|York University - Glendon|
|GRADUATE PROGRAM IN TRANSLATION|
The vast majority, by far, of literature in translation studies concerns itself with the transference of material between the major European languages. There has been a great paucity of research dealing with examples of translation between these and one of the "minor languages", such as Yiddish. I was therefore highly interested by such an instance when I came across it.
I set out to investigate and write about a translation of Victor Hugo's Les Misérables into Yiddish that I had found in the earliest editions of the New York socialist daily newspaper, the Forverts. But I soon discovered that this piece of work was the second in line, a development from an earlier translation of the novel — separated from it by a decade and an ocean - emanating from the pen of the same man, Morris Winchevsky.
To get a clearer picture of the New York translation, I wanted to compare its style of language and its presentation with those of the earlier version - to understand the "original" (so to speak) that lay behind it and from which it had evolved.
But as I became cognizant of the much more scholarly style of the first, or London, version and questioned myself on the possible motivation for so great a devotion of time and effort to transposing this major novel of Western European social consciousness, replete with its background of a rich French cultural and literary heritage, into the minor language of a people on the fringe of European society, I realized that much more was in play than a translation (or even two translations) of a novel for the entertainment of a readership not familiar with the alphabet of the original text or conversant with the language in which it had been written. A whole programme for the development of Yiddish as a universally respected literary language (a world language within the socialist context) and a concomitant heightened self-esteem for its speakers, lay behind and surrounded the production and publication of the feuilleton (and the production of the organ in which it first appeared) in the mind of one man - its translator and the newspaper's guiding hand, Morris Winchevsky.
For this reason I felt it impossible to separate the man from his work and incumbent on me to gain an understanding of the translator from a personal point of view - an understanding of his background and early surroundings, his education and literary experimentation in several languages, and only gradual commitment to writing in Yiddish –, of the history of his activities and evolution within the socialist movement and the interplay of historical events with that evolution, of the various influences that helped mark his literary progress too, from study of the Talmud to reading and writing within the Hebrew Enlightenment (the Haskalah) and from there to a universal socialism in Yiddish.
And so I came at last to devote over a third of the pages in this thesis to an historical-biographical section on Morris Winchevsky's life and times, before proceeding to an examination of his translations of Les Misérables. In the process I have written the first biography in English of a significant portion of the translator's life, which I hope will be of interest to future readers. I hope too, that the reader will find my work as a whole, even if, strictly speaking, it surpasses the limits of a study on translation as such, nonetheless a readable and satisfying account of an instance and time when Yiddish strove to find its place as a world language and literature.