Spotlight on Literary Translators is a regular feature here at Intralingo. The aim of these interviews is to get the word out about our profession and the works we bring into other languages. The insight the interviewees provide is also sure to help all of us who are aspiring or established literary translators. Enjoy!
Spotlight on Literary Translator Laura Christensen
By Lisa Carter, Intralingo Inc.
Lisa Carter: What language(s) and genres do you translate?
Laura Christensen: I translate seventeenth-to-nineteenth century French into English, currently focusing on folklore, aristocratic fairy tales and classic fantasy plays.
Lisa Carter: How did you get started as a literary translator?
Laura Christensen: I took Latin in junior high and high school. Unlike French and other modern-language courses, by the upper levels of Latin all of our homework and testing were focused entirely on how well we knew the texts and could translate them. However, it wasn’t until I returned from a year teaching English in France during the middle of pursuing a university degree that I seriously delved into translation, translation theory and practice. My experience teaching convinced me that I did not want to teach professionally, but neither did I want to give up French once I hit the job market. Combining my love of languages with my love of writing seemed like the perfect combination to me. So I took every course related to translation my university offered, and ended up being hired by my Humanities department to translate a few plays for them.
My biggest struggle was making the shift from literal translation to literary translation, where instead of translating in order to prove I knew what every word and grammar principle meant and how it functioned, I needed to translate so that ideas were captured and everything flowed well and made sense in English. I still struggle with that balance the most, but I’m getting better.
Lisa Carter: What do you love most and least about this work?
Laura Christensen: I love researching. I love hunting down region-specific or past-specific words and ideas and giving them new life and exposure. I love stories and watching them unfold again and again. I love meeting new characters and discovering their motivations, who they are and what makes them tick. I love writing and attempting to find the perfect way to express an idea or evoke the right mood or reaction.
I hate writing research papers and other forms of non-fiction, though I did force myself to tackle that great weakness in myself with my most recent fairy tale project. Unfortunately, I had not magically gotten any better at writing non-fiction since graduating, but my editor gamely poked and prodded me in all the right places and now, though I still hate writing non-fiction,I can at least say that it is possible for me to do a good job at it, haha.
Lisa Carter: Can you tell us a little about a recent project?
Laura Christensen: I recently released my first fairy tale translation e-book. It features my translation of “Persinette,” Mlle de La Force‘s precursor fairy tale to “Rapunzel.” I included background information on Mlle de La Force, her life and other works and some information on medical and other aspects of culture at the time that will answer questions such as why Persinette’s father gives her up in exchange for a fistful of parsley. I also included public domain translations of “Petrosinella” by Giambattista Basile, another precursor, and “Rapunzel” by the Brothers Grimm, along with introductions explaining a bit about their authors and how these tales came to be.
Due to my chronic illness, the project took about two years to come to fruition, but I have also been posting translations of French folktales on a semi-monthly basis at www.littletranslator.com.
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