Aphra Behn: Cultural Translator and Editorial Intermediary

Jocelyn Hargrave

Abstract


The complex production of translation and editorial intermediation is a timeless, often contentious issue. In the seventeenth century, Abraham Cowley and John Dryden dominated a debate that centred on fidelity to authorial copy. The widowed, self-supporting Aphra Behn, who translated from French in the late seventeenth century to earn an income, acknowledged this debate and indicated her preference for Dryden’s translation practice of latitude in her epistolary dedication in the preliminary matter of Agnes de Castro: or, The Force of Generous Love (1688), which was originally written by Jean-Baptiste de Brilhac and entitled Agnès de Castro, Nouvelle Portugaise (1688). Behn wrote: ‘’Twas a Lady that writ the Original, and, I hope, I have not taken off from the Lustre of her admirable Piece by putting it into our Language’. Behn’s latitude respected authorial intention but adapted the text when literal translation proved difficult.

This paper dips below the discursive surface to provide a new way of analysing Behn’s work. Comparing de Brilhac’s original with Behn’s translation reveals the latter’s editorial intermediation. Behn used stagecraft techniques to create the narrative scene, paratextual asides to establish her authorial voice and editorial intermediation, and editorial techniques such as italicisation and capitalisation to further this intermediation and transmit meaning. Admittedly, Behn’s practice often deviated from theory; nevertheless, such analysis reveals her editorial humanity.


Keywords


Editing; Women's writing; Publishing

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