Really splendid profile (by Claire Armitstead) of the translator Anthea Bell appeared in Guardian Review…
Highhly Recommended for alll, but will be specially interesting to anyone who attended the Found In Translation event last week:
She was an early adopter of the internet, which she discovered when she was hunting down an obscure reference to a 19th-century German poem singing the praises of the joys of hiking in Westphalia. “All I had was the poet’s name and a few lines of the poem. I typed it in and the whole poem came up.” It was a eureka moment. While many of her peers were sceptical, she became an early convert, embracing a technology that she realised would transform the translator’s work.
Along with the technological change has come a new politics, with heated debate among translators as to how prominent the fact of translation should be. Though Bell is the doyenne of them all – with a raft of international awards alongside her homegrown OBE – she describes herself as “an unrepentant, unreconstructed adherent of the school of invisible translation”.
Flugge points out a paradox: her limpid translation style has meant that her work travels, and her visibility in terms of international awards has been part of her service to literature. She has won the US’s prestigious Mildred L Batchelder award for children’s books in translation four times, and has been cited more often than anyone else, which has helped to establish a trans-Atlantic market for European children’s books. She was, for instance, the translator of Cornelia Funke’s Inkheart series, a German young adult fantasy trilogy which reached number two in the New York Times bestseller list.
“Anthea has a talent that not every translator has for catching the mood of a book. Some are a bit more wooden and some try to take too many liberties. She has a knack of hitting the right style and atmosphere,” says Flugge.
Bell herself laid out her position at a translation conference in 2004: “All my professional life, I have felt that translators are in the business of spinning an illusion: the illusion is that the reader is reading not a translation but the real thing.” Nine years on, she still insists that “a translation is successful if it’s invisible” – though that is not to detract from the creativity of a relationship that emerges clearly from her Asterix notes.