David Hawkes obituary/Nachrufe

I’ve read The Story of the Stone (the Dream of the Red Chamber) twice this year but I didn’t realize that David Hawkes, who translated the first three volumes, died on 31 July (the last two volumes were translated by John Minford, his son-on-law).

There’s an article in today’s Guardian by Fu Ying, the Chinese ambassador to the UK, Remembering David Hawkes. Guardian obituary by John Gittings, Times obituary

Hawkes apparently gave up his chair of Chinese Studies at Oxford to translate full-time.

The translation is a very good read, witty as well as erudite. I love the translations of the names of all the servants and other characters (Baoyu’s servant Ming Yan (Tea Mist) is Tealeaf – although he isn’t a thief, he is resourceful and cunning – the Buddhist nun is Mother Euergesia, and I recall a passing reference to members of the Chinese upper class including ‘Piggy Feng’, which could have come from Evelyn Waugh)

Apart from reading, I’ve also been watching the 1987 TV version on 12 DVDs; a 2009 version is being made. I wouldn’t recommend watching this in reliance on the English subtitles unless you’ve read the novel first: this is some of the worst English I’ve ever seen, and some of the subtitles go past so fast you can scarcely see them, let alone read them, but I assume the film gives a good impression of what the garden may have looked like, the big funeral processions, the arrangements for eating, the plays (operas) and so on. See the chapter titles here for an idea of the English in the subtitles.

Redology (with one d, Guardian) is the study of the Dream of the Red Chamber. One of Fu Ying’s criticisms of the translation is that Hawkes decided not to use the colour red throughout as it is used in the Chinese.

There were, of course, points at which Hawkes was less successful. His reluctance to use the word “red” drew criticism, for “red” is central to the message of the book, referring as it does in Chinese culture to all the good things in life: youth, love, prosperity, and nobility. He avoided ‘red’ in the title of the book which he translated into The Story of the Stone, rather than Dream of Red Mansions. He also translated the hero’s residence as House of Green Delight, instead of Happy Red Court as its Chinese name literally suggests.

Hawkes discusses these decisions in notes and forewords.

Next on my reading list in Dore J. Levy’s Ideal and Actual in the Story of the Stone, which can easily be got second-hand.

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