As promised in a post back in May, this is the strange story of what happened when the translator Ana Quijada Vargas took on the translation of the missing 21st chapter of the Spanish version of A Clockwork Orange (ACO), La Naranja Mecanica (LNM). The analysis behind this post was largely carried out by our collaborator and good friend Niall Curry.

This post has been written to mark the publication of the edited collection Science Fiction in Translation, in which our chapter on the English, French and Spanish Nadsats appears (thanks to Ian Campbell for his support in this).

Science Fiction in Translation cover

The case of the missing chapter

The first obvious question here is why an extra translator was needed in the first place for the Spanish version of ACO. This situation arose due to confusion created by Burgess himself in writing the book.

Spoiler alert - don't read further if you don't want to know what happens at the end!

Those who have read ACO will know that the end of chapter 20 sees Alex’s recovery of his old self; his free will, lost because of the Ludovico treatment, is reawakened. This for many would be a good point to end to book. However, Burgess decided that the book needed a chapter 21 (this would also maintain the symmetrical structure of 3 parts each of 7 chapters); in this final chapter, we see a more mature Alex looking to a future without ultraviolence and twenty-to-one. But this isn’t an altogether satisfying ending for everyone. Certainly, the US publishers of the book thought not, and persuaded Burgess to omit chapter 21. This meant that when Kubrick came to make his film, two versions of the text existed, the UK edition of 21 chapters, and the shorter US one. Kubrick opted to follow the US edition. So it’s not really a surprise that some translations of ACO, like Leal’s Spanish one, also base themselves on the American 20-chapter version.

The problem with this of course is that, over time, the 21-chapter version of ACO became the canonical one. This led the publishers of the Spanish version, Minotauro, to decide in the early 2000s to rectify the situation and employ a new translator to finish the job. They turned to Ana Quijada Vargas (AQV), whose work (if you follow the hyperlink) has often featured the translation of works relating to science fiction and fantasy.

AQV’s job was therefore to complete a translation of chapter 21, presumably in the same style that Leal brought to the original. Translating Nadsat of course is a really challenging task, as this blog has consistently pointed out. However, AQV did at least have a glossary (the note to which makes the exceedingly dubious claim that Burgess had a hand in its creation – post coming soon) to rely on as a guide to how Nadsat words had been dealt with in the first 20 chapters.

So we thought it would be interesting to compare the Nadsat composition of chapters 1-20 with that of chapter 21 to see how AQV approached this task and what sort of a job she pulled off. Niall’s investigation threw up some interesting discrepancies which we’ll outline here.

Not too horrorshow

The thing that stands out from a comparative analysis of Nadsat words used in the first 20 chapters of LNM versus those in the newly translated chapter 21 is the absence of joroschó, Leal’s translation of horrorshow. It’s simply disappeared, even though it appears 8 times in chapter 21 of ACO (and, of course, in the glosario, where it is glossed “bueno, bien”). What could have caused AQV to omit this key Nadsat word?

As we have mentioned before, horrorshow is a very difficult word to translate. How can a translator get across both the meaning of the Russian etymon (хopoшo – “good”) and the idea of horror? Leal didn’t bother, choosing to ignore the ‘horror’ aspect and simply to go for joroschó, a word with no connotations for a Spanish-reading audience. We could speculate that this shortcoming with the translation is what discouraged AQV from using joroschó except that another similarly tricky Nadsat word, bolshy (“big”) is retained (Sp-Nadsat bolche).

Perhaps, then, the translations of horrorshow might reveal some other translation strategy used to deal with this tricky item. It turns out that this isn’t really the case and unfortunately the treatment of horrorshow isn’t even consistent across the chapter. AQV instead translates this word in three different ways, or simply ignores it.

The first way is to use Spanish words meaning something like ‘gruesome/damaged/horrific’ (espanto(sas)) as with the translation of this line from ACO:

But it was always the same on the old nogas - real horrorshow bolshy big boots for kicking litsos in.
Pero siempre era lo mismo para nuestras viejas nogas, unas grandes botas bolches, realmente espantosas, para patear litsos.

To use espantosas, a word meaning something like horrific, as a translation for horrorshow doesn’t catch the idea of approbation that Alex has for the size of his boots and the damage that they can create but instead suggests that he’s somehow afraid of them.

A second option used by AQV is to use de película as an equivalent, which means something like ‘fantastic/incredible‘ as shown here:

But I viddied that the devotchka at this table who was with this chelloveck was real horrorshow
Sin embargo videé que la débochca de la mesa que estaba con el cheloveco era de película

This seems to catch the meaning of the original but of course we lose the flavour imparted by Alex’s use of Nadsat.

The third way that horrorshow is translated is by using the phrase de primera, apparently short for de primera clase, or ‘first class’:

with a horrorshow plott and litso
tenía un ploto y un litso de primera

This translation of course suffers from the same issues as the use of de película above.

A further strategy is simply to ignore horrorshow in translation, as here:

I could not viddy her all that horrorshow , brothers
Pero no conseguía videarlo, hermanos

Again this omission strategy (which happens twice in the chapter) isn’t very satisfactory. Indeed, it’s quite difficult to understand the overall treatment of horrorshow , which is after all the third most frequent Nadsat word (after veck and viddy).

Niall’s analysis also pinpointed a couple of other inconsistencies in the treatment of Nadsat in chapter 21. This is down to the introduction of two new Nadsat words: cáncer (English Nadsat cancer = “cigarette”) in place of cancrillo, and preciosos gollis as a translation of pretty polly (“money”; see here and here for discussion of translations of this rather tricky Nadsat word). In actual fact, one could make arguments for both of these words being preferable to the way they were dealt with by Leal, in particular the rather inventive preciosos gollis. The problem for the reader is that it is a bit confusing to have new Nadsat items introduced in the last chapter.

Of course, it’s really not for us to cast aspersions on the practices of translators, who after all do a very difficult job and have our full sympathy. However, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that this does not perhaps represent AQV’s finest work.

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