A History of the Novel in Mistranslation
This chapter discusses the history of translations in Arabic literature. The book begins with the first translations performed by Lebanese and Egyptian translators under the auspices of British missionary societies in Malta in the 1830s and ends in the first decade of the twentieth century with the translations of British and French sentimental and crime novels published in Cairo. Each connects the purportedly marginal enterprise of translating foreign fiction, performed by well-known and forgotten translators, to the concerns of canonical nahḍa thinkers and the literary and cultural debates in which they participated. These authors developed translation techniques and writing styles that cultivated a new mode of reading that the book calls reading in translation, which required the reader to move comparatively within and among languages and with the awareness of the diverging interpretive frameworks that animated the investments of multiple audiences. Far from being mere bad translators, these authors appear as translation theorists and informed commentators on literary history. Presenting their own work as occurring within an ongoing history of translation rather than deviating from it, these translators contend that the Arabic novel takes translation and cultural transfer as its foundation, as does the European novel. This book takes the implications of these translators' claims seriously, counterpoising them to standard accounts of the novel's supposed travels in translation.
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