The Lost Translator's Copy: David Hawkes' Construction of a Base Text in Translating Hongloumeng

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    Textual criticism has traditionally not been regarded as part of the role of a literary translator. In the field of translation studies, there is surprisingly no entry of “Textual Criticism” in the two editions of Routledge Encyclopedia of Translation Studies (Mona Baker et al., 1998, 2009). Instead, the term “text linguistics” appears in works of Gideon Toury (Descriptive Translation Studies and Beyond, 1995), Lawrence Venuti (The Scandals of Translation: Towards an Ethics of Difference, 1998), and Jeremy Munday (Introducing Translation Studies: Theories and Applications, 2001). But “text linguistics” is more like a linguistic term, while “textual criticism” focuses more on the philological and bibliographical nature of the text being discussed. In fact, in the case of literary translation, it is probably true to say that textual criticism has been seen as someone else’s job, and has therefore been sidelined, overlooked, or even neglected. Translators themselves have been generally regarded as less creative than, or as mere handmaidens to, the great authors. Much work needs to be done to highlight the creativity and contribution of translators in the literary world. In this article, which analyzes the construction of a base text by David Hawkes (1923–2009) in translating the eighteenth century Chinese novel Hongloumeng (红楼梦, sometimes known as The Red Chamber Dream), I wish to challenge the sidelining of textual criticism in translation, and I wish to argue for the centrality of textual criticism as a key element in producing sensitive, high quality literary translation. The term “base text” is used here to indicate the source text, which was translated into English by David Hawkes. In textual criticism, normally the two terms “base text” and “copy text” are to a large extent exchangeable. But here I want to emphasize their difference, for we know that the “copy text” David Hawkes used for collating other Chinese versions, namely the 1964 Renmin Wenxue Chubanshe (人民文学出版社, People’s Literature Press, RMWX for short) edition, is not exactly the same “base text” his translation was based on. The base text has not necessarily ever been written out in Chinese, but as our analysis will show, it is totally different from any of the previous existent editions. To support my main argument, I draw upon my own experience in editing the bilingual edition of this novel published by Shanghai Foreign Language Education Press (SFLEP) in 2012. At the same time, I wish to argue that the understanding and construction of a base text is crucial to literary translation. The English translation of Hongloumeng by David Hawkes and John Minford is widely regarded as a classic in the history of the translation of Chinese literature into English. Hawkes translated the first eighty chapters into three volumes while Minford translated the last forty chapters into volumes 4 and 5. The bilingual edition of this noveland the process threw fresh light on David Hawkes’ construction of his base text in the first eighty chapters. This makes his version different from any previous edition of the novel, whether manuscript or printed.2 The aim in collating the bilingual edition was to “provide an authentic Chinese–English bilingual edition which truthfully reflects what Hawkes added, deleted, or altered,” so as to “match the Chinese text faithfully with the English text,”3 or to recreate what I am calling “the lost translator’s copy.” Some critics have not paid enough attention to the specific editions Hawkes was using when commenting on his translation and, as a result, drew insufficiently documented or sometimes incorrect conclusions. As Thomas Tanselle has written, “Textual criticism is therefore basic to the critical analysis of literature (and similar arts) in a different sense from the one frequently claimed. It is often said that textual criticism is a fundamental branch of scholarship because the textual critic must provide an accurate text before the literary critic can profitably begin to analyze it. But any text that a textual critic produces is itself the product of literary criticism, reflecting a particular aesthetic position and thus a particular approach to what textual ‘correctness’ consists of.” This article traces the ways in which the primary translator of Hongloumeng, David Hawkes, constructed his base text before commencing the actual translation, and seeks to offer explanations for the reasons behind his editorial decisions. In the following sections, I will discuss the specific textual problems associated with this novel and the necessity of collating a critical edition. I will also analyze the two different textual modes adopted by two groups of translators and then move on to talk about the importance attached by Hawkes to readability and consistency. I will point to the omissions and emendations he made to his working text. My fundamental argument is that Hawkes was at the same time a scholarly translator and a literary editor. It was indeed in this dual capacity that he produced his classic translation of The Story of Stone.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)37-64
    JournalTranslation Review
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - 2018


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