Translation seminar with Len Rix

On Thursday 27 March, we once again had the pleasure of Len Rix’s company, this time discussing his translations of Antal Szerb, Utas és holdvilág, 1937 (Journey by Moonlight, Pushkin, 2000), Magda Szabó, Az ajtó, 1987 (The Door, Vintage, 2005), and his article ‘In Praise of Translation’, recently published in the Hungarian Quarterly.

Len described the two novels as personal, quasi-autobiographical works, both dealing with an exploration of the religious mentality, where core personal tragedy is sublimated. Szerb’s brutal self-dissection relies on form and parallelism but, in contrast to Szabó, is somewhat tempered by his heterodox Catholicism. The novel moves between different perspectives using narrative voice to scrutinise bourgeois conformity and façades. Szabó, however, puts her Protestant guilt ‘out there’ for all to examine, and is far more puritanical and judgemental, to the extent that the text is over-charged, and occasionally vulgar. There are very few shades of grace here.

Both texts condense the whole novel in the first chapter, which we read and discussed in the original, draft and final translation. Particular challenges for the translator included the ubiquitous ‘még’ and ‘már’, the countless roles played by ‘is’, rhythm and syntax, and rhetoric.

Regarding the faithfulness and the translation of Hungarian literature, while an older generation of Hungarians in the West see it as their duty to ‘protect’ Hungarian literature from translation and publishers continue to observe a cautious parochialism, successful translations have ‘lifted’ the literal text and made it accessible to an international audience. Here, sales figures speak for themselves.

It was a great pleasure to welcome Len as a guest, in particular for final-year BA students interested in pursuing translation as a career.

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