The Electronic Journal of the Department
at the University of Helsinki
© 2001 Irma Hagfors
A JOURNEY TO ANOTHER TIME AND PLACE:
HOW A BRITISH VICTORIAN CHILDREN'S CLASSIC WAS TRANSLATED
IN POSTWAR FINLAND
Abstract. The Wind in the Willows is a British Victorian
children's classic, a story firmly set in a specific historical and social era.
When such a book is translated into another culture and transposed into a
different period of time, a translator has to make a decision on the type of
global and local strategies she or he will use for the translation. This paper
discusses the Finnish translation of the book (1949) and the global strategy
which explains the translator's choice of local strategies used. I have focused
on culture-bound elements as those illustrate best that a book is tied to a
particular culture and time.
"All texts reflect the period of time and culture where
they were written" (Oittinen 1997:13, my translation). This is what Riitta
Oittinen discovered when she studied three different Finnish translations of the
British children's classic Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1865). Each
of these translations was made in a different period of time. Oittinen's aim was
to study how the period of time in question and the stage of Finnish culture
concerned had affected the translations.
In this paper, my intention is to apply Oittinen's hypothesis
to another British children's classic, Kenneth Grahame's The Wind in the
Willows (1908) and to discuss what kind of effect time and culture have had
on its translation into Finnish. Like Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, The
Wind in the Willows is not an ordinary children's book. These two books have
much in common. Written around the same period of time, they both represent a
specific genre of children's literature common to the British culture of the
Victorian period; they are both multilayered stories which include one level for
children and another level for adult readers. In The Wind in the Willows,
the latter level is a rather sarcastic and ironic social satire, in which the
different animal characters of the story represent archetypes of the different
British social classes of the time. The protagonists are five human-like animals
who live a leisurely life in an idealized community in the River Bank. Mole,
Rat, Badger, Otter and Toad are civilized country dwellers, each of whom has his
own characteristics and personality. Together and separately they face all kinds
of adventures and try to cope with everyday life. Then there is the enemy in the
form of the weasels, ferrets and stoats who live in the Wild Wood, a place where
the River Bankers never set foot. This distinction between the two communities
creates a certain tension in the story and is one of the main themes of the
The Wind in the Willows has a unique place in British
culture. Generation after generation is familiar with the book, which continues
to be sold in large numbers in Britain. One of the most interesting features of The
Wind in the Willows for the contemporary adult reader is the fact that it is
so firmly set in a particular culture and period of time, that is, Great Britain
in the late Victorian period. As observed by Hunt (1994:10), "the book's
setting and ambience is quintessentially English". This feature becomes
evident, for instance, in the way the different characters in the story speak,
eat and live. The protagonists speak in a distinctive register, using idioms
characteristic of the period. They eat food characteristic of the era, and their
living conditions reflect those of the British middle-class of the time.
According to Haining (1983:243), The Wind in the Willows represents the
social structure and attitudes of Victorian society and the plot sums up the
shifting features of the Victorian period, as well as Grahame's reaction to them
The Finnish translation of The Wind in the Willows,
Kaislikossa suhisee, was made by Eila Piispanen in 1949. This is so far the
only unabridged Finnish translation ever made of the book. In the 1940s, British
culture was not yet very well known in Finland. Thus, it is interesting to see
what happens when a book that is so tightly bound to its own culture and period
is transferred and implanted in a totally different historical, cultural and
linguistic situation and how this type of transfer affects the translation. How
has the translator coped with the task of translating the various culture-bound
elements of the book at a time when British culture was still relatively
unfamiliar in Finland? In order to find answers to this question, I have studied
both source and target texts and interviewed the translator in person. To help
set the book into its historical and social context, I will first briefly
introduce the Victorian period and the social structure of Victorian society, as
they are so important for the understanding of The Wind in the Willows.
In order to contextualise the translation, I will then take a look at Finland at
the end of the 1940s, and lastly I will consider the translator's strategies.
2. The Victorian period
In the strictest sense of the term, the Victorian period
refers to the reign of Queen Victoria (1837-1901). Some historians, however, use
the concept in a larger sense and apply it to a longer period which covers the
years 1815-1915 (see e.g. McDowall 1992). This is a period of time when Britain
went through some of the greatest changes in its history. The Industrial
Revolution (1750-1850), the collapse of the agricultural society and the
disruption of the class structure were only a few of the changes that
characterized the era. These are all reflected in The Wind in the Willows.
According to Bédarida (1979:37), England in the Victorian period was a tripolar
society composed of three classes: the upper, middle and lower classes, each of
which had several sublevels. The upper class consisted of the aristocracy who
did not have to work for a living and who had a high status in society. At the
lowest rank were beggars, tramps and down-and-outs, who were despised and
laughed at by those better off in society. All in all, Victorian Britain was an
inegalitarian society where the sense of hierarchy was deeply embedded in
people's minds (Bédarida 1979:40). All of this is reflected in the world of
Grahame's book: all the characters represent one social class or another. Toad
is an upper class squire or an upper-middle class "nouveau riche".
Badger, on the other hand, is a respected landowner. The middle middle classes
are represented by Rat and Otter, and the lower middle classes are represented
by Toad. The lower classes are the ferrets, the stoats and the weasels (Hunt
1994b:50-74). In addition to these animals – or animal disguises – the story
features rabbits, who are portrayed as being simple and slightly stupid.
Although Hunt does not discuss their social status, probably they are to be
included in the lower middle classes because they are laughed at and ignored by
others and as stated by Bédarida (54), "it was the bounden duty of every
citizen [ ...] to ignore
those beneath him".
3. Finland at the end of the 1940s
The structure of Finnish society was very different from that
of Victorian Britain when The Wind in the Willows was translated into
Finnish in 1949. First of all, Finland was at the time still recovering from the
war. For a long time, the country's standard of living was modest and there was
a serious shortage of goods and materials. Determined to pay its war reparations
on time, Finland's national economy was under great strain, which forced the
country to reconstruct its industry (Klinge 1990:136). As a result, Finland went
through a period of rapid urbanisation and industrialisation.
How, then, did The Wind in the Willows come to be
translated into Finnish in this specific period of time? According to Piispanen
(personal communication), the initial idea to have the story translated into
Finnish came from David Barrett, at the time one of the British lecturers at the
department of English in the University of Helsinki. Barrett, who had
connections to the publishing house Werner Söderström (WSOY), felt that more
British children's classics should be translated into Finnish. Thus, in 1949, he
decided to offer a translation job to one of his best students and asked Eila
Piispanen if she would be interested in translating The Wind in the Willows
into Finnish. Piispanen translated the book chapter by chapter and revised each
one in cooperation with Barrett. The book was published that same year and
became an immediate success.
So far WSOY has reprinted Kaislikossa suhisee six
times, the latest edition dating from 1995. All the editions, which altogether
have sold about 34,000 copies, have long been sold out. This means that each
edition has sold about 6,000 copies on average, which according to Rajala (1999)
is an exceptionally large number in Finland. It is worth pointing out that The
Wind in the Willows has been so popular in Finland that it has been the
primary source of inspiration for some Finnish children's writers. Jukka
Parkkinen's first book, Korppi ja Kumppanit (1978), for instance, was
intended to be a Finnish counterpart for Grahame's story (Parkkinen n.d.).
4. On the translation of culture-bound elements in The
Wind in the Willows
Let us recall what Oittinen said (1997:9): "Every book
is a journey to a particular time and place." In this paper, I have
tried to demonstrate that The Wind in the Willows is a journey to
Victorian Britain. In general, it would seem logical that the primary function
of a translation would be to let the readers make the same journey and to
transport them to the same time and place as the original. But readers of
translations make two journeys. They are not only transported to the time and
place of the original, but they are also taken to the time and place of the
target text, that is the period of time when the book was translated. Thus
readers of older translations cannot judge them from a modern point of view.
Instead, the translations have to be seen in their proper context and readers
have to understand that translators' means of working and their facilities to
obtain information have not always been what they are today.
When an old, culture-bound text is transferred into another
language, culture and time, it is evident that problems will occur. In the case
of The Wind in the Willows, one of the essential problems for a
translator is that it is a multilayered book which was originally written for a
rather specific audience, and was intended to be read by both adults and
children in a specific culture. One of the problems that the translation of such
a book, then, creates for the translator, is what type of global strategy to
follow: how and for whom to translate it. Global strategies are choices that the
translator makes before the actual translation process (Séguinot 1989 as cited
in Leppihalme 1997:125). When Piispanen translated The Wind in the Willows
into Finnish, the norms of translated children's literature in Finland were
different from what they are today as the main role of Finnish translators then
was to enrich Finnish language and literature. Tarkka (1970) notes that the
norms of translation for children were still strongly influenced by the
so-called suomalaisuusaate ('the Finnish language movement'). This meant
that translated children's books were largely domesticated in order to become a
part of Finnish children's literature and that there was less interest in the
meaning they had in the source culture. In practice this meant that
culture-bound elements such as titles, proper names and names of food that tied
the story to a foreign culture were either replaced by Finnish ones or with more
general terms to make them fit the Finnish target culture.
For a large part, this is the strategy used in the Finnish
translation of The Wind in the Willows. Most intralinguistic
culture-bound elements (such as titles and names), as well as extralinguistic
culture-bound elements (such as references to food and drink) have been
domesticated by replacing them either with a Finnish equivalent or with a less
specific term. In the case of names, the species names of the main characters
have been translated (Rat > Rotta, Mole
> Myyrä, etc) and the proper names of two
young field-mice, Bill and Tom (Grahame 1992:111), have been
changed into Ville and Tommi (Grahame 1966:86). Buggins's
product (1992:114) has been replaced with Niemisen valmiste 'Nieminen's
product' (1966:88) and the beer label Old Burton (1992:115) with
a generalisation, vanhaa hyvää laatua 'good old
quality' (1966:89). The exotic guava jelly (1992:286) has
understandably been changed into the more familiar ananashyytelö
'pineapple jelly' (1966:214).
There is, however, some inconsistency in the translator's
choice of a global strategy. Instead of domesticating all culture-bound
elements, she has transferred some of them into the Finnish target text
unchanged. For instance in a passage where Grahame describes Mole's house in
detail and explains that there were brackets carrying plaster statuary –
Garibaldi, and the infant Samuel and Queen Victoria, and other heroes of modern
Italy (Grahame 1992:106), the names of the historical people mentioned have
been transferred into the Finnish translation directly, and the Finnish reader
can hardly suspect that Grahame is making fun of Mole's attempts to imitate an
upper-middle class lifestyle. Thus, the term that perhaps best corresponds to
Piispanen's strategy of translating The Wind in the Willows is what
Shuttleworth (1997:36) refers to as cultural transplantation. This term,
which was originally used by Hervey and Higgins (1992), means that details of
the source text are replaced by target culture elements with the result that the
text is partially rewritten in a target culture setting. This
description applies to Kaislikossa suhisee quite well. While many
elements have been replaced by target-culture ones, other elements have been
translated directly. As a result, the Finnish text is partially, as opposed to
totally, rewritten in a Finnish setting.
The older the source text, the more problematic the
translation of culture-bound elements may become. In translating between two
cultures as diverse as Victorian Britain and postwar Finland, for instance,
there are sure to be culture-bound elements which simply cannot be brought
across from one universe of reference to the other. As stated by Chesterman
(1997:90), when translating an older source text, a translator has to make a
decision on whether to modernize or historicize the source text in the
translation. Whichever the choice, the fact that a book has been written in a
different culture a long time ago may complicate the translation process. As
regards the translation of culinary terms, for instance, the dish in question
may be one that is not commonly served anymore. Even the language changes: for
example the kind of register used by the author may have changed its
connotations or disappeared from use altogether. The older the text, the more
difficult this type of information may be for the translator to obtain, or it
may not even be available anymore.
Although many of the culture-bound elements discussed in The
Wind in the Willows were foreign or totally unheard of in postwar Finland,
there were also some, though very few, surprising similarities. In this book,
Grahame describes several new inventions of the Victorian period, such as
railways and motor cars. Although motor cars were not a new invention in postwar
Finland, they were rare. In 1949, there were only 21,000 motor cars in Finland (Haavikko
1992:150). Thus Finnish readers could perhaps easily identify with the
enthusiasm that Toad had for this invention. Similarly, Finnish readers could
probably understand the protagonists' delight in coffee, a drink of high value
in Victorian times, as in postwar Finland coffee was long a truly appreciated
luxury. So, although Victorian Britain and postwar Finland at first seem like
worlds apart, there are some similarities that may have helped the Finnish
translator to understand the original function of some culture-bound elements in
When culture-bound elements are translated, translators have
several strategies to choose from. The strategy they choose depends, among other
things, on the function of the target text, on the type of text they are
translating and on their intended readership. After choosing a global strategy,
the translator decides on his or her local translation strategies, for instance
how to translate specific culture-bound elements. The choice of both global and
local strategies, however, depends on several factors, and is not always easy
for translators to make. Social and ideological factors as well as
considerations of readership all have an effect on the strategies used by the
translators, which is why they are sometimes referred to as "forms of
explicitly textual manipulation" (Chesterman 1997:89).
When choosing the appropriate local strategy for a particular
problem, translators should first consider global strategies, such as the
relation between the source text and the translation. Should the target text aim
at the same effect as the source text? Or should it have the same function in
the target culture as other target texts of the same type? This is of interest
as regards The Wind in the Willows as a representative of a very
particular genre: a children's book with a satirical level that opens up only to
adult readers. If the book were to be translated into Finnish again today, it is
likely that the global strategy a translator would opt for would be
foreignisation (cf. the 1995 translation of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland).
First of all, there is no longer a norm requiring domestication. Secondly,
foreign cultures, including Britain, are much better known in Finland today then
they were fifty years ago. Thus there is no reason why the Britishness of The
Wind in the Willows should be neglected in a translation today. I would like
to end this paper by making a few suggestions on alternative translation
strategies for a new Finnish translation of the book.
One possibility would be to translate The Wind in the
Willows as a social satire set in a Finnish context. Although the British
class system of the Victorian period is by no means, and never has been,
comparable to the Finnish social structure, there are some features of the
Finnish social structure that could be made use of in the translation for
instance in the dialogue. The characters in the present translation mostly speak
rather formal Finnish (Hagfors 2000:44-49), but the nouveau-riche Toad, for
instance, could be a Swedish-speaking Finn and utter a word of Swedish here and
there. The Wild Wooders, on the other hand, could speak some well-known old
working-class slang, such as that of Sörkkä in Helsinki. The young hedgehogs
and field-mice could use colloquial expressions of the type: no mä niiku
In 1985, a new edition was made of the Swedish translation of
The Wind in the Willows. In this edition the original translation (Grahame
1932) was otherwise retained except for alterations of the most archaic
features, which were changed and translated with a different strategy in mind.
Perhaps the Finnish publisher could take the same line by keeping Piispanen's
excellent narrative but foreignising at least some of the culture-bound elements
in the story. A foreword providing information on both source and target texts
could also be added. A retranslation along these lines might attract adult
readers by revealing the satirical level of Grahame's book for them.
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