A problem of literary translation of E. Bronte’s novel “Wulthering Heights” into Russian

Publication date: 04.11.2020
International Journal of Professional Science №11-2020

A problem of literary translation of E. Bronte’s novel “Wulthering Heights” into Russian

Abacharaeva Diana Abdulkadirova,
Shakhemirova Svetlana Vagidovna
1. master student of Dagestan State University
2. Associate Professor at the Department of English, Ph. D. in Philology.
Dagestan State University, Makhachkala
Abstract: Landscape in literary works performs a great function, because it can carry not only a background but also create a certain atmosphere or reveal the character of the hero, it provides a certain image. This article deals with the issue of landscape imagery in works of art, where we are going to approach the results of a comparative historical analysis of two versions of the translation of the Emily Bronte's novel "Wuthering heights" one made by Volpin N.– 1956, another by Saptsina U.– 2009. As a result, we reveal the main difficulties the both translators had, and assess their ways to overcome these difficulties.
Keywords: landscape, romanticism, background knowledge, realities, imagery, target language

Literary translation differs from all other types of translation in its capacity and complexity, since a literary work is not so much related to the transmission of information, but rather is addressed to the reader’s feelings and sensations, and is intended to cause so-called entropy, catharsis. The more unlimited the information capacity of a literary work is, the more unlimited the author’s ability to influence the reader. And the task of the translator is not to impoverish the informational content of a literary work in any way, but to preserve its pragmatic effect.

Literary translation, according to Komissarov V., is a translation of belles-lettres works, the purpose of which is to create a speech that can have an artistic and aesthetic impact on the reader [3, P.136].

It should be pointed out that a literary text differs from all other types of text in that it is the result of imaginative cognition of the world. Therefore, the concept of image is at the center of the study of literary works as a whole and each literary text separately.

Pustovoit P. writes: “When a real artist depicts an image (in painting, sculpture, literature), he does not limit himself to recreating only the external appearance, but goes further: he is interested in the features and qualities typical of this image and manifested most vividly in a certain period of the world’s existence. This is the creation of an image” [4, P. 114].

Depending on the functional features, as well as the author’s tasks and objectives, the landscape in the literary text can appear in various forms. The psychological power of landscape lies in the fact that images recreate feelings in the reader’s mind, involving sensory-visual, auditory, tactile, thermal and other sensations extracted from experience and associated with mental experiences. Thanks to this, the reader’s assessment of the work becomes vivid and accurate. Landscape refers to a clear period of the day, year, is determined by the appropriate weather, lighting, and other features that can cause emotionally colored associations. As an example, we may recall a rainy weather E. Hemingway’s novels, or a snow in R. Frost’s novels, a night in the works of D. Thomas, or a fire in the works of Sh. Bronte.

Each author and even entire literary genres have their own special sources, from which they draw with a special impulse material for the image of nature.

The novel “Wuthering Heights” by Emily Bronte is a very imaginative work, full of a huge variety of landscape sketches.

Even the title of the book has its own symbolism. The epithet “Wuthering” refers to those atmospheric phenomena, from the fury of which the house, standing on the hill, is not at all protected in bad weather. However, in the future we can understand that this title describes both the state of mind of the characters and the atmosphere of the entire novel.

Using the landscape, E. Bronte enhances the emotional tone, supports the overall emotional sound, and the main mood of the work. As the outstanding representative of romanticism, which is characterized by the subjectivity of the description of nature, E. Bronte highlights the inner energy of the characters, their temper, displays the dynamics of their mental states through the landscape.

Emily spent most of her life in the village of Haworth, West Yorkshire. The Moors surrounding E. Bronte’s house, the gloomy buildings and the cemetery nearby had a great impact on her works. These gloomy places brought elements of mysticism and mystery to her work.

The action of the book “Wuthering Heights” takes place in the North of England. The nature here is extremely diverse: bare swamps, moors, high mountains.

You may think that the translators only need to keep the image that the author has already come up with, has already selected the language elements, has determined the composition of the text, and so on. However, this simplicity is only apparent.

“Wuthering Heights” was first translated into Russian in 1956 by Nadezhda Volpin. This classic version of the translation is the most well-known to date.

In 2009 Ulyana Saptsina launched a new translation of the novel – modern and no less popular.

In terms of text structure, both translations contain 34 chapters, which corresponds to the original. In terms of content, both translations convey the general idea of the work quite fully. Both translations retain all the story lines.

However, both translations differ from the original text. In the course of the analysis, we identified cases typical for both translations that showed a certain degree of deviation from the original. For example, at the very beginning of the novel, E. Bronte gives such a detailed description of Wuthering Heights: Pure, bracing ventilation they must have up there at all times, indeed: one may guess the power of the north wind blowing over the edge, by the excessive slant of a few stunted firs at the end of the house; and by a range of gaunt thorns all stretching their limbs one way, as if craving alms of the sun” [5] – here we already have an idea that this place has no access to light, and is located somewhere between life and the world of the dead, since firs – evergreens, mean eternal life, while stunted thorns symbolize death.

Of course, the main idea of the fragment is conveyed by both Volpin N. and Saptsina U., but the translators are not limited to the semantics of the original text, they express their own aesthetic vision of the world. For example, Volpin N. when translating «Pure, bracing ventilation» uses modulation and gives the variant “изрядно прохватывает ветром” [1]. The verb прохватывает” conveys very well the tactile sensations caused by the English noun “ventilation”. Saptsina U. gives a similar version – “задувает” [2] In both cases, we see deviations from the highest possible semantic accuracy in favor of literary translation.

Sometimes it is believed that the translator must give up his creative personality or not have it at all, completely “lose himself” in the original text. However, this may lead to the fact that the translation will only give the general outline of the work, but you will not be able to hear the chime of the wind, feel the fragrance of flowers, feel the touch of the sun’s rays, etc.

It is not uncommon to find translators taking liberties. For example, in the translation of Saptsina U., you can often find omissions and complete transformations of sentences or even texts. For example, in this passage, she omits the phrase «they must have«, while Volpin N. converts it into the appropriate, from the translation point of view, impersonal form “должно быть” [1]. Saptsina U. also omits the circumstance of the place “up there”, gives the translation “здесь” [2]. Despite the fact that the original specifically indicates the circumstance of time “at all times”, Saptsina U. gives the translation “временами” [2] – which generalizes the meaning.

The conflict of two creative personalities – the author and the translator – is either a collaboration or a conflict. It becomes a collaboration, if the translator not only delves deeply into the author’s aesthetics, way of thinking and way of expressing, but also gets used to them, make them their own for a while. To do this, you need to read as many of the writer’s works as possible, you need to know about the concepts that are important in his work, about the surrounding environment.

So Volpin N., as the very first translator of this book, tried to preserve the similarity with the original text as much as possible. For example, the word «north«, meaning «northern part or region» in combination with the word “wind” – Volpin N. considered to translate as норд” [1] – transcription. The word “норд” itself means “north direction”, and only in the marine lexicon it can mean “north wind”. For a wide range of readers, this word may not be clear and will require explanations. That is why translation should not be just “from language to language”, but “from culture to culture”. The translator must find not formal, but functional correspondences to the author’s technique, so that the reader can see the image depicted by the author.

Another problem that every translator faces is geographical realities. Of course, the opportunity to convey designations of the things referred to in the original, and images associated with them, requires a certain knowledge of the reality, which is shown in the translated source (no matter whether such knowledge is acquired by direct acquaintance with it, or taken from literary or other sources).

In translation theory, such knowledge is called “background knowledge”. From the term itself, it becomes clear that it means all the unity of ideas about what constitutes the real background on which the picture of the life of another country, another people unfolds.

Background knowledge tends to constantly expand over time, due to active contacts between peoples and cultures. One of the sources of background knowledge is the translation of works of art, which introduces a wide range of people to foreign culture. An important role in the works is played by material objects that have names in the original and require names in translation. And these names are given in different ways.

For example, the very name of the estate “Wuthering” is a definition formed from the word “wuther”, which translates as “атака” as a noun and as “дрожать” as a verb, and the noun “Heights” meansвозвышенности «. After all, the translation of the name “Грозовой перевал”, which was first suggested by N. Volpin, is very literary and imagery. In English, it literally means » завывающие высоты «.

However, as E. Bronte herself wrote, the name of the estate characterizes the area where it is located: hills and windy weather.

And we can assume that the name “Грозовой перевал” is directly related to the fact that the house is located high on the hills and the storm there is felt like nowhere else strongly. But we can see in the name a hint that the book is about a place of fatal and stormy passions and a place open to the winds. Anyways, this version firmly fixed, and was adopted by all subsequent translators.

In the middle area of Europe, there are no such expanses where the moors could be located. The English moors, those fields of heather that extend into the horizon – are the most important element in classical English literature. “Wuthering Heights” is no exception. E. Bronte describes the native English expanses as follows: “and the moors seen at a distance, broken into cool dusky dells; but close by great swells of long grass undulating in waves to the breeze; and woods and sounding water” [5].

The word «moors» can be translated as «moss swamps, wetlands», but you need to be aware that “мьюры” are usually heath swamps, but they also have an extensive cover of grass, fluff, moss, ferns and shrubs, etc. Both translators selected successful versions of translations: “вересковые поля” [1] (Volpin N.),верестк” [2] (Saptsina U.).

In the same passage, we see differences in the translation of the word «dells«. It would seem that “ложбины” [1] (Volpin N.) and the word “лощины” [2] (Saptsina U.) mean the same thing. But we must remember that the word “dells” should be translated as “лощина” — an element of the hydrographic network, which differs from “ложбины” in its sharper outlines, depth and steepness of the slopes. This example indicates the weakness of the background knowledge of the translator Volpin N., while it is necessary to take into account the fact that subsequent translators, including Saptsina U., learned from her mistakes.

The lack of lexemes that convey landscape descriptions in the original text presents a particular challenge too. A set of signs, connections between them, and associations that are close to native speakers, but are incomprehensible to a person belonging to another language community, is found in folklore and literary works, and creates certain difficulties for translation. The realities have a stylistic load too. That’s why the transfer of the content of realities and the equalization of their functional and stylistic characteristics is the main, and at the same time quite difficult task, aimed at achieving the same impact on the reader of the translated and the original book.

An interesting example of reality can be found in the fragment of the second chapter of the book: “I arrived at Heathcliffs garden-gate just in time to escape the first feathery flakes of a snow-shower[5].

The word “snow-shower” in English dictionaries has the definition “a snow that is more than a flurry, but less than a snow storm or a blizzard” [6]. Due to extralinguistic differences in English and Russian languages, there is no lexeme that conveys this meaning in Russian. Therefore, the translators use generalization: Volpin N. uses the simple word “снег” [1], and Saptsina U. uses the word “метель” [2]. As you can see, Russian-language equivalents retain all the main components of the meaning of the original reality. The only significant difference is the omission of the snow intensity characteristic. However, based on the context, we can assume that this characteristic is reflected by the phrase “feathery flakes” – “перистые хлопья” [1] (N. Volpin), “пушистые хлопья” [2] (U. Saptsina). in both variants the lexical reality is conveyed as fully as possible.

Specific features of a literary work are expressiveness, imagery. This is due to the fact that the authors of literary texts resort to all sorts of stylistic techniques to strengthen the semantic significance of words or give a whole phrase a special stylistic color. Stylistic means of expression aesthetically affect the reader. That is why the presence of stylistic devices in landscape descriptions is another pitfall for the translator.

All linguists emphasize the need of preserving the original image in translated text, rightly considering that, first of all, the translator should strive to reproduce the function of the stylistic device, but not the device itself.

When transmitting stylistic devices (comparisons, epithets, metaphors, etc.) the translator must decide each time whether to preserve the underlying image or replace it with another one. The reason for the replacement may be the peculiarities of Russian word usage, word compatibility, and so on.

Of course, you can translate without taking these text units into account, but the result will be a «dry» or «poor» translation.

Whether translators can convert these important units of text depends on their skill, experience, and thinking skills. That is why there are also differences in the work of translators.

For example, the epithet “rough” in Lockwood’s exclamation “Rough weather!” [5] in “Wuthering Heights” is no longer addressed to the weather, but to the rudeness of the inhabitants of the house. Both Volpin N. and Saptsina U. preserved the ideomatics of the statement, offering the same version of “Скверная погода!” [1, 2].

But sometimes we notice discrepancies in the selection of Russian equivalents. Saptsina U., for example, the word “mellow” in the passage “On a mellow evening in September” [5] translates as дивный” [2], while Volpin N. gives the variant “теплый” [1].

The English word «mellow» is represented by different words in Russian, depending on the noun it defines. This indicates a very broad semantic scope of the word. But, it should be noted that the variant “дивный” has more expressiveness.

Another example is the translation of personification “suffocating snow” in the passage “sky and hills mingled in one bitter whirl of wind and suffocating snow” [5]. Volpin N. preserved the originality of the phrase, giving the version “душащий снег” [1]. Septina U. also used personification, however, with a qualitative distinction “слепящий снег” [2]. The word “suffocating” in Russian means “удушающий, удушливый”, but not “слепящий”.

The interesting fact is that Volpin N. in sometimes avoided stylistic adequacy in her translation. So, the metaphor “...she rewarded him with such a summer of sweetness and affection in return” [5] in her translation is lost and is transferred by the paraphrase “вознаградила мужа такою пылкой нежностью и вниманием” [1]. Saptsina U. replaced this metaphor with a rather successful variant “в награду нежность и забота Кэтрин распустились пышным цветом” [2]. The very complexity of translating the metaphor “a summer of sweetness and affection” is that it is a one part of speech (noun), in Russian, an adequate version of the metaphor cannot be found. Maintaining the metaphor, the translator Saptsina U. set a main priority – to create an aesthetic impact on the reader.

As a result of the analysis, we can see that the translators face a very difficult problem – the most successful and comprehensive reconstruction of the landscape into the target language. And this translation should not only recreate the picture, but also carry the same pragmatic effect on the reader, evoke the necessary palette of feelings. We also see the strengths and weaknesses of both translators. Volpin N. is distinguished by the smoothness of the narration and expressiveness of details, she pays special attention to the descriptions of the landscape, tries to preserve the identity of the original text. At the same time, we notice a weakness in the translator’s background knowledge. This may be due to poor contact between cultures in the middle of the 20th century. Background knowledge tends to constantly expand over time, and this is what allowed Saptsina U. to successfully cope with the translation of realities. On the other hand, Saptsina U.  takes liberties in the structural design of the text, often omits and rearranges the content.


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2. Бронте Э. Грозовой перевал. Перевод с англ. У. Сапцина. М., 2009.
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4. Пустовойт П. Г. Слово, стиль, образ. М., 2005.
5. Emily Bronte. Wuthering Heights. [Electronic resource] URL: https://www.gutenberg.org/files/768/768-h/768-h.htm (дата обращения – 14. 10. 2020).
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