- Translation, Subjectivity, and Culture in France and England: 1600–1800
Julie Candler Hayes’ recent book is a well researched, well written, and much needed study on the history of translation theory in France and England in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Though scholarship has been done on translation in France and England respectively, no previous book, to the reviewer’s knowledge, has presented as its primary focus the cross-channel exchange of ideas on translation targeted by Hayes’ study. This exchange was a vital component of cultural, literary and philosophical discussions of the period in question, and Hayes’ study fills an important gap.
Hayes’ narrative begins with the 1638 publication of Huit oraisons de Ciceron translated by d’Ablancourt and colleagues, a work which took a free approach to translation, emphasizing the literary values of the contemporary audience, and reshaping an eloquence handed down from antiquity. In so doing, it inaugurated long-term series of discussions on translation, authorship, language, culture and identity throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. This neoclassical vision broke with literalist modes of translation, adopting instead “adaptive” or “localizing” strategies (3), and made the classical author speak the vernacular in a manner reflecting the principles of taste of the translator’s own era.
This tendency in translation would make its presence felt in both France and England, as Hayes shows that translators in those two countries were very much aware of each other’s practice. This awareness enriched and was enriched by the prominent place each country held in the other’s socio-political and cultural mindset. The resulting discussions of translation theory were part of a broader Anglo-French dialogue that was to be an important part of the European Enlightenment.
Against this backdrop, Hayes proposes “to sort out the multiple agendas [End Page 172] and projects that compose the ‘neoclassical school’ through a careful reading of the translator’s own words” (7), and to focus on “the mutual implication of self and other, and the manifold open-ended possibilities of languages and communities” (23).
The basis for Hayes’ study is an examination of the prefaces of translated works, along with various types of treatises, manuals and other relevant documents from the end of the sixteenth through the eighteenth century. In all, she consulted some 450-500 texts (though not all are actually cited in her book), split more or less evenly between English and French documents. Her choice of which works to examine in detail depended largely on what she calls “citation networks” (12), in which translators refer to other translators – an approach that is logical and consistent with her explicitly defined focus on cross-channel intellectual communities.
Translation, Subjectivity and Culture consists of seven chapters, organized into three main chronological groupings. The first two chapters provide a survey of thinking on translation from seventeenth-century authors in France and Britain. Chapters three and four present individual studies of two key turn-of-the-century translators, John Dryden and Anne Dacier. The final three chapters address the eighteenth century, examining the relationships between translation, the esprit philosophique, and the manifestation of that spirit in epistemological and social thought.
Over the course of these chapters, the themes examined include the complex network of relationships between author, translator and reader, the role of politicization in translation, the creation of a translation canon, translation as a means for understanding and navigating differences between the self and the other, the work of women translators, translation’s dialogic nature which provides a central position from which philosophical and moral positions can be formulated, the relationship between language, thought, affect and reality, and the “naturalization process” (236) in which the translator takes on a double allegiance to both the original text and his or her own target culture. An ever present concept that ties all these themes together is the underlying relationship between past and present addressed in Hayes’ conclusion entitled “Historicizing Translation” in which she examines three eighteenth-century texts that help the reader to put into clearer perspective the diverse shapes of otherness that neoclassical...