Archives and Texts: seminar with Dr Alison Martin on ‘Translating Nature’

Dr Alison Martin (Modern Languages and European Studies, Reading)

Translating Nature: Helen Maria Williams and Alexander von Humboldt’s Voyage aux régions équinoxiales du nouveau continent 

Monday 11th March, 5pm in Humss 124, Whiteknights Campus

Helen Maria Williams’ English translation (1814-29) of Alexander von Humboldt’s Relation historique (1814-25) remains beleaguered by accusations made in the nineteenth century that it drew on ‘flowery French expressions’ and enthused excessively, while the language of Humboldt’s source text was flat, scientific and modern.


This lecture offers a re-evaluation of Williams’s translation on three levels. Firstly, I examine how far it departed from the source text in its stylistic choices and use of language and what kind of effect this had on the target text as a whole. I then explore the extent to which the Personal Narrative could be seen as a continuation of Williams’s own creative literary oeuvre, and analyse stylistic parallels with her previous writing and literary translations. Drawing on recent discussions in translation studies of the translator as ‘animator’ of the original text, this paper asks where Williams’s ‘voice’ can be heard in the Personal Narrative. Finally, I offer a detailed analysis of hitherto overlooked archive material containing Humboldt’s corrections of parts of Williams’s manuscript, which illustrates the extent to which this translation was indeed a collaborative undertaking.

                                                                    All welcome!

For further information, contact Dr Nicola Wilson and Dr Sophie Heywood and

About Cindy

Associate Professor in the Department of English Literature at the University of Reading. Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy.
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