Book reviewThe role of translators in children’s literature. Invisible storytellers New York, London: Routledge, 2010. xv+241 pp. ISBN 0-415-98952-3 .
Reviewed by Emer O’Sullivan
The great popularity of Struwwelpeter and its influence on English children’s literature owes much to the quality of the first translation of 1848. The surreal nature of Heinrich Hoffmann’s pictures is translated into grotesque verbal exaggeration, making them even more comical than the German original. The assimilation of these cautionary tales into the British comic verse tradition guaranteed the survival of this translation while most of its many successors soon disappeared from the market. But who can be credited with this particular instance of cultural enrichment through transfer? We don’t know; he or she is not named on the publication. An appealing speculation about his or her identity was put forward by Duncan Mennie: “The translator’s skill in manipulating nursery words of the time like ‘sloven’ and ‘nasty physic’ makes one suspect the hand of a woman, possibly one of the poor English governesses who ate the bread of exile in so many countries of Europe in the nineteenth century” (Mennie 1948: 5) Anonymity was a not uncommon fate for translators of children’s literature before the mid-20th century. The lack of accreditation, commensurate with the peripheral position within the literary system and general low status of children’s books, made their translators not just invisible but, as Gillian Lathey puts it in this superb study, of all their colleagues “the most transparent of all”(5). In The Role of Translators in Children’s Literature. Invisible Storytellers, the first survey of its kind of the history of translated children’s literature in English, Lathey, Director of the National Centre for Research in Children’s Literature at Roehampton and editor of a comprehensive reader which collated key essays on translating for the young reader (2006), pays tribute to these translators and sets out to make their work more visible.