Our first commissioned translation was Giovanni Verga’s masterpiece I Malavoglia, translated by Judith Landry under the title of The House by the Medlar Tree in 1985. It is the kind of book I find irresistible, like the novels of Dickens, which appeal both to the heart and to the mind. Novels which fit into this category in the Dedalus list include Sylvie Germain’s fantastical The Book of Nights, translated from French by Christine Donougher, Yuri Buida’s The Zero Train, translated from Russian by Oliver Ready and two Italian novels translated by Judith Landry: Diego Marani’s New Finnish Grammar and Antonio Pennacchi’s The Mussolini Canal.
DEDALUS EUROPEAN CLASSICS/DECADENCE FROM DEDALUS
In 1986 Robert Irwin suggested we do classics with bizarre, grotesque and fantastic subject matter. The inspiration was the French literary fantasy of the 19th c, especially The Saragossa Manuscript of Jan Potocki. This led to a line of books which included The Golem by Gustav Meyrink, La-Bas by Huysmans, Torture Garden by Octave Mirbeau, Lucio’s Confession by Mario de Sa-Carneiro, The Dark Domain by Stefan Grabinski, The Other Side by Alfred Kubin and The Maimed by Herman Ungar. Almost counter-culture classics and when we first published them they were considered to be on the margins of literary culture. One of the things we have tried to do with our classic series is to produce the whole oeuvre of a writer so that books which are referred to in reference books are available to read and readers can form their own judgement on an author. So there are for instance 6 books in translation of Gustav Meyrink, 5 by Octave Mirbeau and 6 by J.K. Huysmans.
Gustav Meyrink’s novels are also very much occult titles. My favourite is The Angel of the West Window, which is the first title Mike Mitchell translated for Dedalus in 1991, which combines John Dee and Elizabethan England with Prague, and a twentieth-century story in a spine-chilling narrative. It won the Occult Book of the Year Award. Of the Huysmans title, translated for Dedalus by the Huysmans-scholar Brendan King, La-Bas with its black mass and satanism and Parisian Sketches, a collection of essays about Paris before Baron Haussman changed it forever, stand out. The anarchist French novelist, Octave Mirbeau’s Torture Garden still seems shocking over 100 years later, while the sheer misery of his auto-biographical trilogy – Le Calvaire, Abbe Jules and Sebastien Roch – about growing-up and coming-of age in France puts most people’s unhappy upbringing in the shade.
Mario de Sa-Carneiro is a very interesting writer who committed suicide when he was 26, a poet and friend of Pessoa he left behind a small jewel in Lucio’s Confession, translated for us by Margaret Jull Costa. It is an enigmatic love triangle riddled with madness and jealous, set in fin-de siecle Paris and Lisbon which still seems innovative today. Stefan Grabinski, often called the Polish Poe, is one of the great masters of short-story writing. It is not that he is not well-known in England but he is also relatively unknown in his native Poland. After China Mieville has championed Grabinski’s work in a long piece in The Guardian his stock has risen. Mieville says of Grabinski:’ here is a writer for whom supernatural horror is manifest precisely in modernity – in electricity, fire-stations, trains; the uncanny as the bad conscience of today.’ The Dark Domain collection was translated by Miroslaw Lipinski.
In this vein is Alfred Kubin’s gothic macabre fantasy, The Other Side, translated from German by Mike Mitchell. Kubin was the illustrator of Poe, Meyrink and Kafka and this his only literary work, published in 1908 with his own illustrations, shows that he had little to learn from his contemporaries as a novelist. The Other Side is one of the most popular classic titles Dedalus has published.
Not all Dedalus classic titles fit into into this distorted reality/literary fantasy category and Dedalus’s most praised classic title is The Maias by Eca de Queiroz, in Margaret Jull Costa’s flawless prize-winning translation. One of the greatest of the great, from the golden age of the novel, Dedalus has published nine books by Eca de Queiroz which in 2017 will become ten, when Margaret Jull Costa completes our project with a new translation of The Illustrious House of Ramires. My favourite Eca title is The Tragedy of the Street of Flowers, which was not published in Eca de Queiroz’s lifetime and with its theme of incest and social satire, is a precursor of The Maias.
Another star is the European Classic list is the first German best-selling novel Simplicissimus by Johann Grimmelshausen, published in the 1670s, which is a compelling read on The Thirty Years War. Some of the characters, such as Courage and Tearaway gets their own book as Grimmelshausen wrote a number of spin-offs.
Herman Bang’s impressionist novels, Ida Brandt and As Trains Pass By (Katinka) have tragic heroines who deserved better from life.These Danish ‘outsider’ novels certainly leave their mark on the reader’s imagination that one wonders why Herman Bang is so little known. We have published three works of fiction by the Symbolist poet, Georges Rodenbach, with Bruges-la-morte the best known although my favourite is The Bells of Bruges.
CONTEMPORARY EUROPEAN FICTION
In 1992 to celebrate the European Single Market as a cultural event Dedalus started publishing contemporary European fiction. We tried to publish two translations from the languages of the then member states. An early star was Sylvie Germain, the most translated foreign author on the Dedalus list with 11 titles. Her early novels had big stories with larger than life characters with a bid dollop of magic realism and for some readers bring to mind the novels of Angela Carter. Bizarre, grotesque fictions which also pull on the heartstrings with some truly horrendous things happening. The Book of Nights, Night of Amber, Days of Anger and Medusa Child are from this period. When Sylvie Germain left France for Prague her writing changed with atmosphere replacing the big stories and colourful characters, with the narrative pared down to the bone. There were a trilogy of Prague novels – The Weeping Woman on the Streets of Prague, Infinite Possibilities and Invitation to a Journey. Returning to France her writing changed again with more story and character, the novels midway between the early novels and the Prague trilogy. Images have always been important to Sylvie Germain and often her novels are inspired by an image in a painting and French critics have even compared her novels to paintings, dubbing her the Vincent Van Gogh of her generation. The Book of Tobais is a good example. Of the later work Magnus springs to mind, written in fragments, it conveys with great economy of style the horrors of the Holocaust.
Someone totally different was Herbert Rosendorfer, whose first novel The Architect of Ruins, wonderfully translated by Mike Mitchell is a novel in the manner of The Saragossa Manuscript, with a story-within-story as a group of friends get together to play their instruments, waiting for the Apocalypse, in a giant cigar-shaped container. In Germany Rosendorfer is best known for his satire of contemporary German life, Letters Back to Ancient China,which sold more than two million copies. Mike Mitchell’s translation won the German translation prize.
In 1992 to represent Danish fiction we published Glyn Jones’s translation of The Black Cauldron, by the Faeroese novelist, William Heinesen, the first of five books we have published by him. Heinesen gave to the lives of his characters in the tiny communities of The Faroes an epic quality, good examples of this are The Lost Musicians and his historical novel, The Good Hope, considered to be his best novels, although I must admit a preference for The Black Cauldron. We were fortunate to have such a good translator for a minority language as Glyn Jones who also translated for us, Barbara, another Faeroese novel which is one of the most successful Danish-language novels of the 20th century and tells the story of a Moll Flanders-type heroine who marries three clergymen but her unbridled passion leads to disaster. The novel was left unfinished at Jacobsen’s untimely death and so his good friend, William Heinesen, finished it off for him.
Something totally different for us were the four novels of Yoryis Yatromanolakis which we published. They are exercises in style, with for example, his first novel, The History of A Vendetta, written in the manner of a modern Herodotus and his Eroticon, using the style of a medieval love manual. Although a novel about the various ways of having sex, it is such an exercise in linguistic game-playing that it is more cerebral than sexy. The translation by David Connolly is masterful.
Travelling further east we encounter the works of 2 Russian masters Yuri Buida and Vladimir Sharov. For me Yuri Buida’s The Zero Train is one of the standout novels on the Dedalus list, bizarre, grotesque and dark with the flashes of love obliterated by the cruelty which takes place. It is a short novel which packs a powerful punch while Buida’s Prussian Bride, is a long short-story cycle recounting the lives of the Russians sent to replace the German inhabitants of Koningsberg, renamed Kaliningrad in the aftermath of World War11. It certainly is a magical mystery tour into the lives of uprooted people trying to make sense out of their new lives. Oliver Ready’s translation won the inaugural Russian Translation Prize. One could say Buida’s work is unusual until one starts reading the novels of Vladimir Sharov.
Before & During mingles a hundred year of Russian history, communism with religion, the great icons of Russian culture like Tolstoy, Fyodorov, Scriabin and Stalin with the people not recorded by history. Fyodorov’s theory that the world must be saved by regenerating one’s ancestors and not in recreating new generations is at the heart of the novel. Suffice it to say the heroine is the self-replicating Madame Stael, who in her third existence is both the mother, and later, the lover of Stalin.Tolstoy’s eldest son, proves to be not his son but his twin-brother whose delayed gestation is taken over by Tolstoy’s wife. Although focussing on such bizarre happenings makes the book seem like it is a curiosity when it is a major piece of literature, which is both profound, thought-provoking and heart-rendering. Recently Oliver Ready’s translation won the Read Russia Prize 2015, triumphing over new translations of Crime & Punishment and Anna Karenina. Vladimir Sharov certainly deserves to be put in the same company as Dostoevsky and Tolstoy. In the autumn of 2016 we will publish his novel The Rehearsals which will add to Sharov’s English-language acclaim.
A novelist very much in the Dedalus mode is Jean-Pierre Ohl, whose game-playing novels have a story-within-a-story framework and blend many disparate elements into a harmonious whole. From Bordeaux he looks towards Britain for his inspiration with Mr Dick or The Tenth Book inspired by Charles Dickens and The Lairds of Cromarty, set in the Scottish Highlands
In 2005 we began publishing Euro Shorts, designed to fill-up the time on a short flight or on a Eurostar journey.The first book in this series is the most memorable, Lobster by Guillaume Lecasble, translated by Polly McLean. Having seen his father devoured aboard the Titanic by Angelina Lobster is next for cooking pot and is put in the boiling water. The Titanic hits the iceberg and Lobster is thrown to the floor. He finds his partial cooking has changed him and he feels sexually attracted to humans and Angelina in particular. He gives the woman who has eaten his father a life-changing orgasm as the ship sinks leading Angelina to bring Lobster with her to the lifeboat. As Nick Lezard put it in the Guardian:’There was a Lobster-shaped hole in world literature which has now been filled by this remarkable work.’
Happily our most successful translation has come in the last few years with Diego Marani’s New Finnish Grammar (2011) selling over 25,000 copies. It is the first in a trilogy of novels with The Last of the Vostyachs and The Interpreter, on the themes of identity, language and belonging. You learn a lot about Finnish grammar and culture in the novel but it is the quest to belong and its unforeseen consequences which captures the reader’s imagination. It is certainly a book which brought tears to my eyes. Another Italian novel which also did that was The Mussolini Canal by Antonio Pennacchi. It serves up one hundred years of Italian history, and reading it is like eavesdropping on a private conversation and gives an insight into the Italian psyche. There is so much in this novel which is memorable, indeed it is hard not to fall in love with it, which is something the translator, Judith Landry did. I asked her for a short sample for a translation grant application and Judith forgot to stop and translated the whole book.
In 1992 as part of our celebration of the European Single Market as a cultural event, Dedalus began its European Literary Fantasy Anthology Series. Each volume has its jewels, but there are three standout volumes; Austrian, Finnish and Greek. Johanna Sinisalo’s choices and David Hackston’s translation for The Dedalus Book of Finnish Fantasy unlocked for me a literature I knew nothing about, while David Connolly, both as an editor and a translator of the The Dedalus Book of Greek Fantasy, produced a mesmerising volume of Greek fiction, reflecting its excellence in surrealism. For the quality and variety of the contents it would be hard to find an anthology which could put The Dedalus Book of Austrian Fantasy;1890-2000 in the shade. Indeed the critic, A.S,Byatt said it was one of the best anthologies she had ever read in a full page review when it was selected as The Guardian’s Book of the Week.
There are many wonderful books I haven’t been able to mention or to describe, including The Saragossa Manuscript(Thirteen Days in the Life of Alfonse van Worden) even though Jan Potocki’s book is the inspiration behind most of what we publish. There will be for some readers glaring omissions in my survey and I hope in that case they will post a blog to rectify them. Each period of our thirty years has seen great books published, but I am happy that so much of our major work has been published in the last five years. The best I hope is still to come.