Illustrations by Hugh Thomson and reprinted in the 2014 Spanish Translation of Emma.

Where Literature Meets Art

I still remember the first time I picked up a Jane Austen novel and fell in love with the world she weaved. My love for Austen’s words and stories started over a decade ago and has continued to burn as a flame of passion ever since. This passion has led me to this very spot, this small corner of the internet, where I get to share with you a new perspective on Austen that has forever shifted my view of literature.

If you are new to Jane Austen, you may know her work through her 1813 novel Pride and Prejudice, movies such as the 2020 film Emma starring Anya Taylor-Joy, or the 1995 film Clueless, loosely based off of Austen’s 1815 novel, Emma. Jane Austen’s legacy has far surpassed the six years in which her iconic novels were first published and one thing (out of many) that makes Austen truly special is her way of touching the hearts of readers across the world. I wonder if she ever expected her novels to reach the hands of readers across Europe, Asia, and the Americas. Whether she knew it or not, the legacy of her writing lives on around the world over 200 years later and has blossomed through the passion of her readers and the art of translation.

While literature is often seen through the lens of academia, I set out on the journey of this exhibition to find instead where literature meets art, where a writer becomes a painter of language, and where the visual humanities meet the written word. Inspired by Goucher College’s merging of its Visual and Material Culture and Literary Studies departments and my time interning at Jane Austen’s House in Chawton, England, I knew stepping into this exhibition that I was stepping into a playground of new territory for myself and most likely for my viewers. You see, while this exhibition is called “Emma and the Art of Translation,” I am not a literary translation scholar, nor am I fluent in any language other than my native English. What I am is an individual who can’t stop dreaming about how every element of a literary translation such as the author’s text, the translator’s choices, the cover art, and a reader’s imagination, all come together like different shades of pigment on a canvas. They create a unique work of art, never experienced before in our history. Working at Jane Austen’s House showed me what was possible when we are invited to bring a work of literature to life and immerse ourselves in a lived experience of a text rather than just ink on a piece of paper. This exhibition explores the art that is formed when a work of literature is translated from one language to the next and I want to invite you to leave behind (for just a moment) the world of academia to experience literature through your different senses and its different shades.

Austen and Translation

While literary translation has been in practice for centuries, there are many factors that play a role in translating a novel from one language to the next. Austen’s novels possess a unique set of challenges for translators who must strive to translate Regency era English prose into a text that speaks to both a different culture, new demographic, and modern language.1 While some critics highlight the flaws in Austen translations and claim that they distort both the text and story, others come to the defense of literary translation and its place in Austen’s legacy. Cinthia García Soria, a translator who writes about Austen’s legacy in the Spanish-speaking world, puts it beautifully when she states, “Inevitably, something is always lost in translation. The perfect translation is a chimera, an impossible dream. Determining the best translation, therefore, depends on the purpose of the translation and its target reader.”2 I believe we as readers have a powerful choice when picking up a translation. We can either expect it to be an exact translation of the novel, which is a fictional fantasy in itself, or we can become a part of the art, a member of the creation. Every book needs a reader, and we have the pleasure of not only reading Austen’s original prose, but we also get to experience her stories when they bridge the gap between culture, time, and language itself.

Why Emma? Why in Spanish?

Emma by Jane Austen. Edited by Juliette Wells. Published by Penguin Classics in the year 2015.

This layer of the exhibition holds a special place within my heart. Emma is not only at the center of Goucher College Library’s 2015 exhibition “Emma in America,” and Goucher College’s 2023 student exhibition “Emma Across Media,” but it is also one of my own favorite Austen novels. I believe Emma speaks directly to the young adult finding their way through this world and the expectations they place on it. Emma Woodhouse, a 21-year-old woman with a love for matchmaking, must learn throughout the story that it is not her place to mold and control the lives of those around her. It is the moment when she turns inward and focuses on her own life and happiness that captured my heart as a reader and will forever make this my favorite novel.

Additionally, I grew up around a rainbow of languages, from being spoken to in Russian and Ukrainian to learning early French in grade school and later Latin in high school. During that time, I fell in love with how different each language is, how each language wraps you in its own experience. I still find that I am at home when surrounded by the Russian language, which is just a small example of the power our verbal communication holds to create a sensory experience and feeling. I knew I wanted to tailor the translations in this exhibition to my Goucher College audience and pick a language that we study here in this beautiful school. Spanish, being the language I studied during my time at Goucher, felt like the natural progression of this exhibition’s plan and led me to create an exhibition with a process rooted in shared community experience and collaboration.

Into the Rabbit Hole

As you explore this exhibition, my hope is that you will find a new layer of Jane Austen and the magic that her words weave. Whether this be your first introduction to her work or just a moment in your ever growing Austen journey, it is the art created by the collaboration of Austen’s words and each individual translator’s creativity that births an appreciation for Austen across cultures and languages. The root of literature is found within the foundation of a language. Language becomes the medium in which a writer paints their story. So what happens when that language switches from 19th-century British English to 20th-century Spanish? This exhibition takes you through a sensory experience of Austen and deeper into the web of this very question. By displaying three of Austen’s Spanish translations in three different ways, we get to peel back the layers of literary experience and look closely at what makes literature and the reading experience so special. First we will pause on the visual cover art of each work, then the written first sentence of this novel, and lastly step into an audio experience of the first chapter. I invite you to take a moment and explore the back story of these works on display and the translators who made them possible by clicking into the “Spanish Translations” page below. If you are ready to dive directly into the rabbit hole, the three part sensory experience of this novel, then I invite you to click into the “Cover Art” page below.

Exhibition curated by Lilia Gestson (Goucher College Class of ’23)

Lilia Gestson, a Goucher College student and graduate of the class of 2023, came to Goucher College to study Jane Austen. After graduating high school in 2015 and experiencing Goucher College Library’s “Emma in America” exhibition, Goucher had always been on Lilia’s horizon. After graduating in 2019 with an Associate’s Degree in Art from Montgomery College and working at the Hirshhorn Smithsonian Museum as a museum educator, Lilia finally made the decision to pursue her Bachelor’s Degree in Literature at Goucher College. During her time here, she has focused her literary concentration on Jane Austen scholarship and Collections Management, working closely with Jane Austen Scholar, Juliette Wells, working in Goucher College Library’s Special Collections & Archives, and interning at Jane Austen’s House in Chawton, England. Her passion for literature lies at the crossroads where literature and art meet and unite to change our perspectives on the world around us.

Referenced Resources:

  1. Dow, Gillian. “Translations.” The Cambridge Companion to ‘Emma,’ edited by Peter Sabor, Cambridge University Press, 2015, pp. 166-185. ↩︎
  2. García Soria, Cinthia. “Judgement and Feelings: Sense and Sensibility‘s Journey to the Spanish-Speaking World.” Persuasions, vol. 43, no. 1, 2022. ↩︎

Explore more about Emma in Goucher College’s Jane Austen Collection and Emma themed exhibitions below.

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