Translating Jean Paul Richter

I just found an 1862 translation of Jean Paul’s Titan, done by Charles T. Books and published in Boston by Ticknor and Fields. He writes in his translator’s preface about some of the difficulties he encountered:

“The Translator (or Transplanter, for he aspires to the title) of this huge production, in his solicitude to preserve the true German aroma of its native earth, may have brought away some part of the soil, and even stones, clinging to the roots. . . . He can only say, that if he had made Jean Paul always talk in ordinary, conventional, straightforward, instantly intelligible prose, the reader would not have had Jean Paul the Only.

“And yet it is confidently claimed that, under all the exuberance of metaphor and simile, and learned technical illustrations and odd digressions, and gorgeous episodes and witching interludes, that characterizes Richter, every attentive and thoughtful reader will find a broad and solid ground of real good sense and good feeling, and that in this extraordinary man whom, at times, his best friends were almost tempted to call a crazy giant, will be found one whose heart (to use the homely phrase) is ever in the right place.”

In the Modern Language Review, 1947, C.T. Carr wrote the following about Carlyle’s earlier translation of works by Jean Paul:

“In attempting a translation of Jean Paul, Carlyle was fully aware of the difficulties of his task. ‘If the language seem rugged, heterogeneous, perplexed’, he wrote in the Introduction, ‘the blame is not wholly mine, Richter’s style may be pronounced the most untranslateable, not in German only, but in any other modern literature’. Nevertheless, the translation of Schmelzles Reise nach Flädtz and of Quintus Fixlein is the most successful Carlyle ever accomplished. Even though he failed here and there to understand Jean Paul’s quips and quiddities and even though the puns are missing in the English version, Carlyle did succeed in reproducing to an extraordinary degree of fidelity Jean Paul’s bizarre style.”

About Scott Abbott

Ph.D. in German Literature from Princeton University, 1979. Then I taught at Vanderbilt University, BYU, and Utah Valley State College. At Utah Valley University, I'm Director of the Program in Integrated Studies and former Chair of the Department of Humanities and Philosophy. My publications include a book on Freemasonry and the German Novel, two co-authored books with Zarko Radakovic (published in Serbo-Croatian in Belgrade), and translations of a book by Austrian author Peter Handke and of a catalogue of an exhibit called "The German Army and Genocide." More famously, my children are in the process of creating good lives for themselves: as a model and manager, as a teacher of Chinese language, as a watershed scientist and science writer, as a jazz musician, as a corrections officer, as university students, and as parents. I share my life with UVU historian Lyn Bennett and our yellow dog Blue. Some publications at
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