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  • Romantic Literature and the Colonised World: Lessons from Indigenous Translations by Nikki Hessell
  • Jena Al-Fuhaid
Romantic Literature and the Colonised World: Lessons from Indigenous Translations. By NIKKI HESSELL. Cham, Switzerland: Palgrave Macmillan, 2018. Pp. xi, 269. Cloth, $109.00.

In Romantic Literature and the Colonised World, Nikki Hessell explores a largely uncharted area of Romantic studies: translations of Romantic-period texts composed between 1850 and 1939 in Māori, Hawaiian, and Malayalam. While recent decades have seen increased attention to the representation of indigenous peoples in Romantic literature and to indigenous responses to that literature, the texts examined are typically written in English. Hessell's focus on indigenous-language translations thus offers a vital new perspective on discourses about colonization in both the translations and the original texts. With the help of linguistic experts, Hessell attends particularly to what initially appear to be "instances of divergence" from the meaning or form of the Romantic texts, including ones carried "to the point of distorting or misreading" the original (p. 8). Closer analysis reveals these moments actually to represent "deep engagement with the English originals and their colonial subtexts" (p. 8). Building on Linda Tuhiwai Smith's Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples (1999) and on the work of Saree Makdisi, Hessell argues not only that "colonisation dwells at the heart of the literature of the Romantic era," but also that indigenous-language translators recognized this "far earlier and more systematically than … modern Romantic critics" (p. 4).

Hessell's aim is not to offer exhaustive analyses of the translated texts but to examine instead how the "translators' decisions shed light on texts' key themes or preoccupations, in ways that can send us back to the original moments of composition, and the original English texts, with a new appreciation for their subtlety" (p. 8). This subtlety primarily has to do with overlapping Romantic and colonial feelings of loss associated with "traditions, language, authority, and land" (p. 5), as Hessell's six core chapters demonstrate. These fall into two sections, on translations from the Pacific and Indian Ocean regions respectively. The analysis begins with a chapter on three late nineteenth-century Māori translations of Felicia Hemans's poem "The Hour of Prayer" (1829). Here, Hessell complicates the nineteenth-century European view that "Hemans's articulations contained or effaced colonisation" (p. 27) by showing how the poem came to address Māori readers' concerns about the costs of colonization, particularly with regards to indigenous religious rituals. Whereas the Hemans chapter focuses on Pākehā or European settlers' translations, the ensuing one shifts attention to translations of Robert Burns's poetry by the Māori elder and minister Reweti Kōhere. In these translations of the 1920s and 1930s we find salient instances of departures from the original texts that actually indicate a deep engagement with them as well as with the customs and language of the colonized people.

The final chapter of the "Pacific" section examines an 1871–72 Hawaiian translation of Sir Walter Scott's Ivanhoe (1820) by the Hawaiian newspaper editor [End Page 211] John Makini Kapena. In addition to providing commentary on colonization, Ivanhoe was also politically relevant to Hawaiians in the 1870s. Published in 1820 at a pivotal moment in English history—the end of the Regency and the beginning of the reign of George IV—the novel also reflects Scott's personal responses to that moment. Hessell details various facets of his support for George IV before considering how Kapena's The Story of Ivanhoe (He Moolelo No Ivanaho) was likewise published at a pivotal moment in Hawaiian history. The king Kamehameha V died in 1872 in the midst of a long succession crisis, and since he had refused to name an heir, the new king had to be decided by election. This led to the defeat of a contender who was coincidentally Kapena's relative. Hessell concludes that "Kapena was thus composing his version of Ivanhoe at a time when the same questions of kingship, legitimacy, naming, and rank that had dominated Scott's thinking in 1819–1822 were affecting both Hawai'i at large and Kapena's own family" (p. 110).

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Additional Information

ISSN
2328-112X
Print ISSN
0453-4387
Pages
pp. 211-213
Launched on MUSE
2020-10-30
Open Access
No
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