The Spread of Novels: Translation and Prose Fiction in the Eighteenth Century

The Spread of Novels: Translation and Prose Fiction in the Eighteenth Century

The Spread of Novels: Translation and Prose Fiction in the Eighteenth Century

The Spread of Novels: Translation and Prose Fiction in the Eighteenth Century

Synopsis

Fiction has always been in a state of transformation and circulation: how does this history of mobility inform the emergence of the novel? The Spread of Novels explores the active movements of English and French fiction in the eighteenth century and argues that the new literary form of the novel was the result of a shift in translation. Demonstrating that translation was both the cause and means by which the novel attained success, Mary Helen McMurran shows how this period was a watershed in translation history, signaling the end of a premodern system of translation and the advent of modern literary exchange.


McMurran illuminates aspects of prose fiction translation history, including the radical revision of fiction's origins from that of cross-cultural transfer to one rooted by nation; the contradictory pressures of the book trade, which relied on translators to energize the market, despite the increasing devaluation of their labor; and the dynamic role played by prose fiction translation in Anglo-French relations across the Channel and in the New World. McMurran examines French and British novels, as well as fiction that circulated in colonial North America, and she considers primary source materials by writers as varied as Frances Brooke, Daniel Defoe, Samuel Richardson, and Françoise Graffigny. The Spread of Novels reassesses the novel's embodiment of modernity and individualism, discloses the novel's surprisingly unmodern characteristics, and recasts the genre's rise as part of a burgeoning vernacular cosmopolitanism.

Excerpt

Early in Don Quixote the reader is told of a Basque squire accompanying a lady traveler whom Don Quixote believes to be a captive of wicked and monstrous creatures—actually two Benedictine friars. When Don Quixote encounters her with the Basque squire, he attempts a rescue and almost comes to blows with the Basque: “Don Quixote was charging the wary Basque with his sword on high, determined to cut him in half, and the Basque, well-protected by his pillow, was waiting for him, his sword also raised, and all the onlookers were filled with fear and suspense regarding the outcome of the great blows they threatened to give to each other.” With swords raised, spectators agape, and the reader held in suspense, part 1 of Don Quixote abruptly ends: “[A]t this very point and juncture, the author of the history leaves the battle pending, apologizing because he found nothing else written about the feats of Don Quixote other than what he has already recounted.” the narrator thus goes out in search of the story and fortuitously discovers it in some papers sold at the market in Toledo, but they are in Arabic and a translator must be found. Toledo, the famous medieval translation center where Arabic translators preserved the ancients, has no shortage of translators. a Morisco begins to interpret aloud from the “History of Don Quixote of La Mancha. Written by Cide Hamete Benengeli, an Arab Historian,” and the man is quickly contracted to render a faithful version of the Arabic. the rest of the novel is, then, the narrator's account of the anonymous translation of the Arabic historian's narrative, the second version in the book thus far, and possibly one of any number of versions of the Don Quixote story in the world. the torsions . . .

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