HELEN MARIA WILLIAMS: THE PURPOSE AND PRACTICE OF TRANSLATION, 1789-1827
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AbstractThe French Revolution has long been recognised as the crucial turning point in modern European history. The event is often cited as the beginning point for European Romanticism. Helen Maria Williams occupied a unique position at the crucible of events in post-revolutionary Paris. Having visited the capital in 1790 to attend the Fête de la Fédération on the first anniversary of the storming of the Bastille, she was to spend the rest of her life endeavouring to communicate the originating ideals which she had first encountered there. Returning to France in 1791, she was naturalised as French in 1817 and remained in Paris until her death in 1827. Renowned for her poetry and most famously for the extensive body of political reportage contained in the 8 volumes of her Letters from France, Williams was also a translator, an aspect of her corpus which has been largely overlooked in academic research. It is in the collection of translations in which she finds her most Romantic expression. In the translations produced from Paris, Williams experiments with progressive European thought, both philosophically and linguistically, working towards a political and literary universalism influenced by contemporary French culture and by German thought arriving in France from members of the pre-unification states. As a successful salonnière, Williams became acquainted with many of the period’s leading figures, absorbing and reinterpreting spheres of influence in her translations. Literary translations, such as Paul and Virginia and The Leper of the City of Aoste, reside among the more prosaic works such as The Confidential and Political Correspondence of Lewis the Sixteenth to form a body of work which reveals Williams’s idiosyncratic practices and, most readily in the paratextual material of her many prefaces, her ideas as to the purpose of translation. 4 The idea of liminality is fundamental to our understanding of Williams’s life and work. Occupying the mysterious middle-ground, Williams resides in the space between nations, between cultures, languages, literary movements and historical-temporal thresholds. From this position she operates as mediator, not only of French literature, but of socio-political realities. Throughout her time in France she remained convinced of the truth of the originating revolutionist ideals she had first encountered in 1790 and she strived always to mediate and to re-inscribe, indeed to translate the French Revolution of 1789. The translations of Helen Maria Williams serve as the appropriate locus from which to suggest a reconfiguration of her importance in the canon of Romantic women writers and translators.
DescriptionA thesis submitted