Do multilingual fiction writers ever translate their own work?
January 3, 2009 12:39 PM   Subscribe

Do multilingual fiction writers ever translate their own work?

I am just curious whether or not a novelist who knows more than one language might say "I know Ruritanian! I'll just translate it myself rather than have someone else do it."

Let's say that a major European author knows English. Would said author undertake to translate his or her opus into English? Are there famous examples?

I would assume that translation is an art and that even if you know another language fluently, you might not be the best person to translate your magnum opus. But I can assume that the author, if he or she knows the translated language, might quibble with the translator changing the essence of the novel.
posted by xetere to Writing & Language (15 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett is at least one example (French first, English translation second).
posted by swordfishtrombones at 12:49 PM on January 3, 2009

For what it's worth, I know Nabokov did.
A good reason for an author to translate their own works is because they, themselves, are the ones who best know what they meant to convey in the first place.
posted by dunkadunc at 12:49 PM on January 3, 2009

I believed Lewis Carroll translated Alice in Wonderland himself but some google says he "supervised". There are some very clever (and original) translations of puns in the work.
posted by Wood at 1:01 PM on January 3, 2009

Not an anwer to the specific question in the title, but maybe of interest to you on the wider topic that you mention. Umberto Eco has written about his experiences both as a translator and as a writer being translated. Mouse or Rat? Translation as Negotiation is quite an ineteresting read on this topic.
posted by Jakey at 1:15 PM on January 3, 2009

Best answer: As far as I know, a vast majority of Beckett's work -- not just Godot -- was written in French (by him) and then translated into English (also by him).
from the wikipedia article on Beckett:

The novel, in many ways, presaged his most famous work, the play Waiting for Godot, written not long afterwards, but more importantly, it was Beckett’s first long work to be written directly in French, the language of most of his subsequent works, including the "trilogy" of novels he was soon to write: Molloy, Malone Dies and The Unnamable. Despite being a native English speaker, Beckett chose to write in French because—as he himself claimed—in French it was easier for him to write "without style."
posted by The Esteemed Doctor Bunsen Honeydew at 1:31 PM on January 3, 2009

Oscar Wilde wrote Salome in French. According to Wikipedia, although the English translation was credited to Alfred Douglas, Wilde had redone it himself.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 1:50 PM on January 3, 2009

Best answer: But I can assume that the author, if he or she knows the translated language, might quibble with the translator changing the essence of the novel.

This is exactly what happened with Peter Høeg's Smilla's Sense of Snow. Høeg had issues with the US translator's work and changed much of it, including the title (to Miss Smilla's Feeling For Snow) for the UK edition. The American translator rejected the changes and the translator's name was changed to a pseudonym (for Høeg) for UK publication.
posted by ROTFL at 3:45 PM on January 3, 2009 [1 favorite]

While he did not tranlsate them on his own, Kundera revised the French versions of his early books, before he began to write directly in French.
posted by ddaavviidd at 5:28 PM on January 3, 2009

The Canadian novelist Nancy Huston is a native English speaker who writes fiction in French and also produces her own English translations thereof.
posted by thomas j wise at 6:05 PM on January 3, 2009

Isaac Bashevis Singer did a few of his own translations. I believe I also once saw a Borges story which was self-translated, but I'm not sure.
posted by ubiquity at 6:40 PM on January 3, 2009

The new translation of Night is translated by the author's wife, which I thought was an interesting choice, as who would know better how to preserve the tone of someone's speech then their SO?
posted by NoraReed at 8:51 PM on January 3, 2009

In a similar vein to NoraReed's contribution, Yann Martel's Life of Pi was translated (English to French) by his parents. There are also some works that feature Canadian bilingualism as a main theme, such as L'Homme invisble/The Invisible Man or Yes sir... Madame (a movie).

Stendhal wrote from notes he took in a weird mix of English/French/Italian.

Far-fetched: Andrew W. Appel wrote his "Modern Compiler Implementation" books in (S)ML, C and Java.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 12:15 AM on January 4, 2009

Not fiction I know, but Sorley MacLean produced the standard English versions of his own poetry, though others also translated him from the original Gaelic.
posted by Abiezer at 1:29 AM on January 4, 2009

IIRC Vasilis Vasilikos has translated some of his work.
posted by ersatz at 12:50 PM on January 4, 2009

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