Friday, August 31, 2007

Edward G. Seidenstricker (1921-2007)

The New York Times reports that the translator Edward G. Seidensticker has died:

Translating The Tale of Genji, as Mr. Seidensticker later described it, was a labor of love that took 10 years. At the time, the most complete English translation available was by Arthur Waley, published in the 1920s and '30s. Though respected, Waley's translation was lushly Victorian, and it fell to Mr. Seidensticker to produce something sparer. Here is Waley's version of the tale's opening line:

"At the Court of an Emperor (he lived it matters not when) there was among the many gentlewomen of the Wardrobe and Chamber one, who though she was not of very high rank was favored far beyond all the rest."

Here is Mr. Seidensticker's, short and sweet:

"In a certain reign there was a lady not of the first rank whom the emperor loved more than any of the others."
Sweet? Not really. Clear? Sharp? Yes.
Edward Seidensticker, Translator, Is Dead at 86 (New York Times

comments: 4

Anonymous said...

What about the Royall Tyler translation, which is much more recent than the Seidensticker. I consider it the best; it sticks to Heian aesthetic and naming conventions even more faithfully than the Seidensticker. But all three are worthy; the Waley made me fall in love with Japanese literature over 30 years ago, just prior to the Seidensticker version being published.

Anonymous said...

Back in grad school I read Seidensticker's translation and commentary on Sei Shonagon's Pillow Book while studying the difference between high Medieval courtliness and the lush aesthetics of the Heian period. I thought and still think that that translation and commentary (two volumes - one for the book itself and the other for copious explanatory notes) were superb. I never enjoyed a work of literary scholarship more.

Michael Leddy said...

Thanks for the comments, Tengu and Norman. I have a feeling that The Tale of Genji is in my future. (After Proust, anything's possible!)

Genevieve Netz said...

Translating is an art that you can't really begin to appreciate until you've tried to master a few languages beyond your native tongue.