An Exploration of the Language of Raymond Chandler and its Translation into Dutch
Master’s Thesis Translation Studies
University of Utrecht
Supervisors: Dr. C. Koster
Dr. O. R. Kosters Christine Valk
I would like to express some words of gratitude to my family, especially to my husband, who had to put up with me during the writing of this thesis, and my children who, as regularly as clockwork, informed after my progress and whose main concern seemed to be whether I was able to resume my maternal duties. I want to thank my friends for providing me with the necessary victuals when the bottom of my larder became visible and for providing me with the necessary distraction, even if I did not realize that I needed it. I extend my most sincere thanks to my second daughter, without whom I would never have been able to make an intelligible layout. Last but not least I would like to express my gratitude to Dr. C. Koster and Dr. O. Kosters for helping me dot the i’s and cross the t’s.
1. An Apology 7
1.2. Literary Values 8
2. The History of the Detective Story – An Overview 12
2.1. Ancient Times 12
2.2. On the Origin of the Species 13
2.3. The American Way of Life 14
2.4. Modern Times 16
3. Raymond Chandler – A Biography 17
3.1. The Early Years 17
3.2. English Education 18
3.3. A New Country and New Possibilities 19
3.4. Pulp Fiction Writer 21
3.5. The Days of Wine and Roses 22
3.6. The Last Years 24
4. The Little Sister 25
4.1. Summary 25
4.2. Translators 27
5. Analysis 28
5.1. Preliminary analysis 28
5.2. Chandler’s Style 31
5.3. Proper Nouns 39
5.4. By Any Given or Taken Name 43
5.5. Imagery 45
5.6. Culture-Specific Problems 51
6. Translations 56
6.1. Foreignization and Domestication 56
6.2. Proper Nouns 58
6.3. Style 59
6.4. Similes 60
6.4. Translation Comparison 63
7. Conclusion 79
I have always been interested in crime. Perhaps that is why I like reading detective stories, though I used to feel a bit ashamed to admit it. However, it was not until I read Jerry Palmer’s essay Thrillers: The Deviant behind the Consensus during a course in criminology at Nijmegen University that I realized I was not the only one to like them. Indeed, readers and writers rank from tinkers to tailors, from soldiers to sailors. According to Julian Symons, Abraham Lincoln and Joseph Stalin both admired Poe’s work, Stanley Baldwin enjoyed Anna Katherine Green’s The Leavenworth Case and Sigmund Freud is said to have liked the work of Dorothy Sayers (Bloody Murder, 12).
In 1959 the British Detection Club held a competition called Only For Dons. Its main purpose was to encourage new talents to write detective stories. The competition was restricted to dons only because it was feared that otherwise the amount of contributions would be too large. Apart from Agatha Christie, the jury consisted of crime novelist and reviewer of crime literature Julian Symons and Nicholas Blake, which was the pseudonym of Cecil Day-Lewis, an Oxford professor of poetry who was appointed Poet Laureate in 1968. In the Netherlands too, several university professors have moonlighted or still moonlight as detective writers. The best known are Helene Nolthenius and René Appel.
This having said, it may not come as a surprise that I would like to write my thesis on a subject related to detective novels. I have more closely looked into a novel by Raymond Chandler. Not only is he renowned for his mastery of the American language but also for his style, literary techniques, imagery, poetry and his awareness of sentence structure and syntax. I have chosen his novel The Little Sister1, not because it is one of his best novels – it is not – but because there are two Dutch translations available. The first translation is by the Dutch detective novelist Havank and the second is by the journalist Henja Schneider. Because detective novels are immensely popular, publishers are not likely to spend much money on their translations – they will sell anyhow. Therefore, translations come, more often than not, at the bottom of the publisher’s list. However, translation is an art in itself. In the light of this view, it would be interesting to see how both translators dealt with Chandler’s masterful language and vivid style.
The first chapter is an apology of the genre – I still feel the need to defend myself. The second chapter consists of a brief overview of the history of the detective novel in order to give Chandler’s novels a place in time and history. The third chapter contains a short biography of Raymond Chandler, which provides some background information on the world he lived in and sheds some light on his development as a writer. In the fourth chapter a summary of Chandler’s novel The Little Sister is given. The fifth chapter consists of an analysis of possible translation problems in this book. Translation theories and scientific views on possible translation problems are taken into account. The sixth chapter consists of a study of the way the translators dealt with the problems previously established.
1. An Apology
Detective novels2 have always been popular. When London was under siege during the Second World War and people had to seek refuge in air-raid shelters, curious Americans wanted to know what kind of books could comfort the English in such horrible times. The forthcoming answer was that the only books people wanted to borrow from the ‘raid’ libraries were detective novels and detective novels only.
Contrary to the popularity of the genre, for a very long time detective novels and detective writers alike have been considered second-rate literature and second-rate writers. This was not without a reason: already in 1931 Henry Douglas Thomson stated that “the detective story is not popular because it is badly written, but badly written because it is popular.” It was the popularity of the genre that Raymond Chandler led to remark in his famous essay The Simple Art of Murder that “The average detective story is probably no worse than the average novel, but you never see the average novel. It doesn’t get published. The average – or only slightly above average – detective novel does” (3-4). The most vehement antagonist of the genre was the literary critic and writer Edmund Wilson, whose contempt still reverberates even through these days. In the 1940s he said in his column Books for The New Yorker that “with so many fine books to be read […] there is no need to bore ourselves with this rubbish.” After being challenged by his readers to actually read detective stories he struggled through a great many books, recommended by the readers and he passed a very severe judgement on contemporary detective writers like Rex Stout, Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers and Dashiell Hammett. Rather inconsistently, he added that the only one detective writer who had the gift of story telling was Raymond Chandler.
However, neither he nor anyone else has come up with generally accepted criteria that make the difference between literary art and pastime reading. The problem is that detective stories are bound by conventions. The plot is the most important ingredient of a detective story. Hence, generally speaking, the characterization in a detective story is rather poor. Only the detective is characterized in full detail. The other characters just serve as a means to provide the detective with a job. They act as victims, suspects and witnesses, give local colour to the story and supply the reader with the necessary red herrings.