Bucura Dumbravă’s historical novels. Two cases of cultural retro-translations
The sophisticated Fanny Szekulicz (1868 – 1926), better known by her pen name Bucura Dumbravă, was a complex and atypical figure of the Romanian literature and society at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries. Born in Bratislava, her mother tongue was German when she became a lady in waiting for the Queen Elisabeth of Romania, an established writer herself, known by her pen name Carmen Sylva. A great, pioneering mountaineer within a rather conservative and gender-limited milieu, Bucura Dumbravă embedded herself into the deep layers of the Romanian mythology, folklore and history and laid the foundations of the local chapter of the Theosophical Society.
My paper intends to analyze two related cases of complex, cross- cultural retro-translations. Bucura Dumbravă’s historical novels,Der Haiduck (1908) and Der Pandur (1912) were initially published in German, outside Romania, and represented a trans-cultural challenge for the targeted, German speaking reader, because their texture and ethos were exclusively related to a historical knowledge and folklore rather unknown to the audience. Therefore, in order to ease the access to her specific Romanian message, the author was obliged to “translate” the plot of the two books into an internationally accepted, very popular literary structure, namely the Robin Hood type heroic outlaw saga.
When translated into Romanian, the two novels became instantly bestsellers and were introduced into the school curricula, as being representative for the patriotic fervor of an audience whose ideology consisted in a widely accepted cultural and literary rhetoric based on Romantic re-writings of history. The ethnocentric match proved to be so perfect, that nobody cared about the alien origins of the author or about the fact that the two Romanian versions were actually translations. On the contrary, the author got laurels for her “genuine”, Romanian authenticity, and we mustn’t forget that this happened in a social milieu whose upper class still used French as its way of everyday communication.