Kolm Eesti Robinsoni: Daniel Defoe romaan eesti tõlkes / Three Estonian Robinsons: Daniel Defoe’s Novel in Estonian Translation


  • Ene-Reet Soovik University of Tartu
  • Kaisa Vaher University of Tartu




The article discusses three Estonian translations of Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe into Estonian with the focus on the completeness of the translated texts and the characterisation given to these in paratextual information. While there are several translations and versions of the tex t available in E stonian that have either used a mediating language or do not proceed directly from Defoe’s novel, three editions explicitly list Defoe’s English-language Robinson Crusoe as their source text. These are Rudolf Sirge’s translation from 1950 and two editions translated by Valter Rummel that appeared in 1984 (reprinted in 2001) and 2007, respectively. The article sets out to discover the main differences between the three editions and the possible reasons that may have triggered their publication in Estonia at those particular times. In order to approach the issues, a general framework derived from descriptive translation studies is employed with an emphasis on Gideon Toury’s chrestomatic treatment of translation norms. Thus an attempt is made to detect the preliminary translational norms regarding translation policy, particularly the choice of texts to be translated, as well as the matricial norms that concern the fullness of the translated text and are part of operational norms manifested in the translator’s decisions which, in two of the cases at hand, may also have been decisions made by the editor or the censor. Rudolf Sirge’s translation appeared at a time when Estonia had fairly recently been incorporated into the Soviet Union and there was a lack of children’s literature ideologically appreciated by the regime. This may account for the packaging of the book as a work with a strong didactic bent, while its primary audience was taken to be children and young adults for whom the protagonist served as an example of a hard-working and tenacious hero to be emulated by young Soviets. The target text has been considerably shortened as references to religion and the main character’s spiritual development have been carefully purged from it. Additionally, changes have been made in the translated text, replacing references to the divine and supernatural dimensions with an increased prominence of natural and human agency.Omissions of the same type are also present in the 1984 translation by Valter Rummel. These follow a similar pattern in terms of the content of the omitted passages, while the omitted sections overlap with Sirge’s translation to some extent, mostly as concerns topics related to religion. However, the number and scale of omissions is smaller in comparison with Sirge’s translation. The translation is again presented to the reader as a book for children both by the press and by adding an afterword written by a specialist in children’s literature. The design and illustrations are typical of children’s literature, while using the work by a Byelorussian illustrator integrates the novel into the Soviet publishing system. As the decade has been de scribed by later book historians as one of crisis in children’s literature, it is not surprising that Rummel’s translation was published with a print run four times exceeding thatof the first translation. However, the paratexts are less didactic than those of Sirge’s translation and present Robinson as an embodiment of rationality and materialism rather than a paragon of labour valour.The translation published in 2007 largely copies the 1984 translation, the greatest difference being the absence of intentional omissions and the decision to follow Defoe’s story to its end, while both of the previous translations had stopped at different points within the tale. The completeness of the translation also receives special attention in the publishers blurb. The translation stands out by explicitly including adults into its prospective audience as it appeared in a series targeted at book-lovers of all ages. It can be concluded that it was acceptable during the Soviet times to curb the source text in translation while still claiming that it held the status of a representative translation; in 1950 the existence of omissions could even be frankly mentioned in the translator’s foreword. The content of the omissions correlated with topics disapproved of by the authorities of the time. The translation hailing from 1984 was, in comparison, less cautious and found it possible to include numerous elements missing from the earlier translation. The 2007 translation, however, appeared in an Estonia that had regained independence in 1991; thus, the novel’s text was published to the full. The two earlier translations were published as children’s literature at times when an acute need was felt in the society for such works. Children’s literature has also been considered more likely to be adapted to meet the needs of the target culture than works meant for adults. The 2007 translation seems to want to also engage a mature readership and follows the principles of a literary work’s integrity set out in the Berne Convention. Robinson himself as the main character has appeared to the Estonian reader in various guises: as an embodiment of quasi-Soviet labour valour, an incarnation of practical rationality of the Age of Reason, and finally as a person who also makes progress towards spiritual enlightenment. Thus, he can also be seen as an illustration of the major social change s that occurred in Estonia during the mid- and late 20th century.


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