Ah, Die Sturmhöhe.
First, I must admit I haven’t finished reading WH in Deutsch. Upon finishing chapter thirteen, my brain needed a rest. One day I shall, but for now I need to read a lighter work.
As for my impressions thus far:
The first thing I noted were the changes. Translators have a difficult job because often the languages they are working with do not have words with identical meanings. Things are inevitably lost in translation.
What does annoy me (and I’ve noticed this in other novels and films), is when there is a direct translation and the translator will take it upon themselves to use the term they feel is more proper.
Some examples from Sturmhöhe:
1. In the original, after Isabella accuses Cathy of, “… and desire no one to be loved but yourself!”
Cathy retorts with, “You are an impertinent little monkey!”
The translator changed that line to: ” Du bit ein unverschamtes kleines Balg!” (You are an imperinent little brat)
This may not seem like a major thing, but writers painstakingly choose their words. Every word, not only possesses a specific meaning, but conveys a different feeling.
2. In another case, Nelly visits young Hareton. After hearing him sputter colorful language, she asks, “Who has taught you those fine words, my barn?”
The translator changed the endearment to, “mein Kind”. (my child)
Obviously they thought that “my barn” is a rather strange term to be used for affection. And it is. But Emily Bronte chose it. Thus, I can only assume that it was an endearment used in the Yorkshires.
The novel is rife with unnecessary changes such as the above that affect its flavor.
But most notably, I’ve come across the realization that Wuthering Heights can never be as good in German, or in any other language, as it is in English. To backtrack for a moment, I have read many of Agatha Christie’s novels in German. Even with some changes (some necessary, some not), I never felt anything lacking. It hardly matters if some vocabulary or syntax of hers is changed. This is no slight to Agatha. She admitted in her autobiography that she was no prose artist, no wordsmith. Her talent lay in her spellbinding plots.
However, when you consider someone like Emily Bronte, who held such mastery over the English language, a sense of magic is lost.
Consider the famous ending:
“I lingered round them, under that benign sky; watched the moths fluttering among the heath, and hare-bells; listened to the soft wind breathing through the grass; and wondered how any one could ever imagine unquiet slumbers, for the sleepers in that quiet earth.”
“Ich verweilte ein wenig bei ihnen unter diesem sanften Himmel, sah die Nachtfalter zwischen Heidekraut und Glockenblumen umherfliegen, lauschte, wie der Wind leicht durch das Gras stirch, und wunderte mich darüber, daß jemand sich einbilden könne, es gäbe etwas in der Welt, was den letzen Schlummer deer Schläfer in diesem stillen Stückchen Erde stören könnte.”
literal translation: “I lingered a little by them under that gentle sky, saw the moths between heath and bell flower flying around, eavesdropped, as the wind lightly through the grass crossed, and wondered me about it, that anybody self imagine could, there were something in the world, what the last slumber the sleepers in this silent bit earth disturb could.”
Due to the rules of the German language, after the first verb (which is placed in the second spot of the sentence), all remaining verbs must be placed at the end. Which is why this piece ends as it does. And closing the novel with “in this silent bit earth disturb could” is hardly as beautiful and poetic as, “for the sleepers in that quiet earth.”
None of this means that the translation is horrible, and that one shouldn’t read it in German. But to experience it in its full glory, one must read it in its original language.
On a similar note, I’m glad I’m waiting to read Goethe in German.