Ilukirjanduse tõlked 20. sajandi esimese poole Eesti ja Soome raamatutoodangus (1900–1940) / Translations of Belles-Lettres in the Book Production of Estonia and Finland during the First Half of the 20th Century (1900–1940)

Aile Möldre


The article presents statistical data on the publications of belles-lettres in Estonia in 1900–1940 – a period when the country developed into a modern European society and gained independence. The topic is treated in the context of book history, which uses publishing statistics to provide a broader context for individual case studies. The research on the quantity and share of translated literature in book production comes close to the statisticalsociological approach in translation history, characterised by Peeter Torop as one of the aspects of the study of translation culture. The statistical indicators have been elaborated on the basis of retrospective bibliographies and on the data, obtained from National Library of Estonia. The analysis includes the share of belles-lettres in book production, the balance of original works and translations, the changes in the quantity of translations during different decades and the share of source literatures. The Estonian statistics have been presented in comparison with corresponding data from Finland, which has been published in the collective monograph on Finnish translation history, issued in 2007. As the Finnish data is organized by decades, the same principle is used for statistics on Estonia. This approach corresponds generally to the political history of the two countries – both belonged to the Russian Empire during the first two decades of the 20th century and existed as independent states during the following two decades. Both nations had passed through the first stage in the development of literary culture, characterised by extensive publication of adaptations and free translations by the beginning of the century. Thus the share of original works started to increase and slightly exceeded the share  of  translations  in  E stonia  as  well  as  in  Finland.  The  selection  of  translated  works  in both countries was varied and their level was unstable. Despite the longstanding plans of developing translation culture in Finland, the choice of works was influenced by international acclaime and the activitiy of translators. The immaturity of Estonian publishing manifested itself, among other things, as inadeaquate paratexts of the translations. Due to the differences in historical development and cultural background, the structure of  source  literature s  of  translated  belle s-let tre s  in  the  two  countrie s  dif fered  in  many  ways – translating from the English language increased considerably in Finland, fending the traditional German and Scandinavian domination. The importance of translations of German literature, which maintained the leading role in Estonia, is a common feature of both countries. At the same time, the interest in Scandinavian literature only started to emerge in Estonia. The  translations  of  Rus sian  literature,  however,  were  much  more  numerous  in  E stonia  thanin Finland. In general, the period of 1900–1919 is characterised by a notable increase in the quantit y of translated belles-lettres as well as their uneveness. However, the growing number of translations provided greater diversity, introducing new authors, styles and trends.The existence of an independent Republic of Estonia (since 1918) opened utterly new perspectives for the development of national culture – for the first time it could be done without external control and using the Estonian language in all levels of administration and education. These circumstances fostered publishing, the demand for books was especially great during the first years after the War of Independence (1918–1920), later the declines and increases in book production were connected to the economic conditions. Belles-lettres formed about 20 per cent of the title production, which in turn was almost equally divided between original works and translations. In contrast to Estonia, the number of translations started to decrease in Finland in the 1930s due to economic and political factors, idealising conservative national values. The hierarchy of source languages underwent a major change in Estonia where the English language ascended to the leading position, exceeding the translations from German and French. The importance of translations from Russian language remained a characteristic feature of Estonian publishing, unknown in Finland during the 1920s-1930s. Estonians were also active in translating Finnish literature. The Estonian publishing houses issued ten times more translations from Finnish than vice versa – a disproportion explained with the lack of interest among the Finnish publishers. Although the output of  translations  included  a  wide  variet y  of  high-qualit y  works,  they  were  outnumbered  by genre fiction, preferred by the large audiences both in Estonia and in Finland. The Writer’s Unions of Estonia and Finland attempted to suppress their proliferation without success. However, on the whole, the corpus of translations issued in the 1920s and 1930s presents a rather balanced selection oriented to different strata of the audience.

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