Friday, May 2, 2014

Stories By Great Danes Are Not Dogs

by Stephen J. Gertz

The literature of mid-nineteenth century Denmark is the subject this anthology of tales and verse selected and translated by Mrs. Anne Bushby (b. ? - d. 1875). 

“Most of the following stories have appeared, from time to time, in the ‘New Monthly Magazine,’ and a few in other periodicals. They are now gathered together, and it is hoped that they may convey a favourable impression of the lighter literature of Denmark, a country rich in genius, science, and art” (Prefatory note).

Included are stories and poems by Hans Christian Andersen (“Morten Lange. A Christmas Story” and “The Man from Paradise. A Comic Tale”); Carl Bernhard aka A.N. Saint-Aubain (“Cousin Carl,” “Aunt Francisca,” “Damon and Pythas,” and “The Bankrupt”); novelist and poet Bernard Severin Ingemann (“The Doomed House,” “The Secret Witness,” “All Souls’ Day,” “The Aged Rabbi. A Jewish Tale,” and “The Death Ship”); Carit Etlar (“Too Old,” “The Shipwrecked Mariner’s Treasure,” and “Twice Sacrificed”); poet Hans Peter Holst (“Lisette’s Castles in the Air”), poet and playwright Adam Oehlenschlager (“Death and His Victims”), and others.

The translations were not universally admired; Mrs. Bushby took liberties; hers is not a literal translation. Yet she understood what the authors meant and captured the underlying sense of their work.

"Mrs Bushby is in many ways an interesting translator, who did not see Andersen as simply a children's writer, and that some of her divergences from Andersen's text are not mistakes but deliberate adaptations for the benefit of her audience in Victorian Britain...Mrs Anne S. Bushby  knew Andersen personally, had indeed courted his acquaintance since his first visit to London in 1847, when her husband called upon him to invite him to dinner.

"At that time Andersen's English translator was Charles Beckwith Lohmeyer, but his English publisher, Richard Bentley, apparently encountered difficulties with him, and in a letter to Andersen dated 18 January 1853 suggested Mrs Anne Bushby instead, referring to her as 'a friend of yours, I believe.' How Mrs Bushby came to know Danish we do not know. However, it is remarkable that unlike most of Andersen's other translators from the same period, she seems to have translated mainly poetry, and of prose only Danish…

"...Mrs Bushby was not a professional translator, but that her work was indeed a labour of love. It is equally clear from examining the stories she chose that she was not aiming at the children's market, where stories like 'The Old Bachelor's Nightcap' have never belonged. Nor are her two volumes of tales (A Poet's Day Dreams (1853) and The Sand-hills of Jutland (I860) illustrated or in other ways made appealing to the young. Indeed it would seem that she saw it as her job to supplement the earlier translations, translating new work by Andersen rather than bringing out established successes in yet another version. This was undoubtedly also the attitude of her publisher, Bentley, who at one point complained to Andersen that competition was becoming so fierce and pirating so rife that only new work which could be published and sold before competitors could pirate it was reasonably sure of earning a profit... In the end, Bentley gave up publishing Andersen altogether" (Viggo Hjørnager Pedersen, Anne Bushby, Translator of Hans Christian Andersen, Gothenberg University, 2004).

Andersen's The Man From Paradise could not be more different than the children's stories that earned him fame. A widow, recently remarried, is depressed, thinking about her first husband in the great beyond while the second is away. Suddenly, she hears a knock on the door and presumes a ghost "or corpse-like form" will appear. It is, instead, a young man.

Upon questioning him she learns that he is on his way to Paris.  Unfortunately, she hears it as "Paradise," and asks him to give her love and that of their daughter to her late husband, as well as "his successor's compliments."

The young man, an itinerant con man, plays along, claiming to have met her husband in Paradise, who, according to him, is currently in bad shape and in need of all she can provide to him.

The widow loads the knave up with food and clothing and sends him on his way. Enter husband number two, who upon hearing his wife's tale "smelled a rat" and took off on horseback after him, not admitting his suspicions to his wife.

He catches up to the thief but is bamboozled into believing that the real bandit just passed by on foot a moment ago. Leaving his horse in trust with the stranger, the man takes off into the forest after the knave, who, as expected, mounts the horse and rides off, his laughter trailing behind him.

The duped and embarrassed husband schleps back home.

"'Well, did you find him?' asked his smiling wife.
He answered, in a tone subdued, 'My life,
I did. I found him, and--and--for your sake,
Our best, our swiftest horse I let him take,
That he with greater speed might find his way.'
The dame smiled on him, and in accents gay
Exclaimed, 'O best of husbands! who could find
Your equal--one so thoughtful, wise, and kind!'"

The similarity to a typical Raymond Carver short story is manifest in the tacit ending wherein the defeated husband collapses into the Lazy-Boy in the rec room of their seedy-side of the San Fernando Valley house-wreck in foreclosure, pours himself a tall whiskey, drains it, and proceeds to empty the .38 kept on the coffee table as a conversation piece, shot by shot, into the ceiling, a wall, the big-screen TV, a window, his framed high school diploma, the widow, and himself: what we talk about when we talk about love.

[BUSHBY, Mrs. Anne, editor and translator]. The Danes Sketched by Themselves. A Series of Popular Stories by the Best Danish Authors. Translated by Mrs. Bushby. In Three Volumes. London: Richard Bentley, 1864.

First edition. Three octavo volumes (7 7/8 x 4 15/16 inches; 200 x 125 mm.). [2, publisher’s advertisements], [6], 312; [4], 303, [1, blank]; [4], 303, [1, blank] pp.

Original terra cotta pebble-grain cloth with covers decoratively stamped in blind and spines ruled, decoratively stamped, and lettered in gilt. Original cream-colored endpapers.

Not in Sadleir or Wolff.

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