Where ‘Id’ was, there ‘it’ or ‘Es’ shall be: Reflections on translating Freud

Kirsty Hall
Middlesex University, London
Table of contents

Freud’s long life (1856–1939) straddled the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. An eminently respectable and apparently conventional middle class Viennese researcher produced a series of profound studies on intimate topics such as private sexual fantasies. His conclusions, for example, that young children have sexual ideas, shocked and fascinated many and his writing challenged the received certainties of the period. His audience came from the same educated middle and upper middle classes to which Freud belonged. Soon his fame spread, and by the 1920s his work was regularly being translated into English. For much of his life, James Strachey was the General Editor of The standard edition of the complete psychological works of Sigmund Freud, a monumental work which runs to twenty-four volumes including an entire volume that is taken up by a series of detailed indexes. Over a lengthy period, Strachey, with the help of his wife Alix, provided largely internally consistent translations of Freud’s work, usually with only a one- or two-year time lag after the original German publication. Joan Riviere undertook some of the original translations and others provided general assistance, but the lion’s share of the task was undertaken by the Stracheys. They were diligent and industrious translators who came from an approximately similar academic background to Freud’s and who therefore produced translations which, whatever their defects, are precisely in tune with the period.

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