Lifting the Veil of Illusion: Transparency and Invisibility in English Language Translations of Pelle Erobreren

Sophie-Anne Cobby Nilsson

Studenteropgave: Speciale


Abstract The ever-increasing importance of translation in today’s globalised world has inspired a corresponding explosion of interest in the discipline of translation studies. This can be seen not only through the wealth of research, academic courses, journals and teaching materials focusing on translation studies that are currently produced but also in the increase in conferences and forums for discussion that have opened up for scholars and practicing translators alike. Alongside this boom in interest, the discipline of translation studies has also gained in recognition and attention as it has opened up considerably and embraced a wider and more diverse mix of approaches that include ethical, cultural and ideological perspectives. Previously much of the focus of translation theorising and concepts has been on the translations themselves i.e. the texts, with little attention paid to the people responsible for creating them, i.e. the translators. There is, however, an increasing awareness of the position and status of translators and of the many aspects that need to be taken into consideration throughout the entire process of creating a translated text. At the same time a concept that has come to be known as ‘translator invisibility’ has been highlighted as an on-going issue of importance. Translator invisibility refers to the situation whereby the translator of a text is hidden under a veil of illusion when the translated text is read and reviewed. Instead, readers feel that they are accessing the words and choices made by the original author writing in a foreign language that have been magically transferred into their own language by means of an anonymous and objective translator. This is not only unfair in terms of giving justice to the translator for their work but also leads to the situation whereby it is believed that there is only one ‘definitive’ translation needed of a particular work that will last as long as the original book does in its own culture, if not longer. Needless to say this is not true. To translate is not simply a matter of mechanically substituting one word in the source language with a corresponding word in the target language. If it was as simple as this then almost anyone with a dictionary and a grasp of a second language could be a translator. Text is not only bound in the culture and the time within which it is produced but it is also dependent on the author’s own style and objectives. The same can be said of translations. Translation is not a mechanical activity but a creative one that has high demands for the translator to be not only familiar with the two languages (the source and the target languages) but to also have insight into their cultures, histories and heritage. As creative writer translators also have their own individuality and ‘stamp’ that can be seen in the texts that they produce. In order to investigate issues of translator invisibility as well as the effect that different translators have on the texts that they create, this thesis takes its point of departure in the two different English language translations of the book Pelle Erobreren: barndom by Martin Andersen Nexø. Published in Denmark in 1906 the book became famous for its realistic portrayal of a Swedish boy’s journey through life starting with his emigration from Sweden to the island of Bornholm. The boy’s name is Pelle and he and his father arrive on Bornholm in abject poverty. Following publication of the book Nexø received praise for the way in which he was able to create such realistic characters and situations that led some reviewers to claim that they could almost smell the humanity and life in the pages of the book. In order to provoke such feelings Nexø had to create the illusion that the world of Pelle is one that could believably exist to the extent that the reader believes that it really does so. In 1913 Pelle Erobreren was translated by American Jessie Muir, a known English language translator of Danish and Norwegian authors. In 1989, following a successful film version of the book, Pelle Erobreren was translated by American Steven Murray, well known translator of Danish, German, Swedish and Norwegian novels into English. My point of interest is to first see if and how the two translations disturb the illusion of reality that Nexø created in his book Pelle Erobreren. In order to do this I carry out a comparative descriptive analysis with a focus on the stylistic choices made by the two translators under the guiding concept of foreignisation and domestication translation strategies. At the same time I investigate how the two translators and their work can be seen as reinforcing the illusion of translator invisibility. This is done through assessing the sociocultural factors and environment in which the two translations were published. Over the course of the analysis it became clear that the translator Jessie Muir was following a domesticating strategy while Steven Murray has taken a more foreignising approach. These strategies of approaches have different impacts on the illusion of reality of the book. Muir’s strategies can be seen in many ways, first by her choice to systematically remove coarse and vulgar language as well as references to parts of the body (for example stomach, tits and nipples), bodily functions (such as farting or using the toilet) profanity and sexual innuendo. Secondly by replacing references to cultural items and idioms in the source text with references to more readily recognisable items and idioms existing in the target language. The translator Steven Murray, however, chose to retain all the aspects of vulgarity and coarseness that can be found in the source text. Furthermore, he chose to translate items culturally linked to the source text with items that, although partly known in the target culture, still have a strong sense of the foreign about them. In the same way idioms are translated so that they are recognisable but still ‘foreign’. The effect on the two translations can be seen in the way that Muir’s translation scrapes away some of the layers of illusion created to present ‘Pelle’s world’ as a believable one and at times this jolts the reader out of this created world. Murray’s translation manages to retain this illusion to a greater extent, and invites the reader to enter into ‘Pelle’s world’. Despite both translators featuring prominently on the covers of their respective translations, and in spite of the different strategies followed resulting in two very different interpretations of Pelle Erobreren, they both succumb to the illusion of invisibility when their books are reviewed and discussed and although their work receives a cursory ‘nod’ the bulk of the praise for the craftsmanship and creativity of the books still goes firmly to Martin Andersen Nexø.

UddannelserEngelsk, (Bachelor/kandidatuddannelse) Kandidat
Udgivelsesdato30 jun. 2014
VejledereIda Klitgård


  • Translation
  • illusion