Vor Sonnenaufgang

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A Portrait of the Artist as a Translator. On James Joyce’s translation of Gerhart Hauptmann’s Vor Sonnenaufgang.

By Eike Kronshage

Gerhart Hauptmann’s Vor Sonnenaufgang

The German dramatist Gerhart Hauptmann (1862-1946) wrote his first drama Vor Sonnenaufgang at the age of 27. Hauptmann, though living in the small town of Erkner, a couple of miles southeast from Berlin, was in lively exchange with the newly established Berliner naturalistic group “Durch” (Engl.: “Through” or “By”). He seized their suggestions of a naturalistic literature and wrote in 1889 (also clearly under the influence of Henrik Ibsen) his play Vor Sonnenaufgang, which was first performed at the Freie Bühne Berlin[1] on October 20 the same year. The shocking realism created a scandal in Berlin and shot Hauptmann to fame.

In the play, the young socialist Alfred Loth visits his former schoolmate Hoffmann in the Silesian town of Witzdorf, whose dominating social class is that of workers, mainly colliers. Loth finds that his friend Hoffmann has made a fortune as a coal-mining engineer by exploiting and deceiving the local colliers and that he consequently disavows his former socialist views. At dinner Loth turns out to be an abstainer and drops a clanger when he mentions a certain Bauer Kruse as a negative example for an alcohol addict, unknowing that Kruse is Hoffmann’s father-in-law. In the course of the night Loth and Helene, Hoffmann’s sister-in-law, fall in love and get engaged, but Helene is ashamed of her family and keeps quiet about their general drinking problem. Doctor Schimmelpfennig arrives, when Helene’s sister delivers a child. When Schimmelpfennig finds out about Loth’s engagement with Helene he breaks his professional secrecy and tells Loth about her family’s drinking problems. Even though Schimmelpfennig also tells Loth that drinking problems are not necessarily inheritable Loth eventually decides to break up with Helene, writes her a farewell letter and leaves. Helene comes back from the delivery room to tell Hoffmann that his wife had a miscarriage, when she suddenly finds Loth’s letter. She reads it and commits suicide.

The success of Hauptmann’s first drama soon was overshadowed by his subsequent dramas, such as Die Weber (1892; Engl.: The Weavers), Der Biberpelz (1893; Engl.: The Beaver Coat), Michael Kramer (1900; same title in English), Der rote Hahn (1901; Engl.: The Conflagration), Rose Bernd (1903; same title in English), or Die Ratten (1911; Engl.: The Rats).[2] In 1912 he received the Nobel Prize for Literature.

James Joyce’s reception of Gerhart Hauptmann

[A]s he walked down the avenue and felt the grey morning light falling about him
through the dripping trees and smelt the strange wild smell of the wet leaves and
bark, his soul was loosed of her miseries. The rain-laden trees of the avenue
evoked in him, as always, memories of the girls and women in the plays of Gerhart
Hauptmann; and the memory of their pale sorrows and the fragrance falling from the
wet branches mingled in a mood of quiet joy. (Joyce 2006, 179-180)

The time of this scene from Joyce’s first novel, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, lies somewhere between 1898 and 1903, during Stephen’s time at the University College Dublin. The “girls and women in the plays of Gerhart Hauptmann” must therefore allude to the 15 dramas from Vor Sonnenaufgang (1889) up to Der arme Heinrich (1902).[3] During his five years at university Joyce’s protagonist Stephen was not only often (“as always”) thinking about Hauptmann, but Joyce himself was working on translations of two of Hauptmann’s dramas, namely Hauptmann’s firstling Vor Sonnenaufgang and one of his more recent plays, Michael Kramer. Both dramas had at this point not been translated into English, and Joyce’s translation is therefore, in effect, the first English translation of the two plays. Since the manuscript of the Michael Kramer translation is lost I will focus on the Vor Sonnenaufgang translation[4], even though the latter drama surely made a deeper impression on Joyce and clearly influenced the conception of his first novel, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, or especially “A Painful Case” in Dubliners. In his early biography on Joyce Marvin Magalaner claims that this drama “undoubtedly had its effect and deserves at least passing mention.” (Magalaner 45-46) Therefore I will summarise the most important aspects of Michael Kramer and their impact on Joyce’s work, before I finally turn to the translation of Vor Sonnenaufgang.

In Michael Kramer the protagonist is an acclaimed artist. He has been working for over seven years on a painting and still cannot finish it, because he lacks the talent as he says. This talent, however, he finds in his son Arnold, who unfortunately is a kind of well-meaning good-for-nothing, who spends most of his time in a bar. Arnold falls in love with Liese, a waitress in that bar. She gets annoyed by his courtship and visits his father Michael in order to complain about Arnold. Michael is appalled at his son’s behaviour and subsequently picks a quarrel with his son. The next day Arnold starts a quarrel with some men at the bar and consequently runs out of the bar with a gun in his hand. His sister follows him and finds him dead. Arnold has commited suicide.

At the centre of the play is the conflict between father and son, which is more an argument about art than about personal matters. Michael is of the opinion that the true artist necessarily has to be a recluse, an outsider: “Der Künstler ist immer der wahre Einsiedler.” he says [The artist always is the true recluse] (Hauptmann 1900, 1134) and “Kunst ist Religion. Wenn du betest, geh in dein Kämmerlein.” [Art is religion. When you pray, then retire into your chamber.] (Hauptmann 1900, 1135). The motif reappears in Dubliners, when for example Mr. Duffy is described as an “outcast from life’s feast” (and at the same time as a translator of Hauptmann’s Michael Kramer), or in the solitary walks of young Stephen, thinking “as always [...] of the girls and women in the plays of Gerhart Hauptmann” (Joyce 2006, 179-180).

The translation: Before Sunrise

Perkins gives an accurate description of the manuscript, that I will quote only in excerpts; they show how the 19-year old Joyce was working:

The notebook [...] of a type that was once used by schoolchildren for their
daily lessons [...] The inside front is inscribed ‘Summer – 1901 – MS./Mullingar –
Westmeath’ with ‘Original – by – S.Fischer – Berlin – 1889’ [...] Below, and to the
extreme right ‘Translated from the German’ is bracketed and underlined in red.
[...] The play starts on page 3 and ends on 196 – all pages numbered in pencil in
the upper corners. Joyce’s initials (‘J.A.J.’) and the date (‘July 23, 1901’) are
in the lower right-hand corner of the final page of text. [...] Appealing aspects
of the physical manuscript are the childish graffiti that intermittently grace its
pages [...] page 198 [contains] the drawing of a prancing chicken over a random
scrawl, and, on the inside back cover of the notebook, ostensible imitations of
cursive writing, more haphazard scribbles, and a recognizable kangaroo with a
fainter drawing of a creature superimposed on its mid-section – probably a baby
kangaroo in situ. (Perkins 1-3)[5]

What puzzles everybody who was seen the manuscript (Perkins and the several U.S. owners) is that Joyce’s translation exactly fills the pages of the notebook. Even closer scrutiny does not hint at any editing of the notebook by Joyce, neither cutting out nor glueing in of pages. The only very few corrections in the text point to the fact that Joyce was copying from former drafts of the translation into his notebook, probably from an interlinear version written between the lines of Joyce’s German edition of the play. Joyce’s handwriting is, as usual, highly legible.
The 35 pages of corrections to Joyce’s translation in Perkins (Perkins 132-166) prove that W.B.Yeats was right, when he wrote to Joyce, that his German was not very proficient:

I gave them [i.e. the two translations] to a friend who is a German scholar to read
some time ago, and she saw, what you know yourself, that you are not a very good
German scholar. [...] I am very sorry I cannot help you with money. I did my best
to get you work as you know, but that is all I can do for you. (Yeats to Joyce on
October 2, 1904; qt. Fargnoli/Gillespie 101)

Six days after this letter was written Joyce left Ireland with Nora for the Continent and never returned.

The manuscript contains only one direct comment by Joyce himself, which appears on the last page. “Part of this play is written in the Silesian dialect and asterisks mark where the text has proven untranslatable. The stage directions prefixed to each act are indicated in the original by plans.” (Joyce, qt. in Perkins 2). And indeed it can easily be shown by means of a synoptical reading that most of the difficulties that Joyce encountered in translating Hauptmann derive from his lack of understanding the Silesian dialect.[6] He very often seems to only guess the meaning. For example in the Silesian sentence “Naus! mir gahn nischt!” (Hauptmann 1889, 15) [proper German: “Raus! Wir geben nichts.”; Engl.: “Out! We don’t give anything.”] he (wrongly) guesses the meaning of the word “gahn” and translates:
“But ’t won’ wash!”. Another time he mistakes in the Silesian “Bei a Adlijen wird doch a so viel getrunk’n” (Hauptmann 1889, 33) [proper German: “Die Adligen trinken doch auch so viel”; Engl.: “The aristocrats drink equally much”] the word “Adlijen” [aristocrats] for a locale and translates “They dhrinks a queer lot up at Adljen” (Perkins 66).

Despite Joyce’s obvious problems with the dialect in the play his translation also contains some peculiarities, that are difficult to explain, as the following example shows. First Hauptmann’s original, then Joyce’s translation (all italics in the originals; all bold type by me, E.K.):

HOFFMANN. Also Hummern! Es klopft sehr stark. Herein!
POSTPAKETTRÄGER, eine Kiste unterm Arm; eintretend, spricht er in singendem
Ton.Eine Kis-te.
HELENE. Von wo?
HOFFMANN. Richtig! Es werden die Kindersachen von Hertzog sein. Er
besieht das Paket und nimmt den Abschnitt.Ja, ja, es sind die Sachen von Hertzog.
HELENE. Diese Kiste voll? Du übertreibst.
Hoffmann lohnt den Paketträger ab.
PAKETTRÄGER, ebenso halb singend. Schön’n gu’n A-bend. Ab.
HOFFMANN. Wieso übertreiben?
HELENE. Nun, hiermit kann man doch wenigstens drei Kinder ausstatten.

HOFFMANN – We’ll have them too ... (a loud knock is heard) ... Come in ...
(A postman, with a parcel under his arm, enters)
THE POSTMAN – (in a singing tone) ... A parcel!
HELEN – Where from?
THE POSTMAN – Ber-lin!
HOFFMANN – Right. It must be the ... eh ... (examines parcel and
postmark) ... Yes, that’s it.
HELEN – That big parcel! It can’t be ...
(Hoffmann pays the postman)
THE POSTMAN – (in the same tone) .. Good evening .. (goes out)
HOFFMANN – What made you say that?
HELEN – Why it’s big enough for three ...

It is difficult to imagine that Joyce had problems with the translation of the words “Kindersachen” [childrens’ clothes] or “Kinder” [children]. However, he leaves them both out in his translation, using instead an “... eh ...” and “...”. This translation gets even more puzzling since there is no ambiguous sexual connotation in that scene: Hoffmann’s wife is pregnant and he has ordered clothes for his child from Berlin. The bitter irony of that scene gets entirely lost in Joyce’s translation: Hoffmann has ordered way to much for his yet unborn baby, enough even for three children; in the end of the play, after his wife’s miscarriage, these already supernumerous clothes get entirely superfluous. But even if we assume that Joyce, who lost two of his siblings, found this one scene to cruel and therefore mutilated it, it doesn’t clarify his deliberate alterations of Hauptmann’s text in other scenes.

The problems with the Silesian dialect, however, appear only in Vor Sonnenaufgang, since Michael Kramer takes place in Berlin and the characters speak in a proper German. That might explain why Joyce in a letter from 1937 to Ezra Pound only mentions his translation of Michael Kramer.

Could you give me a word of introduction to Gerhart Hauptmann? When I was a boy in
Dublin I made a translation (!) of his Michael Kramer a play which I still admire
greatly. Perhaps he would do me the honour and pleasure of signing it – his text, I
mean, in book form not my well meant atrocity which some U.S. Buyer obtained by
stealth. I suppose, from some admiring relation of mine in an old town. He is, or
was, a neighbour of yours and I think you told me you knew >him. (Letters, 397-

Pound met Joyce’s demand and asked Hauptmann to sign a copy of his Michael Kramer for Joyce. Upon receiving the book with Hauptmann’s autograph (“Nie hat dieses Buch einen besseren Leser gehabt, als James Joyce” [Never had this book a better reader than James Joyce]; qt. in Perkins 11) Joyce sends a handwritten letter to Hauptmann:

Verehrter Meister. Gleich nach Empfang Ihrer Bücher mit der sehr höflichen Widmung
war ich gezwungen [,] Paris zu verlassen und hierher zu kommen, um meinen
Augenarzt, Professor A. Vogt, zu konsultieren wegen des Zustandes meiner Augen.
Während mehrere[r] Wochen waren Lesen und Schreiben mir strengstens verboten [,]
aber jetzt [,] da ich die Erlaubniss [sic] habe [,] meine Arbeit wieder aufzunehmen
[,] beeile ich mich [,] Ihnen zu schreiben [,] um meinen tiefsten Dank auszudrücken
Vor fast vierzig Jahre [sic] [,] als ich ein junger Bursch in Dublin war [,] habe
ich zwei von Ihren Schauspielen ins englisch [sic!] “übersetzt”, nämlich
Sonnenaufgang’ und ‘Michael Kramer’ [.] Gott behüte [,] dass [sic] diese
‘Ubersetzungen[’] [sic] je in Ihre Hände fallen sollten! Ich lernte erst damals die
deutsche Sprache und machte die ‘Ubersetzungen’ [sic] nur [,] weil diese zwei
Stücke nicht in englisch, italienisch oder französisch zu haben waren. Zu meinem
Erstaunen erfuhr ich vor ein Paar [sic] Jahre[n], dass [sic] die beiden Hefte von
irgendeinem Onkel Sammler in New York gekauft wurden! An Enemy hath done this.
Und nun, verehrter Meister [,] gestatten Sie [,] dass [sic] ich Ihnen sage [,] dass
[sic] wenn ‘Michael Kramer’ keinen besseren Leser gehabt hat als den Schreiber
dieser Zeilen, wie Sie sich so freundlich ausdrücken, der Verfasser von jenem
unvergesslichen Werke und von sovielen [sic] anderen hat sicher keinen treuren
Bewunderer als
Ihr [sic] ergebenen
James Joyce[7]
[Adored master. Right after I received your book with the very polite dedication I
was forced to leave Paris and come here, in order to turn to my eye specialist,
Professor A. Vogt, because of my eyes’ condition. I was strictly forbidden to read
and write for many weeks, but now that I have permission to continue my work, I
hasten to write and thank you.
Almost fourty years ago when I was a young lad in Dublin, I “translated” two of
your plays into the English, namely ‘Vor Sonnenaufgang’ [Before Sunrise] and
‘Michael Kramer’. God forbid that these “translations” ever make their way into
your hands! I was then only learning the German language and made these
“translations” only because the plays were not available in English, Italian, or
French. To my amazement I learned a couple of years ago that both notebooks had
been bought by some Uncle Collector in New York! An Enemy hath done this. [orig. in
And now, adored master, allow me to say that, if ‘Michael Kramer’ never had a
better reader than the writer of these lines, as you so kindly put it [in your
dedication], the author of this unforgettable work and so many others never had a
truer admirer than
Your obedient
James Joyce.][8]

It is remarkable here, that Joyce never uses the words “Übersetzung” or “übersetzen” without the distancing device of quotation marks, as if he had realised himself that they were merely German exercises than real translations. He must have remembered his struggle with the two dramas and the problems he encountered especially with the Silesian dialect; he could not have checked the many mistakes of his translations, since both manuscripts were either sold to a collector or lost. This leads to the conclusion that Joyce’s German had in the course of the 37 years from 1901 up to 1938 deeply improved and that he therefore retrospectively deemed his pretentious translations as inferior. Whether he completely doubted his talent as a translator of (German) literature or simply did not find the time for further translation attempts is hard to tell. Anyway, the two Hauptmann dramas are Joyce’s only two larger translation projects. The one preserved manuscript already reveals, despite its many mistakes, the young Joyce’s high linguistic skills, his interest in dialects, and his great mastery of the English language.

  1. This theatre was only founded the same year. The first production staged at the Freie Bühne was Henrik Ibsen’s Gengangere (Engl.: Ghosts; German: Gespenster). Three weeks later Hauptmann’s Vor Sonnenaufgang was staged as the second production at the Freie Bühne.
  2. All English titles follow the translations by Ludwig Lewisohn with the one exception of Vor Sonnenaufgang, which Lewisohn translates as Before Dawn, while Joyce translates it as Before Sunrise. Since it is Joyce’s translation I am concerned with in this paper I will only quote from his version.
  3. Hauptmann’s last drama from that period, Rose Bernd (1903), was at this point still unknown to Joyce. He wanted to buy a copy of it in Rome in 1905 (as he tells his brother Stanislaus in a letter from August 19, 1905) but was short of money. He eventually bought and read the drama in 1906, as he tells Stanislaus in a letter from October 19, 1906.
  4. It seems that Joyce himself lost track of the manuscript, assumably as a result of his many moves.
  5. Compare this accurate description of Joyce’s manuscript with the description of Duffy’s manuscript of the translation of Hauptmann’s Michael Kramer in “A Painful Case”:<br>In the desk lay a manuscript translation of Hauptmann’s Michael Kramer, the stage directions of which were written in purple ink, and a little sheaf of papers held together by a brass pin. In these sheets a sentence was inscribed from time to time and, in an ironical moment, the headline of an advertisement for Bile Beans had been pasted on to the first sheet.
  6. For fairness’ sake I must point out that the Silesian dialect is even for a German native speaker (or at least a contemporary one) a tough nut to crack!
  7. The letter was never officially published in neither a collection of Joyce’s nor in one of Hauptmann’s letters. <br>The letter is in possession of the Hauptmann estate. It was first completely printed and annotated in Tschörtner 258-262, and later reprinted in Rademacher 65. Perkins, however, asked the Hauptmann estate through the Ullstein Verlag to send him a copy of the letter. “[A]n extract of which was sent to me [i.e. Perkins] by the custodian of the Hauptmann estate, through Verlag Ullstein, Berlin.” (Perkins 14). Remarkably, the two versions of the letter (Tschörtner/Rademacher and Perkins) slightly differ from each other, especially in terms of orthography, punctuation and even word choice! I checked the manuscript at the Staatsbibliothek Berlin and quoted it correctly above. All explanatory notes and corrections of Joyce’s mistakes are in brackets
  8. The alternating use of single and double quotation marks seems to be Joyce’s own. Cf. Also footnote 7.

Works Cited:

Hauptmann, Gerhart. Vor Sonnenaufgang. 1889. Sämtliche Werke. By Hauptmann. Ed. Hans-Egon Hass. Frankfurt am Main, Berlin: Ullstein Verlag, 1962. [as Hauptmann 1889]

Hauptmann, Gerhart. Michael Kramer. 1900. Sämtliche Werke. By Hauptmann. Ed. Hans-Egon Hass. Frankfurt am Main, Berlin: Ullstein Verlag, 1962. [as Hauptmann 1900]

Hauptmann, Gerhart. “Nachlese zur Autobiographie.” Centenar-Ausgabe. Vol. XI: Nachgelassene Werke, Fragmente. Ed. Hans-Egon Hass. Frankfurt, Berlin, Wien: Ullstein
Verlag, 1974, 538-539.

Joyce, James. Letters. Vol. I. Ed. Stuart Gilbert. New York: Viking Press, 1957.

Joyce, James. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. New York: Signet Classics, 2006.

Joyce, James. Dubliners.

Joyce, James. Letter to Gerhart Hauptmann. February 12, 1938. Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin – Preußischer Kulturbesitz. (GH Br NL Joyce, James. Dok 3).

Magalaner, Marvin. Time of Apprenticeship. The Fiction of Young James Joyce. New York: Abelard-Schumann, 1959.

McMillan, Dougald. “Influences of Gerhart Hauptmann in Joyce’s Ulysses.”James Joyce Quarterly, 4, No.2 (Winter 1967), 107-19.

Perkins, Jill. Joyce and Hauptmann. Before Sunrise: James Joyce’s translation. Canoga Park: PSP Graphics, 1978.

Rademacher, Jörg W., ed. Was nun, Herr Bloom? Ulysses zum 75. Geburtstag. Ein Almanach. Münster: Daedalus-Verlag, 1996, 61-68.

Schmidt, Hugo. “Hauptmann’s Michael Kramer and Joyce’s ’The Dead’.” PMLA, Vol. 80, No. 1. (Mar., 1965), pp. 141-142.

Tschörtner, H.D. “Zu den Beziehungen zwischen Gerhart Hauptmann und James Joyce.” Zeitschrift für Anglistik und Amerikanistik 26, 1 (1978).

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