Translating Style: a literary Approach to Translation Approach to Literature

partner Gerald. Almost every time she is referred to, some quirk of grammar or

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partner Gerald. Almost every time she is referred to, some quirk of grammar or 
imagery is used to underline the enigma that she is both afraid and belligerent, 
drawn to those things that pain her. Again, we must remember that ‘fearfully 
tempted’ was her expression, not the narrator’s. 
The rest of the paragraph brings this character trait to the surface as Gudrun 
becomes aware, at least up to a point, of her own masochism in returning. 
And as it comes to the surface, rather than remaining hidden in syntactical 
contortions and oxymoronic collocations, this quality begins to emerge in the 
Italian too, though it is interesting that even here there are one or two changes 
that, to risk a joke, take the edge out of the English. One notices, for example, 
how the translation chooses to transform the statement, ‘she passed on through 
a stretch of torment’, into a simile, ‘percorreva quel tratto di strada come se 
affrontasse la tortura’, (she went down this length of the street as if she were 
facing torture) thus losing the force of the idea that this truly is a torture for 
Gudrun. (One observes in passing that the punning compression of ‘stretch 
of torment’ was impossible in the Italian.) 
Another word that loses its complexity in the translation is ‘barren’. In 
English the word contains the twin ideas of desolate and infertile (desolate 
because infertile). The most common modern use would be desolate, and thus 
the translator is right to choose the word ‘spoglia’ (bare/stripped). But given 
Lawrence’s frequent use of biblical language (of which more later), the word 
is surely chosen to look forward to the barrenness of Gudrun’s relationship 
with Gerald.
Approaching the end of this paragraph, one might ask whether ‘meaning-

Tim Parks
less people’ is really the same as ‘gente insensata’ (senseless people)? One 
suspects not. Lawrence does not tell us that the local people are ‘senza senno’ 
(without sense/discrimination), as the Novissimo dizionario della lingua itali-
ana defines the Italian word, but that their lives are without meaning. They are 
one with the amorphous townscape (which is also the ‘disgrace of outspread 
London’). They mean nothing. They can be ignored, and will be throughout 
this novel. They are not, that is, among that elite – Ursula, Gudrun, Birkin, 
Gerald – whom Lawrence had chosen to write about because, as he put it in 
a letter to Catherine Carswell, they were ‘the flower of an epoch’s achieve-
ment’, and it was ‘only through such people that one could discover whither 
the general run of mankind ... was tending’.
 On a number of occasions one 
feels the translator has as much trouble with Lawrence’s political ideas as 
with his syntax. 
The paragraph ends with another animal image, Gudrun ‘felt like a beetle 
toiling in the dust’, this time rendered perfectly satisfactorily in the Italian. 
But it is only in the English that one can appreciate the similarity with the 
earlier animal image of ‘brought to bay’. In both cases Gudrun is represented 
as being doggedly determined in a desperate situation. Typically, it is difficult 
to decide whether the ‘repulsion’ she is described as feeling as the paragraph 
closes is directed towards herself or to the situation, or both. 
Perhaps the most severe criticism levelled at Lawrence with regard to 
Women in Love was that the characterization was insufficiently distinct and 
likewise the experiences in love of the two central couples, Ursula and Birkin, 
Gudrun and Gerald. More or less all critics of the period agreed on this. A 
comment from John Middleton Murry sums up the feeling. 

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