Theoretical framework

Our critical approach is based on the combination of three distinct, although overlapping, bodies of theory, which we will bring together, interrogate and adapt in order to achieve our aims. Firstly, our research relies on Chartier’s definition of the culture of print as the intersection between the material aspects of the printed word and the social contexts of its creation, dissemination and reception (Chartier 1987). We thus consider translations as material objects, and analyse features such as format, layout, typography, etc. – thereby responding to Chartier’s and McKenzie’s invitation to examine the “non-authorial textual determinants” (McKenzie 2002) of printed books as important indicators of the way they were designed and read. More particularly, our study seeks to revisit Genette’s theories on the paratexts of printed books (1987) – that is, their title-pages, prefaces, prologues, epilogues, poems praising the author or translator, illustrations, marginal annotations, etc. Important proposals have recently been made to adapt the concept of paratext, and its literary and cultural implications, to the early modern context (Cave, Saenger, Smith): while drawing on these findings, we aim to further the current debate by focusing specifically on the paratextual practices deployed by translators, their printers, and their readers in early modern England.


Secondly, we intend to use previous theoretical models of book production and distribution as a starting-point for creating a new model, which will have as its pivotal figure, not the author, but the translator. While existing models provide a useful basis for identifying the different “players” (Feather) in the market for translations, they often are insufficiently problematized: for example, they do not address the crucial elements of patronage and commission in the production of printed literature. We will therefore pay attention to these issues, not only because they constitute important factors in the creation and circulation of printed translations, but also because they have been shown to play a significant role in the making of “authorial figures” (Chartier 1992) and literary canons (Gillespie 2011). 


Finally, we seek complement Chartier’s theses concerning the various “cultural uses of print” with the critical tools provided by recent theories of translation, especially those stressing its ideological and sociological contexts. For example, since manuscript translation remained an important activity during the period, we will interrogate the social, ideological and political factors that shaped translators’ – or their printers’ – decisions to go “into print” (Grafton, Chang).  In so doing, we will be particularly attentive to the opportunities for “manipulation” (Lefevere, Hermans) afforded by the combined resources of textual translation and the spatial economy of the printed page. In order to get a better understanding of the perceived social and cultural value of printed translations, we will follow up on André Lefevere’s study of the production and reception of translations in terms of Bourdieu’s notion of “cultural capital” (Bourdieu, Lefevere 1998): for instance, we will investigate how the publication and ownership of printed translations were variously advertised as a means to access prestigious literary works, showcase one’s mastery of “linguistic capital” (Lefevere), or situate oneself within social, political and literary circles. This approach will allow us to situate printed translations within the developing English literary field, and to address issues such as the “anxiety of status” (Rhodes) latent in early modern translation discourse, its links with changing perceptions about the “stigma of print” (Johns), and the combined utilization of print and translation in the creation of canons of national literature.


Link to Bibliography