Academic journal article ATQ (The American Transcendental Quarterly)

"Genuine Transcripts of Private Experience": Margaret Fuller and Translation

Academic journal article ATQ (The American Transcendental Quarterly)

"Genuine Transcripts of Private Experience": Margaret Fuller and Translation

Article excerpt

In her discussion of Margaret Fuller's work as a translator, Christina Zwarg focuses on the metaphoric significance of translation in Fuller's career as a writer and thinker. Zwarg believes that Fuller's interest in translation was part of a process of developing a "sustained interpretive strategy" (132) as a critic of culture and literature. Zwarg argues that Fuller realized that translation is not "a conquest of meaning, a mastery that subdues and potentially annihilates an alien set of values" (132). Instead, Zwarg thinks that her interest in translation allowed Fuller to participate in a "proliferation of meaning" (132), by revealing "new values" in both languages. Zwarg further suggests that Fuller's interest in translation is a key to unlock her approach to cultural issues. Zwarg concludes that in her work as a translator, and later as an interpreter of culture, Fuller avoids using "a hermeneutic deriving its authority from a struggle for mastery over meaning [which] has violent historical consequences" (133).

But Zwarg's explanation of Fuller's interest in translation is metaphoric and avoids specific critical issues, such as Fuller's choice of German, and later Italian, texts to translate, her approaches to their translations, and her uses of translated texts in other works. By examining the prefaces that Fuller included with her early translations as well as an essay she wrote for the Dial on the von Arnim-Gunderode correspondence, I hope to suggest issues not addressed by Zwarg or other commentators on Fuller's translations. First, her translations of Johann Peter Eckermann's Conversations with Goethe and Bettine von Arnim's Die Gunderode shaped Fuller's developing ideas about suitable genre and theme during a transitional period of her literary career. As this critical point is explored, I compare Fuller's theories and practices as a translator to selected concepts of late twentieth-century translation theory. In conclusion, I briefly discuss the continuities of Fuller's practice as a translator in her Italian dispatches of 1847-1849.

Foreground to Translation

Margaret Fuller's love affair with the languages and literatures of other countries began in childhood under her father's tutelage. At seven, Fuller started her studies of Greek and Latin grammar. By the time she was ten years old, Fuller's acquisition of Latin allowed her to read Virgil, Caesar, and Cicero (Capper 47). She had also learned enough French to begin reading the collection of French authors in her home, her favorites being the plays of Moliere (51). By twelve, Fuller had read through much of "Horace, Livy, Tacitus, and, in translation, the Greek and Roman character portraits in Plutarch's Parallel Lives" (47). She also studied Italian in the 1820s and was fluent enough to read "virtually all the major poets and dramatists from Dante and Petrarch, through Ludovico Ariosto and Tasso, down to Alfieri" (20). In early 1832, Fuller began her study of German with her friend James Freeman Clarke, aided by Frederic Henry Hedge. Within the year, Fuller had read the major works of Goethe, Tieck, Novalis, Schiller, and other German romantic writers in the original (116).

The years from 1833 to 1842 were a transitional period in Fuller's career as critic and writer. Clearly, Fuller was searching for ways to bridge the gap between her role as a diva of private discourse and her hopes of becoming a writer. In 1833, she felt isolated from her Boston conversation circle after she and her family moved to Groton, Massachusetts. Fuller's oral eloquence, fostered by her teachers and encouraged by her friends, now found itself without an audience. In her letters from these years, Fuller's former passion for eloquence in the spoken word transforms to a passion for eloquence in the written word. It is during this period that she seriously entertains the possibility of a career as a writer of essays, reviews, and translations.

During this time Fuller also thought seriously about writing a biography of Goethe. …

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