update: Wuthering Heights in German

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.

Published in: on August 9, 2010 at 8:06 am  Comments (14)  
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Wuthering Heights in German

English is crisp, elegant, and terse.

I once said to a friend, “English is like a bonsai tree.  German is like…a wild overgrown forest.”   So I could only nod and smile when I came across this piece in The Germans by Gordon A. Craig: “…the most frequent cause of foreign misunderstanding is not the sometimes clumsy form assumed by written and spoken German but rather the difficulty of determining what is actually being said.  The non-German reader has the impression of trying to cut his way through the jungle of words, many of which have no precise meaning, a good percentage of which are clearly redundant, and some of which appear to be superfluous.”

German will never be known for its succinctness.

German’s worth lies in its strength, its passion.

Due to the inherent differences in the languages they evoke quite different feelings in the listener or reader.  And  some things just naturally sound better in one rather than the other.   There is a reason why Germany is not known for its comedies.  But drama!  The German language was made for drama- and the more dramatic the better.

So what better book to try reading next than my beloved Wuthering Heights?  How will it fare?

Entitled Die Sturmhöhe in German, here is a piece that you will probably be able to recognize:

“Mein Liebe zu Linton ist wie das Laub im Walde: die Zeit wird sie änderen, ich bin mir dessen bewußt, wie der Winter die Bäume verändert.  Meine Liebe zu Heathcliffe gleicht den ewigen Felsen dort unten; sie ist eine Quelle kaum wahrnehmbarer Freuden, aber sie ist notwendig.  Nelly, ich bin Heathcliffe!  Ich habe ihn immer, immer im Sinn, nicht zum Vergnügen, genausowenig, wie ich mir selbst stets ein Vergnügen bin, sondern als mein eigenes Sein.”

Published in: on July 25, 2010 at 9:11 pm  Comments (23)  
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Maria Bronte: The Spirit of the Brontes

In 1820, after his wife succumbed to cancer, Patrick Bronte was left with the responsibility of raising six children on his own:  Maria, Elizabeth, Charlotte, Branwell, Emily, and Anne.  Although Patrick’s spinster sister-in-law came to the parsonage in Haworth to care for the children, they turned to  Maria for guidance and maternal affection.

Thus, at seven years-old, Maria became a mother to her brother and sisters.  She entertained them by reading to them from daily newspapers and creating games for them to play together.  From the beginning, Patrick had declared his eldest child the most gifted one of them all.  He stated she possessed, “a heart under Divine Influence.”  Named after her mother, the young girl had a “powerful, intellectual mind.”  He further stated that even at her young age, he could, “converse with Maria on any of the leading topics of the day as freely,  and with as much pleasure, as with any adult.”

Worried about his daughters’ formal education, and unable to afford one of the better schools in the area, Patrick thought he’d discovered the perfect solution when the Clergy Daughters’ School opened at Cowan Bridge in 1823.   He sent Maria and Elizabeth there on July 21, 1824.  Charlotte followed six weeks later, and Emily, the following autumn.   However, the school conditions were harsh and unsanitary.  Maria  returned home in February 1825 after being diagnosed with tuberculosis.  Elizabeth followed on May 31st.  A few days later, Patrick sent for Charlotte and Emily.  While his youngest daughters had fortunately not fallen ill, it proved too late for his two eldest.  Maria died on May 6th, and Elizabeth fell soon after.

Of the quiet Elizabeth, not much is known.  But the death of Maria would haunt the rest of the family for the rest of their lives.  Branwell and Charlotte, were affected most of all.   Family servant, Sarah Garrs, reported that Branwell wrote morbid poetry about Maria for years after her death.   Branwell, himself, often claimed that he heard Maria wailing outside his window at night.    This apparition may have inspired Emily when she later wrote of Cathy’s spirit tapping on Lockwood’s window in Wuthering Heights:  “Let me in!  Let me in!…It’s twenty years, twenty years…I’ve been a waif for twenty years.”

Charlotte immortalized her eldest sister in the character of Helen Burns, the pious girl who Jane Eyre befriends.   After some critics complained that Helen was too sweet, too good to be true, Charlotte wrote, “…she was real enough.  I have exaggerated nothing there.”

In the Life of Charlotte Bronte, Elizabeth Gaskell described one of the incidents that Maria had suffered through at Cowen:  “The dormitory in which Maria slept was a long room, holding a row of narrow little beds on each side, occupied by the pupils, and at the end of this dormitory there was a small bed-chamber  opening out of it, appropriated to the use of Miss Scatcherd.  Maria’s bed stood nearest to this door of this room.  One morning, after she had become so seriously unwell ….poor Maria moaned out that she was so ill, so very ill, she wished she might stop in bed; and some of the girls urged her to do so, and said they would explain it all to Miss Temple, the superintendant.  But Miss Scatchered was close at hand, and her anger would have to be faced before Miss Temple’s kind thoughtfulness could interfere; so the sick child began to dress, shivering with cold, as, without leaving her bed, she slowly put on her black worsted stockings over her thin white legs.  Just then Miss Scatcherd issued from her room, and, without asking a word of explanation from the sick and frightened girl, she took her by the arm…and by one vigorous movement whirled her out into the middle of the floor, abusing her all the time for dirty and untidy habits.  There she left her.  …Maria hardly spoke, except to beg some of the more indignant girls to be calm; but, in slow, trembling movements, with many a pause, she went down stairs at last- and was punished for being late.”

Charlotte wrote in Jane Eyre: “…I saw the girl with whom I had conversed in the verandah dismissed in disgrace by Miss Scatchered, from a history class, and sent to stand in the middle of the large school-room.  The punishment seemed to me in a high degree ignominous, especially for so great a girl- she looked thirteen or upwards.  I expected she would show signs of great distress and shame; but to my surprise, she neither wept nor blushed: composed, though grave, she stood, the central mark of all eyes.”

Published in: on January 10, 2010 at 10:42 pm  Comments (26)  
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Wuthering Heights


I noticed a discussion on AW regarding whether Wuthering Heights was a love story or not.   This prompted me to repost this book review I wrote last summer:

It’s been called the most passionately written novel in the English language.  The love between the foundling Heathcliffe and his foster father’s daughter, Catherine, turns to hate when she forsakes him (and herself) to marry for money.

Many people open this novel with false expectations.  This usually comes from having viewed the classic film version starring Sir Laurence Olivier and Merle Oberon.  As gorgeous as that film is- it is not the book.  Not only  is the second half of the story missing-  the characters and themes are  also greatly watered down.

In the film, Heathcliffe is the tragic hero- heartbroken and brooding over the woman who left him.  It never goes into the horrific emotional and physical abuse he unleashes onto the second generation.   Catherine is  portrayed as a spoiled, narcisstic child.   The film doesn’t dare go deeper into her troubled psyche which causes her to will her own death.

Emily Bronte dared.

Charlotte Bronte said, ”liberty was the breath of Emily’s nostrils; without it, she perished.”

Indeed, much of Emily’s poetry deals with personal freedom.

One of her famous lines from a poem is:

I’ll walk where my own nature would be leading:

it vexes me to choose another guide.”

Catherine commits suicide the moment she allows societal opinions to dictate how she should live.  It takes her body some years more to follow.

The last lines of Emily’s poem, Light up thy Halls- seems a forebearer to Heathcliffe’s grief and rage:

And yet for all her hate, each parting glance would tell

A stronger passion breathed, burned, in this last farewell.

Unconquered in my soul the Tyrant rules me still;

Life bows to my control, but Love I cannot kill!”

Many critics claim the second part of the novel- concerning the relationship between the second Catherine and Heathcliffe’s adopted son, Hareton, is weak.  Is it less passionate than the first part?  Yes.  Weak- no.

The first part of the novel is a thunderous storm.  The second part details the breaking of the clouds- and at last- the calm.

What Heathcliffe and Catherine did wrong- Hareton and Catherine the 2nd, set right again.

Nature restores itself.

Wuthering Heights is not for everyone.  While it is a love story, its dark themes of vengeance, abuse, madness, and necrophelia- is not of the Harlequin sort.

People hate this novel with the same passion others love it.

Emily probably doesn’t care.

It is doubtful anyone ever forgets it.

Published in: on February 11, 2009 at 7:38 pm  Comments (26)  
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Anne Bronte: The Courageous Sister

Those born on the the seventeenth of any month are said to be strong in spirit throughout the difficulties of life.

Anne Bronte was born on January 17, 1820, the youngest surviving child of the family.   One day, her older sister, Charlotte, watched over Anne’s wooden crib.  She cried out to her father to come, for she had seen an angel hovering over Anne.

This angelic image still lingers over Anne Bronte.  She has long been thought of as the “sweet, shy” sister.  The sister that would be all but forgotten if not for her surname.

As is often the case, Anne’s gentleness  was mistaken for weakness.  Anne’s sweet smile belied a will of iron.

By the age of  five she’d lost her mother and her two eldest sisters.  The remaining siblings: Charlotte, Branwell, Emily, and Anne formed an  enduring bond.  Encouraged by their father, they read voraciously and created their own magical worlds which they set down on paper.  While Charlotte and Branwell continued working on Angria,  Emily and Anne branched off with their own  kingdom of Gondal which was inspired by tales from Lord Byron and Sir Walter Scott.

Charlotte’s best friend, Ellen Nussey, noted Anne and Emily were, “like twins, inseparable companions in the very closest sympathy, which never had any interruption.”  Indeed, it was only to Anne that the reclusive Emily ever opened up.

Deeply religious and ambitious, Anne was determined from an early age to succeed at all she set out to do.   While all of her siblings had failed at their career attempts away from home, Anne used her faith to survive her two tenures as a governess.   First, at the age of eighteen, for the Inghams of Blake Hall, Mirfield; and later with the Robinson family of Thorp Green.  Governesses were not only paid less than the general servant or lady’s maid, but they found themselves in very lonely situations.  They were not part of the family and the other servants usually shunned them.

Anne depicted these experiences as a governess in Agnes Grey.   Written in a simple, down-to-earth style, it was deeply overshadowed by Charlotte’s Jane Eyre.   In 1848, The Atlas critiqued, “Perhaps we shall best describe it as a coarse imitation of one of Miss Austen’s charming stories.”  Douglas Jerrold’s Weekly Paper, while dismissing  the character Agnes as being inferior to Jane, did commend the authoress on her extraordinary powers of observation.

Anne used these powers on her second novel, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall.   Inspired by the horrors she’d witnessed of  Branwell’s addiction  to liquor and drugs, she wrote an unflinching account on alcoholism.   The general public and reviewers were outraged at the story of a woman who “steals” her child,  runs away from her alcoholic  husband, and finds love with another man while in hiding.   Realistic, sharp, and unsentimental, the novel was years before its time.  

It  proved as controversial as Emily’s, Wuthering Heights.

Anne was branded immoral.   Undaunted,  she set out to write a third novel.    However,  in September of 1848, Branwell died after years of alcohol abuse.   Only three months later, Anne’s beloved companion, Emily, succumbed to tuberculosis.

One year later, Anne was diagnosed with the same disease.    She begged Charlotte to bring her to Scarborough (a seaside resort that Anne had first visited with the Robinsons).  Anne always loved the sea and hoped for its curative powers.   Charlotte and her father eschewed the idea for Anne was barely able to walk by now.

Seeking support for her plan, Anne wrote to Ellen Nussey: “I have a more serious reason than this for my impatience of delay: the doctors say that change of air or removal to a better climate would hardly ever fail of success in consumptive cases if taken in time, but the reason why there are so many disappointments is, that it is generally deferred till it is too late. Now I would not commit this error; and to say the truth, though I suffer much less from pain and fever than I did when you were with us, I am decidedly weaker and very much thinner my cough still troubles me a good deal, especially in the night, and, what seems worse than all, I am subject to great shortness of breath on going up stairs or any slight exertion. Under these circumstances I think there is no time to be lost… I have no horror of death: if I thought it inevitable I think I could quietly resign myself to the prospect… But I wish it would please God to spare me not only for Papa’s and Charlotte’s sakes, but because I long to do some good in the world before I leave it. I have many schemes in my head for future practisehumble and limited indeedbut still I should not like them all to come to nothing, and myself to have lived to so little purpose. But God’s will be done.”

Anne and Charlotte set off for Scarborough on May 24, 1849.   Anne spent her final days enjoying the horizons of her beloved sea.

Anne Bronte died on May 28, 1849.   Her last words to Charlotte were, “take courage.”


Wuthering Heights-song by Kate Bush

Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte is my favorite novel.   Emily’s novel and her fierce poetry have been a huge influence on me.  Although my own writing style is more down-to-earth (despite the dark subjects I tackle), Emily’s dramatic and fearless writing remains an inspiration.

Published in: on July 22, 2008 at 12:30 pm  Leave a Comment  
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