Saturday, July 5, 2008

Some Jeremias Gotthelf specs

Albert Bitzius was a Swiss clergyman who wrote didactic fiction under the name of Jeremias Gotthelf. Several films have been based on his work (all in German).

His most well-known story is Die Schwarze Spinne (The Black Spider -- on which see the posts by AR and WS). About this scary tale Thomas Mann said, "And so I read Jeremias Gotthelf, whose Schwarze Spinne I admire almost more than anything else in world literature" (p. 63 of Mann's The Story of a Novel, trans. Richard and Clara Winston (NY: Knopf, 1961) published in German in 1949).

This novella wasn't even published in English until 1957. According to the translator, H. M. Waidson, several other works by Gotthelf were translated into English in the 19th Century, including the novels Geld und Geist and Uli der Knecht. Interestingly, Der Besenbinder von Rychiswyl , an 1852 short story, was translated as The Broom Merchant by John Ruskin in serial form in 1873-6; this story was more recently translated by Robert Godwin-Jones for his 19th-Century German fiction site (hat-tip to Will for that source).

Ruskin didn't know German well enough and so translated from a French version of Gotthelf's tale. It's surprising, then, that (as Waidson reports) Ruskin revised Julia Firth's English translation of Uli der Knecht, as well as adding notes to it (this version was re-issued in 1907 as vol. 228 in Everyman's Library).

Ruskin prefaced his Broom Merchant translation with a brief bio of Gotthelf, in which he called Gotthelf "the wisest man, taking him for all in all, with whose writings I am acquainted" (quoting from p. 229 of Waidson's article). Waidson qualifies Ruskin's approbation as 'patronizing', for Ruskin regarded Gotthelf's works as vehicles of simple moral truths (what we might now call homespun or cracker-barrel wisdom).

I have posted a review of Black Spider.

1 comment:

Will said...

Thanks for the background.

Today I'll work on uncovering what sections were cut from Mary Hottinger's translation. (Yes, this is type of thing I routinely do on US holiday weekends.)