- Vielstimmige Welt: Die Werke St. John de Crèvecours in deutscher Sprache
The fact that Michel Guillaume de Crèvecoeur was—after the London publication of his Letters from an American Farmer in 1782, and the Paris publications of Lettres d'un Cultivateur Américain in 1784, as well as of Voyage dans la Haute Pensylvanie et dans l'Etat de New York in 1801—a best-selling author on an international scale is well known among early Americanists. Less well known may be the facts that in no language were Crèvecoeur's works translated more often in this international forum than they were into the German; and that nowhere was this author greeted with a more popular and intensive reception than he was in late eighteenth-century Germany. There were no fewer than 31 translations of Crèvecoeur's works in Germany, though only four of those were complete German translations of one or more of his three major books, while the others appeared as short excerpts, eight of which were actually published in French. An analysis of these translations, Angela Kuhk argues in her Vielstimmige Welt: Die Werke St. John de Crèvecours in deutscher Sprache [Multi-Voiced World: The Works of St. John de Crèvecoeur in German], can provide important "insights into the most various modes of selection which characterized translation and reception at the end of the eighteenth century" and illustrate how "translations set the path for the reception of an author—or here of North America" in Europe (412; my translation).
In the first part of the book, Kuhk follows hard on the heels of Bernard Chevignard's and Howard Rice's works on Crèvecoeur's often neglected non-English literary career, providing exhaustive bibliographic descriptions [End Page 347] of Crèveceour's primary texts in English and French. Her discussion essentially confirms these earlier scholars' findings of a general trend in Crèvecoeur's later works, all published in French, toward a fictionalization and sentimentalization of his materials, as well as a shift away from his early pro-British political sentiments, prevailing in the English text, and toward a pro-American political sentiment (71).
Kuhk begins the second part of her book with a chronological account including detailed bibliographic descriptions of the various German translations of Crèvecoeur's primary texts, such as several excerpts that appeared in the Hannoverischen Magazin [Hannover Magazine], while focusing on four major works: a complete 1784 translation of Letters as Sittliche Schilderungen von Amerika in Briefen eines Amerikanischen Guthsbesitzers and einen Freund in England [Descriptions of American Customs in the Letters of an American Proprietor to His Friend in England] by Karl Gottfried Schreiter (1756–1809), a professor of philosophy at the University of Leipzig; a complete 1788–89 translation in three volumes of Lettres d'un Cultivateur Américain as Briefe eines Amerkanischen Landmanns an den Ritter W.S. [Letters of an American Farmer to the Nobleman W. S.] by the theologian and natural historian Johann August Ephraim Götze (1731–1793); an 1802 translation of Voyage as Reise in Ober-Pensylvanien und im Staat New York [Travels in Upper Pennsylvania and in the State of New York] by the philosophy professor Dietrich Tiedemann (1748–1803); and a collection of travel narratives selectively translated from across Crèvecoeur's various works by Heinrich August Ottokar Reichard (1751–1828).
Although Kuhk seems somewhat reticent in synthesizing her multitudinous observations about these particular translations into a more general and explicit thesis, some tendencies seem to emerge from her account. These include the German translators' inclination (with some exceptions and qualifications) to value Crèvecoeur's texts mainly for their documentary information about America, the suppression of the all-too-obvious fiction of authorship in some of the original texts—pointing to the fact that Crèvecoeur "was taken quite seriously in the field of natural history" (160)—and a general inclination to tone down the emotive qualities of the original texts, resulting in more sober...