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In Session: Japanese Children’s Literature and/in Translation
3: Reaffirming a Masterpiece: Kawabata Yasunari’s Re-Translation of Little Lord Fauntleroy
Monday, March 22, 2021
10:00am – 11:30am EDT
Columbia University, United States
In July 2020, Shinchōsha published a new version of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s Little Lord Fauntleroy (1886) translated by Kawabata Yasunari (1899-1972). This not only indicates the long running popularity of Burnett’s novel, first translated to Japanese in 1890, but also closely links the work with the first Japanese recipient of the Nobel Prize for Literature. How does having Kawabata’s name on the cover of this book impact its reception? What can it tell us about the history of children’s literature translation and its position within the field of literary culture in Japan? My presentation will explore these questions and elucidate the complex layers of meaning embedded in the presence of Kawabata’s name on a translation of this American children’s book.
Although the new publication lists only Kawabata as the translator, the translation, first published in 1953, was a collaboration between Kawabata and Nogami Akira (1909-1967). Presenting Kawabata as the sole translator does more than just emphasize the masterpiece status of Burnett’s work. Little Lord Fauntleroy was well known as a classic of children’s literature in Japan long before 1953, with prominent translations by the likes of Wakamatsu Shizuko (1864-1896) and Kikuchi Kan (1888-1948). It is likely that a re-affirmation of works accepted as classics was necessary in the early 1950s, when writers and critics were attempting to re-establish Japanese children’s literature within the post-WWII environment. By unravelling such issues, I hope to elucidate the complex meanings and historical baggage that inevitably accompany the new publication of an old classic.