Archival Research as Method: A Study of ‘Non-professional’ Agents of Literary Translation

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By necessity, studies into translation history require the consultation of primary materials or archives, particularly when the translation process itself is the focus of examination. While the (literary) translation product is normally always attributed to the translator(s) once it is published, the translation process is also a locus of interaction and negotiation between various agents. These agents include intermediaries with commercial interests, such as publishers, editors, reviewers and rights agents, but also individuals without any direct, identifiable commercial interest but who act as agents through involvement in text selection, editing, etc. This article, adopting methodologies of archival research, investigates the roles of so-called “non-professional” agents in English translations of Chinese literature based on analysis of the Allen & Unwin archives that were created during World War II. This paper reveals that non-professional agents, such as Sinologist Arthur Waley, author and journalist Hsiao Ch’ien, diplomats George K.C. Yeh and Chen Xiying, and Stephen Payne, father of the translator Robert Payne, have exerted extensive influence upon the translation process, including the selection of texts for publication, contracting of translations, book design, and reception of translated works. We consider the sociological relation between translators and agents (professional and non-professional), drawing upon original archival data (as epitext) in order to investigate the varying roles of agency. Through the examination of archival materials. and using a framework informed by the sociological and paratextual approach in translation studies, we can understand aspects of power relations in the literary translation process. This study offers new terminology around the definition of agents, employing methodologies of archival research to elicit information around power and influence in the selection and publication of Chinese works in English translation. Finally, we call for an archival turn in historical translation studies, in order to systematically and comprehensively explore the issues behind archival retrieval in other translation contexts.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationA Century of Chinese Literature in Translation 1919-2019
Subtitle of host publicationEnglish Publication and Reception
EditorsLeah Gerber, Lintao Qi
Place of PublicationAbingdon Oxon UK
Number of pages14
ISBN (Electronic)9780429316821
ISBN (Print)9780367321291
Publication statusPublished - 2021

Publication series

NameRoutledge Advances in Translation and Interpreting Studies

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