New translations of Ibsen released

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It’s been more than 50 years since Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen’s classic works were most recently translated into English. Now the legendary publishing company Penguin Classics is releasing a new batch of Ibsen’s works, translated into the English of the new millennium.

Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen's classic works are now being published in updated English. PHOTO: Wikipedia/Gustav Borgen

Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen’s classic works are now being published in updated English. PHOTO: Wikipedia/Gustav Borgen

“This is one of the most important things that can be done for Ibsen’s continued existence out in the world,” literature professor Tore Rem told newspaper Aftenposten. Earlier Penguin Classics translations from the 1950s will now be replaced by the newer, updated versions.

Penguin Classics has now re-released A Doll’s House and Other Plays and Peer Gynt and Brand, The challenge has been to translate the 1800’s conversations of A Doll’s House’s heroine Nora and her husband Torvald Helmer into modern English. It took Rem and translater Erik Skuggevik six years to do it.

The English translations that are now being replaced have been published again and again without any renewal (of the language).” Rem told Aftenposten. He thinks the language was outdated, even though the books have continued to be sold in the hundreds of thousaands.

It’s seldom Penguin Classics, now part of Penguin Random House, makes such a major overhaul of an author’s work as it’s now doing with Ibsen’s works. Ibsen’s themes and ideas from the late 1800s are just as current now as they were then. Penguin reported itself that Ibsen’s A Doll’s House continues to sell around 10,000 copies a year, 100 years after Ibsen’s death.

The new translations have been no easy task. Skuggevik struggled especially with the Norwegian-Danish language that existed during Ibsen’s time. His character Nora’s consistent use of the old Danish-Norwegian word deiligt was thus translated now into “lovely,” while her husband’s equivalent of herligt became “splendid.”

Penguin and its Norwegian translaters now hope to publish the rest of Ibsen’s dramas under the title Hedda Gabler and other plays. Berglund

  • Roy Everson

    A huge Investment but a sound business move as well, considering that the themes in Ibsen’s plays remain highly relevant. To name just a couple: environmental issues plus the role of journalists in society (Enemy of the People) and the aforementioned Doll’s House, usually cited for gender issues, also well describes class and privilege and even effects of southern European culture on Norway –.the dancing and the cookies! Look forward to examples of how the language changes in 50 years. One poses as well an obvious question: is the “English” to be the British version, the American — or Norwegian English? Now that would be as delicious as a macaroon.

    • richard albert

      As the article points out, Norwegian has changed as well – perhaps to a greater degree than English. I wonder if we will ever see an annotated version, because they would almost have to have translated the material to modern Norwegian in the process. Bravo!