Reviews 2017

La voix du traducteur à l'école / The Translator’s Voice at School

La voix du traducteur à l'école / The Translator’s Voice at School. Vol. 1: Canons, Vol. 2: Praxis. Ed. Elżbieta Skibińska, Magda Heydel, and Natalia Paprocka. Montréal: Éditions québécoises de l’œuvre, 2015. 218 + 178 pages. $27.95 (paperback).

The two-volume collection of essays consists of the proceedings from a conference on the translator’s voice at school, held in 2013 at the University of Wroclaw, Poland, by the research centre, Voice in Translation. This bilingual publication (nine essays are written in French, seven in English) has been edited by Elżbieta Skibińska, Magda Heydel, and Natalia Paprocka in the series, "Vita Traductiva," which specialises in translation studies with a focus on intercultural exchanges.

Translating for children has garnered much interest within children’s literature studies for the last two or three decades, but this collection takes an unusual approach to the subject by focusing on translated children’s literature used in the primary and secondary school context. This viewpoint is all the more appropriate as it is infrequent: in her introductory essay, entitled "À la recherche de la voix du traducteur à l’école" ["Seeking the translator’s voice at school"], Elżbieta Skibińska stresses the important role of school syllabuses and reading lists in the construction of one’s literary knowledge and rightly remarks that this focus is especially relevant since schoolchildren’s, and even university students’, discovery of literature seldom relies solely on reading national texts, which implicitly grants translation a pedagogical value that is often neglected (vol. 1: 2-3). A similar endeavour, with a more limited scope, was made in France in 2007, with the publication of the proceedings of a seminar concerned with the use of translated literature in French schools, Enseigner les œuvres littéraires en traduction [Teaching literary works in translation] (edited by Yves Chevrel). Yet such initiatives are scarce and, therefore, welcome.

What gives both unity and originality to the 16 essays in this collection is that translated literature is examined through the notion of the translator’s voice, a notion which has been at the centre of the work carried out by the research group, Voice in Translation. In her introduction, Elżbieta Skibińska reminds us that this concept is borrowed from narratology (Barbara Wall focused on The Narrator’s Voice in 1991, for example); this common interest of the two disciplines in the notion of voice also conjures up the reference to Emer O’Sullivan’s article "Narratology meets Translation Studies, or, The Voice of the Translator in Children's Literature" (2003). Skibińska defines the translator’s voice as "a relevant tool to engage with a myriad agencies" contribution to both the production and the circulation of the translation [my translation] (vol. 1: 2).1

It should be pointed out that although the first volume, which contains nine essays, is entitled Canons, and the second volume (seven essays) is entitled Praxis, most of the chapters are actually case studies, either of particular school systems, curricula or handbooks, or of particular types of text or examples of translations used in a given context. The difference between the two volumes lies in the fact that while the former focuses on extratextual criteria, mainly the institutional reasons why certain translated texts were included in or excluded from school curricula in a certain period in a certain country, the second book emphasises the intratextual study of individual translations, showing how targeting a readership of schoolchildren can affect the peritext of the translated text or even the translation strategies themselves.

The corpus studied consists of classics of children’s literature and adult literature incorporated into the children’s canon, especially from Europe. One possible shortcoming of this collection ought to be stressed: although it seemingly purports to foster a general reflection on translated literature in school, it is difficult to generalise from the results of the various case studies due to the imbalance in the choice of countries concerned (a logical consequence of the fact that these are conference proceedings): half of the essays (8 out of 16) deal with the school context in Poland; the others focus on Norway, Greece, Russia, Romania, and France. As a result, the reader gets a very accurate vision of the evolution of the Polish school curricula as regards translated children’s literature, but is not in a position to efficiently compare or contrast this with other national situations as only a few other countries are represented. It is unclear whether the editors wished to attempt outlining a European continuum throughout the diverse studies.

Most articles show that, with only a few exceptions, the translator’s voice is recurrently erased from translated literature at school. In the same way as the translator is considered invisible in Lawrence Venuti’s The Translator’s Invisibility (1995), s/he turns out to be inaudible – or barely audible – in the corpus under study within diverse school systems. Cecilia Alvstad focuses on upper secondary education in Norway, which is unique since pupils are now expected to acquire theoretical and practical skills in translation, but where teacher training and textbooks have not been adjusted to this goal. Marie-Christine Anastassiadi and Maria Papadima examine to what extent handbooks containing translated literature published in Greece from 1937 to 2012 base their choice of texts on their relevance or proximity to Greek history and literature. Marta Kaźmierczak further explores the different factors that have deemed a book suitable or not for Polish schoolchildren, from taste to moral or political criteria, through generic or thematic characteristics, concluding that such criteria are often subjective and highly debatable. The diversity and evolution of these selection criteria are also the focus of Emilia Żybert-Pruchnicka’s study of the ever-smaller place of Ancient Greek literature in Poland over the last 70 years. Magda Heydel’s more theoretical and general contribution is a plea for a greater presence of translation in curricula. Dorota Michułka surveys recent Polish textbooks and points out that although the use of translated literature prepares students for "the dialogue of cultures," the fragmentation effect due to the very process of excerpting alters the original meaning of a text. Mavina Pantazara tackles intralingual translation and the place of the translator by focusing on the presence of Ancient Greek literature in the curricula and textbooks in Greek schools through its translation into Modern Greek. Elena Gavrilova’s contribution proves the efficiency of translating as a means to discover foreign literature by reporting an experiment carried out in a Russian secondary school by a team of schoolteachers and lecturers from the University of Nizhny Novgorod in the form of an innovative course of literary translation.

In the second volume, Anna Bednarczyk focuses on the presence in Polish schools of Russian classic Timur and His Squad (Тимур и его команда) by Arkady Gaidar (1940, first English translation as Timur and His Comrades, 1943, first Polish translation as Timur i jego drużyna, 1946). Bednarczyk shows the political manipulation present in the peritext surrounding the translated texts rather than in the translation itself. Anca-Andreea Chetrariu emphasizes the distortions of the text and illustrations in Saint-Exupéry’s Le Petit Prince (1943) in two translations (1962, 2004) and an adaptation (2011) aimed at Romanian children. Jadwiga Cook compares the Polish and French translations of the first three books in the Harry Potter series (1997, 1998, 1999), insisting on the very British dimension of the traditional boarding school, and shows that Jean-François Ménard’s tendency to "help" the reader by translating many more English names and cultural references than Andrzej Polkowski does in the Polish version (2000-2001) seems to reorientate the book to addressing a younger readership in the French edition (1998-1999) than in the original one. Eliza Pieciul-Karmińska, who published a new Polish translation of the complete collection of the Grimms’ fairy tales, demonstrates that even an inaccurate older translation can become part of the canon and hinder the reception of a more respectful retranslation. Justyna Łukaszewicz focuses on the most popular of six Polish translations of Italian children’s classic Cuore [Heart] (1886) by De Amicis, the 1906 translation by Maria Konopnicka, showing how the peritext chosen by the publisher can transform one text into very different versions. In the case of the 12 Polish translations of the French classic Le Petit Prince, Natalia Paprocka seeks the translators’ voices in the publishers’ peritexts and establishes that none of the versions is outstanding in quality and that retranslation was mainly motivated by the publishers’ economic interest. The last contribution focuses on four of the French translations of another best-seller present on French reading lists, Collodi’s The Adventures of Pinocchio (1881), especially on its 1912 version by the comtesse de Gencé: it is through Claude Puidoyeux’s comparison of the way this translation and more recent retranslations render the poetics of Collodi’s text that the translators’ voices can eventually differentiate themselves from one another and emerge.

Although descriptions of individual school contexts may be of interest, intercultural comparison is therefore the best way to trigger a fruitful reflection on the presence of translated literature in the classroom. Even if the various analyses in these two volumes can at times seem slightly too detailed, the overall project must be credited with responding to the need for research on such an important topic, as the kind of literature that is imposed on young readers through syllabuses and mandatory reading lists: if we agree, with Margaret Meek, that "[f]rom the stories we hear as children we inherit the ways in which we talk about how we feel, the values which we hold to be important, and what we regard as the truth" (Meek 103), we realise the importance of the choice of foreign texts used at school and of the way they are translated and presented. The chapters in this collection also confirm that the factors regulating translation are not merely a question of language, words, and style: translating is a highly political act, especially insofar as children’s books are concerned.

Virginie Douglas
Université de Rouen and Institut International Charles Perrault, France


1 "un outil intéressant pour saisir la contribution de toute une constellation d’agents au texte de la traduction ainsi qu’à sa diffusion."

Works Cited

Chevrel, Yves, ed. Enseigner les œuvres littéraires en traduction. Proceedings of the 2006 seminar of the Direction générale de l’enseignement scolaire (DGESCO). Versailles: CRDP, 2007.

Meek, Margaret. On Being Literate. London: Bodley Head, 1991.

O’Sullivan, Emer. "Narratology Meets Translation Studies, or, The Voice of the Translator in Children’s Literature." Traduction pour les enfants. Meta 48.1-2 (2003): 197–207.

Venuti, Lawrence. The Translator's Invisibility: A History of Translation. Abingdon: Routledge, 1995.

Wall, Barbara. The Narrator’s Voice: The Dilemma of Children’s Fiction. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 1991.