence of biblical allusions. The speaker of the poetic monologue presents herself as a wretched sinner, who has so violated and betrayed her relationship with God that she is totally unworthy of his grace. Parsing out that relationship into a series of familial paradigms - daughter, mother, sister, wife - she explores each area of defection through an exemplary episode from the Bible."
So the translator may have been a child, but the text was no children's poem.
"Scholars sometimes assume that Elizabeth chose to translate this poem. In fact... someone older, possibly Catherine herself, would very likely have known of the book and pressed it on her.... Elizabeth could hope that by obediently translating the Miroir she could please an influential and affectionate stepmother....
“Neither do we know who, if anyone, helped Elizabeth with her translation. It seems unlikely she was utterly on her own, yet her errors and omissions suggest inattention (or inadequate French) on someone's part. She opens with a letter to Catherine. She knows of the queen's 'affectuous wille, and fervent zeale... towardes all godly learning.' So, to avoid idleness, she has turned 'frenche ryme in to englishe prose, joyning the sentences together as well as the capacitie of my symple witte, and small lerning coulde extende themselves.' Her effort is merely a beginning, so she hopes Catherine will not show it ot anyone ‘lesse my fauttes be knowen of many.’ Maybe Catherine can amend it. Happy New Year."
Who might have helped Elizabeth? Let’s not underestimate her. She'd been put through a thorough Renaissance Christian education that included learning, Italian, Spanish, Greek and Latin besides English rhetoric and French. So she no doubt had capable teachers. We know, for instance, that her tutor in Greek was Henry Savile, later one of the King James Bible team of translators. By the time she was eleven, we can suppose, on the basis of this education and the translation itself, that she was an Advanced Native Translator.

In spite of Elizabeth’s reticence about the quality of her translation, once she became queen it was obviously in some courtier’s or bookseller’s interest to publish it and that’s what happened. See References below.

There are some other noteworthy things about this translation:
* Author, translator and intended reader were all women, unusual for its time but indicative of a breakthrough by women into the literature of the Renaissance
* The important role of religious translation, about which I've often commented elsewhere
* The constant flow of ideas and literature between France and England, aided by translations
* It's a translation from rhymed poetry into target-language prose, a not uncommon technique used even by Expert Translators
* Elizabeth's self-criticism, her meta-translational awareness(pardon the term)
* The proof that sophisticated translations by children at the Advanced Native Translator level are by no means a modern phenomenon. This example pushes it back by nearly five centuries. Elizabeth was very intelligent but she was surely not unique. How many other literary and religious translations by children have been done over the centuries, and then lost because the child was not famous or royal?

Anne Lake Prescott. The Pearl of Valois and Elizabeth I: Marguerite de Navarre's Miroir and Tudor England. In Margaret Patterson Hannay (ed.), Silent but for the Word, Kent OH, Kent State UP, 1985, pp. 61-76.

Kaherine Parr.

Marguerite de Navarre. Wikipedia.

Marguerite de Navarre. Le Miroir de l'âme pécheresse. 1521. The full text is available on Wikisource,

Susan Snyder. Guilty sisters: Marguerite de Navarre, Elizabeth of England, and the Miroir de l'ame pecheresse. Renaissance Quarterly, vol. 50, 1997, pp. 443-458.

The Miroir or Glasse of the Synneful Soul. Elizabeth's manuscript in her own handwriting. The dedication reads:
"From Assherige, the last daye of the yeare of our Lord God 1544 ... To our most noble and vertuous Quene Katherin, Elizabeth her humble daughter wisheth perpetuall felicitie and everlasting joye."
Elizabeth probably also embroidered the binding. The book is now in the Bodleian Library at Oxford. The binding is illustrated in Wikipedia,

A Godly Meditation of the inwarde loue of the Soule.Compiled in French by Margaret Queene of Nauerre translated by Princesse Elizabeth, Queene of Englande. London, circa 1570. There are three versions of this publication in the British Library in London.

Elizabeth at age 13. Painter unknown. Source: Wikipedia.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

From France to England via Imperial Russia II

The previous post told how Charles Perrault's 17th-century French fairy story The Sleeping Beauty (Beauty for short) travelled eastwards across Europe to Russia and was transformed into a sumptuous ballet coordinated by the St Petersburg impresario Ivan Vsevolozhsky. That was in 1890. Here begins the story of its journey back to the West under the directorship of an even greater Russian impresario, Sergei Diaghilev.

In 1909 Diaghilev formed his own ballet company, Les Ballets Russes, and took it to Paris, where it was a sensational artistic success. Notice that, true to the bilingualism of the Russian elite, he gave it a French name, which it retained wherever it went; and he was better known in the West himself by the French form of his name, Serge.

This was a very different generation from Vsevolozhky's, one of new Russian vitality in the arts, and it explains the bombshell that exploded in Paris. Russia, the imbiber of Western culture, leapt to its fore. Not only did the Ballets Russes include young dancers who were to become legends: Nijinsky, Pavlova, Karsavina and others who set a new standard and repaid Russia's debt to Petipa. Diaghilev also brought as his artistic director Léon Bakst.
"Together they developed a more complicated form of ballet with show-elements intended to appeal to the general public, rather than solely the aristocracy. The exotic appeal of the Ballets Russes had an effect on Fauvist painters and the nascent Art Deco style."
In the same spirit, Diaghilev commissioned the music for three ballets from the avant-garde composer Igor Stravinsky. The most influential of these was The Rite of Spring (1913).
"The Rite, whose premiere provoked a riot, transformed the way in which subsequent composers thought about rhythmic structure, and was largely responsible for Stravinsky's enduring reputation as a musical revolutionary, pushing the boundaries of musical design."
Yet through all those tumultuous times, Diaghilev didn't forget Beauty. After the Russian Revolution of 1917, he stayed in the West with all his troupe. In 1921, as an accommodation to British theatrical taste, he brought Beauty to London.
"It was a production of remarkable magnificence both in settings and costumes but, despite being well received by the public, it was a financial disaster for Diaghilev and Oswald Stoll, the [English] theatre-owner who had backed it."
There's a curious anecdote about the name under which the production appeared.
"Diaghilev insisted on calling the ballet The Sleeping Princess. When asked why, he quipped, 'Because I have no beauties!'"
But although Sleeping Princess might be justified as as an extralinguistic translation, since the star role is indeed that of a princess, it was a mistake because it failed to connect with the entrenched English tradition of the Perrault tales that I described last year.

As it turned out, the impact of Les Ballets Russes in Britain went far beyond that one production. It sparked a new taste for ballet in British culture and a new school of British dancers – another remarkable cultural transplant. In 1926, Marie Rambert, who had danced for Diaghilev, created the first ballet company in Britain, which became known as Ballet Rambert. She recruited a generation of outstanding British dancers and choreographers. Another 'spin-off' from Les Ballets Russes was Ninette de Valois. Despite her French-sounding professional name, she was actually Irish, christened Edris Stannus, and she made her professional debut as a principal dancer in pantomime! That was before Diaghilev spotted her.
"Later in her life, de Valois claimed that everything she knew about how to run a ballet company, she learned from working with Diaghilev."
The school and company she founded in 1931 became known as The Sadler's Wells Ballet (from the name of the theatre where it was housed). It was the first ballet company I ever saw, towards the end of WW2 when it appeared in other London theatres besides Sadler's Wells.

During WW2, the Royal Opera House in London, popularly known as Covent Garden from the district where it's located, had been turned into a dance hall for troops on leave. In 1946 it was cleaned up and reopened, and the opening night featured the Sadler's Wells production of Beauty. The company, which was by then nec plus ultra, became The Royal Ballet and its teaching branch The Royal Ballet School. In 1949 it made a triumphant tour of the United States with Margot Fonteyn as Princess Aurora in Beauty. And so it has continued, with Beauty in its repertoire.

The most recent developments have been due, as in so many fields, to the new technologies. There's a Royal Ballet production of Beauty available on DVD, and now the RB has turned to transmitting some of its productions live to cinemas across Europe and beyond. And that’s how I came to see it with friends last week on the big screen of a cinema here in Valencia. A magnificent production, dressed in the Oliver Messel costumes from the 1946 production. The prima ballerina looked very British, the leading male dancer was Russian as was the conductor of the British orchestra. Cultural fusion. The programme notes duly named Tchaikovsky, Petipa and Perrault.

Sergei Diaghilev. Wikipedia.

Marie Rambert. Wikipedia.

Ninette de Valois. Wikipedia.

Oliver Messel. Wikipedia.

Extralinguistic translation: a translation that results from other factors besides language ones.

From The Royal Ballet's The Sleeping Beauty, 2009. Source:

Saturday, December 17, 2011

From France to England via Imperial Russia (1)

This blog has celebrated the last two Christmases with ‘diversions’ about folk tales written down in foreign lands, which by long process of translation and adaptation have ended up in a most unlikely form – one might say a travesty – the peculiar British theatrical institution called the Christmas pantomime. The first was Aladdin and His Wonderful Lamp from The Thousand and One Nights, and the second was Cinderella from Perrault’s Tales of Mother Goose. To find those posts, enter aladdin or cinderella in the Search box on the right. Both are well represented on the billboards this Christmas

This year I’m turning to another Christmas tradition in the British theatre. But whereas pantomime is popular entertainment, with its performers drawn from music hall –
“Aladdin brings panto fun to Llandudno [in North Wales]”

“This Cinderella is sexy, it's sassy and it's funny. Filthy-funny in parts, which is something of a departure for the Playhouse but not for the Liverpool audience. ” –
the other tradition is a true art form and appeals to a different social and intellectual class. It’s the Christmas ballet. Parents take their children to the panto for a good laugh; they take them to the ballet for wonderment and inspiration. The Christmas ballet audiences are sprinkled with children, especially little girls who dream of one day emulating the sylph-like dancers.

The favourite Christmas ballets year after year are The Sleeping Beauty (henceforth Beauty for short) and Nutcracker. I’ll deal with Beauty for now and leave Nutcracker for another year. Like Cinderella's, Beauty's lineage goes back to the 17th-century French writer Charles Perrault, who "laid the foundations for a new literary genre, the fairy tale, with his works derived from pre-existing folk tales." Perrault gave it the title La belle au bois dormant; notice that au bois (in the forest) is dropped from the standard English title. Its route to the London stage is, however, very different from and much longer than that of the pantomimes.

By the late 18th century, the popularity of Perrault's Tales had spread across Europe and had reached Russia. They were published in Russian translation in 1765 (see References), and the publisher was the new Moscow Imperial University, founded in 1755, which says something about Perrault's prestige. They merged with a rich tradition of native Russian fairy tales (see the Wikipedia reference below).

That was the first stage. The next in this roundabout series of cultural transformations was not between languages but between media. Beauty became one the most famous and enduring of ballets, a brilliant jewel bequeathed to the world by Tsarist Russia.

Everyone who likes classical music knows that the music for Beauty was composed by Tchaikovsky, for it is often played as an orchestral masterpiece in its own right. Tchaikovsky knew the story, but whether he learnt it from Perrault doesn't really matter, as we shall see. Though Tchaikovsky is considered a Russian composer, his music, despite a Russian flavour in the melodies, is really firmly part of the Western European orchestral tradition that he and other 19th-century composers imported. Indeed some early critics thought his music for Beauty was too symphonic for a ballet.

Balletomanes are accustomed to seeing the name of the original choreographer of Beauty on the theatre programmes even today: Marius Petipa. He had a long career as Premier Maître de Ballet of the St Petersburg Imperial Theatres, a position he held from 1871 until 1903, but before that he had built up a reputation in Western Europe. He "is considered to be the most influential ballet master and choreographer of ballet that has ever lived." In his case there was no need of a translation from French, because Petipa was French. He was born in Marseille. And the ballet technique he taught wasn't Russian; it was the French and Italian tradition that he had brought with him – with an occasional touch of Spanish, for he spent several years of his youth in Spain. Another cultural transfer.

Then there was the third man, somebody far less well-known though he too played a crucial role in creating the ballet. His name was Ivan Alexandrovich Vsevolozhsky. As Director of the Imperial Theatres, it was he who commissioned the ballet from Tchaikovsky and Petipa for the Mariinsky Theatre in St Petersburg. (Incidentally, Beauty is on the programme of the Mariinsky this week.) Besides being a competent administrator, he loved the theatre. Actually he made a triple contribution to Beauty: he was the impresario, he designed the costumes for the original production (see photo) and he wrote the scenario from which Tchaikovsky and Petipa worked. What was Vsevolozhsky's source? The 19th-century Russian elite were Francophiles and French was widely used among them.
"All libretti and programs of works performed on the stages of the Imperial Theatres were titled in French, which was the official language of the Emperor's Court, as well as the language in which balletic terminology is derived."
Therefore, although the Russian translation of Perrault was available, it's just as likely that Vsevolozhsky read it in French. In any case, there was a bilingual edition of the Voinov translation published as early as 1797. Furthermore, Vsevolozhsky also used another version of the story, the one that appears in German with the title Dornröschen in the folk story collection of the Brothers Grimm.

Hence the ballet that reached the stage of the Mariinsky in 1890 was an amalgam of several traditions, made with or without translations but certainly with cultural transfers: French and German fairy story literature, Western European orchestral music and French and Italian dance. All brought together by Vsevolozhsky to satisfy his Russian patrons' taste for spectacle.

To be concluded.

Angie Sammons. First night: Cinderella/Liverpool Playhouse. Liverpool Confidential, 13 December 2011.

David Waddington. Review: Aladdin brings panto fun to Llandudno. North Wales Pioneer, 12 December 2011.

Charles Perrault. Wikipedia.

Charles Perrault. сказки с нравоучение. Translated by Lev Voinov. Moscow: Moscow Imperial University, 1768.

Category: Russian fairy tales. Wikipedia.

Ivan Vsevolozhsky. Wikipedia.

Mariinsky Theatre Official Website.

Brothers Grimm. Dornröschen. In Kinder- und Hausmärchen, 1st edition, 1812.

Some of Vsevolozhsky's costumes for the original production of Beauty at the Mariinsky Theatre, St Petersburg, 1890. Source: Wikipedia.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Terp Bounty Money

I break silence to respond to a Comment. It was made by a New York attorney in connection with my post of November 21, which bore the title 'The Go-Betweens' and which quoted Michael Griffin's book The Broken Road: America's War in Afghanistan. (To find it, enter attorney in the Search box on the right.) He complains:
"This past weekend I reviewed a translation contract for a friend. She is a retired teacher, U.S. citizen, immigrant from Afghanistan, who is a native speaker of Pashto, also speaks Dari and Arabic and holds degrees from Kabul and graduate degrees from 2 U.S. universities which she attended on a Rhodes scholarship. She is an expert teacher and translator. When she sent my comments to Worldwide they terminated her offer and security clearance. They said that having their contracts (which are incredibly one-sided) questioned is unacceptable. It shows their priorities."
Here's my response.

Your friend seems to have fallen on a hard-nosed and perhaps unscrupulous agency. It's not surprising that there are some when you see the money involved. There are internet ads offering up to $300,000 a year (yes, three hundred thousand) plus benefits. Those, however, are some of the most dangerous jobs that exist in Afghanistan and potential applicants are warned that living conditions may be rough. But there are also positions at $100,000 without putting a foot outside the United States. Provided you're a US citizen and have or can get security clearance. For one agency, a Green Card will do instead of citizenship, but the pay will be slightly lower.

A few ads state that translating/interpreting experience is desirable. Most ask only for bilingual fluency plus acquaintance with local culture:
"Must be familiar with the local culture, conduct oneself in accordance with local customs, and deal unobtrusively with the populace,"
And even the citizenship and security requirements are relaxed for telephone interpreting (see References). Alone the US Army offers training (see References).

Most surprising of all, though, is that there are several offers like this one:
"In addition, we do have a referral bonus of $6,000, if you refer a person of interest who will meet with the requirements we have in place."
And the advertiser adds:
"If you think you need brush-up or practice for that matter, I am gladly [sic] to provide my service to you."
So the level of recruits sought ranges generally from Natural Translators to Advanced Native Translators. Perhaps your friend is over-qualified for many of these jobs.

Nevertheless, since competition for the few available American Pashto and Dari translators and interpreters seems so fierce, your friend should look elsewhere and insist on $100,000 a year in comfortable working conditions, and of course with an equitable contract.

I've avoided naming employers, agencies and recruiters; but if you're interested, Google for interpreters pashto or translators dari. And remember that the US military still uses linguist in the sense of translator: see

For Pashto telephone interpreting: