Sunday, February 26, 2006

Turn of the Screwn: Reading Old books

for the past few days i've been reading henry james' The Turn of the Screw. you can find the entire text at the given link if you want to read it online.

this is a mesmerizing tale of ghosts, manipulation, paranoia, intrigue.. in essence, it's a fantastic suspense novel!

however, here's my problem: the english itself is so outdated, and some of the phrases are, at least at first, hard to understand. essentially, the english is very precise and remote. there's talk of feelings, but they are communicated in such a calculated fashion. of course, this is part of the narrator's voice, but it is so antiquated.

i guess i feel there are three things that can be somewhat separated in this text: the theme, the mood, and the vocabulary. i really feel like the theme and mood could be modernized and wholly understood, without losing much in the way of the story. the story certainly doensn't hinge on a lot of 19th century gotchas which you just need to know.

this reminds me of two translations of Albert Camus' The Stranger. one of the translations was from the 50s and all stodgy and awkward, in my opinion. the other translation was written quite recently, in the late 90s i believe, and it was so readable (amazon link). the story came alive for me.

why isn't such "translation" done for old english texts? i think someone could read james' text, and modernize it. anyone who wanted to could read the original... but the translation, if it could hold what many consider the key parts of the book, would probably be wildly successful at bringing more new readers to james.


seema said...

very interesting omar. i am going to read a bit of this book. i guess i haven't ever read two translations of something. in a way, i love old, hard to fathom english, since it makes me wish i could talk like that now. but maybe this is different from the type i'm thinking of? i like dickens talk and jane austin talk and agatha christie talk too!

anyways, i am leaving this random comment so that i can say that i have 3 new posts at long last on my blog so check it out!

hkm said...

ahhh, i think i read the stranger in the stodgy 50s version, because by the time i finished it i remember thinking, "if only i could read this in french, i think it would be a lot better." i think that is the same with other translated books (i.e. hermann hesse and murakami) too - the flow of the languages that they are originally written in can't seem to be fully captured by the english language.