Tiina Nunnally on translating Sigrid Undset's debut novel


Marta Oulie: A Novel of Betrayal[excerpt]

As with my translation of Kristin Lavransdatter, I viewed my work on Jenny as a “restoration project.” The previous English translation (from 1921) failed to capture the clarity or beauty of the author’s style, and some passages had been censored, perhaps considered too overtly sexual for the reading public at the time. My goal as a translator was to bring the novel back to life in English—to regain the enthusiasm of those readers who had been disappointed by the clumsy wording and flat tone of the earlier translation, and to attract a whole new group of readers to Undset’s work.

With Marta Oulie, my concerns were a little different. First, it was Sigrid Undset’s debut novel, and I’ve always been fascinated to see how the early works of great authors can reveal the glimmerings of future genius. So I wanted the novel to have as strong an impact in English as it does in Norwegian. Second, no one had ever seen this book in English before, so I felt an even greater responsibility to convey as accurately as possible the spare style and emotional force of the original.

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