According to Paul Duguid in his review of Yochai Benkler’s The Wealth of Networks: How Social Production Transforms Markets and Freedom, in the July 7, 2006 issue of the TLS (not online):
Gutenberg offers some 17,000 “etexts”. Many seem unexceptional, but for some the need to avoid copyright entanglements has led contributors to resurrect editions which were better left buried. Its version of Pan, the novel by Nobel-Prizewinner Knut Hamsun, for example, puts William Wurster’s ridiculously prudish translation of 1921 before unsuspecting readers.
Leaving aside Duguid’s reference to W. W. Worster as “William Wurster” — he also refers to the film, A Mighty Wind, as The Mighty Wind; you can check that kind of stuff on the Internet, you know — this line made me wonder: what constitutes “ridiculous prudishness”?
So I got down my copies of Worster’s 1921 translation and MacFarlane’s 1957 translation and compared them line by line. I found four points of variation that could be considered relevant to a charge of prudishness:
Worster: “I lay my hand on her.”
MacFarlane: “And she is naked under her dress from head to foot and I place my hand on her.”
Worster: And Eva — Eva lay beside it, mangled and broken, dashed to pieces by the shock — torn beyond recognition.
MacFarlane: Eva laid beside it, crushed and broken, smashed by the blow, torn beyond recognition down her side and below the waist.
Postscript – Chapter 2
Worster: I might have listened much more, but I had to go.
MacFarlane: Glahn and Maggie were obviously awake and I could have overheard a great deal more, but I had to go.
But I suspect this is theÂ passage Duguid had in mind, from Chapter 8:
Worster: “Tie my shoestring,” she says, with flushed cheeks …” The sun dips down into the sea and rises again, red and refreshed, as if it had been to drink. And the air is full of whisperings. An hour after she speaks, close to my mouth: “Now I must leave you.”
MacFarlane: “Tie my shoelace,” she says with flaming cheeks. And in a little while she whispers against my mouth, against my lips: “Oh, you are not tying my shoelace, you my dearest heart, you are not tying … not tying my …” But sun dips his face into the sea and comes up again, red, refreshed, as if he had been down to drink. And the air is filled with whispers. An hour later she says against my mouth: “Now I must leave you.”
And that’s everything I could find. Prudish, yes. But still, “better left buried”? If you’ve read Worster you know there’s incomparable poetry in his translations, and on many dimensions — there are literary qualities other than sexual candor; you’ll just have to trust me on that — they’ve never been bettered. I might argue you’ve never read Hamsun until you’ve read the Worster translations, which served as the English-speaking world’s introduction to Hamsun for more than a generation.
If Worster is the worst you can find in Gutenberg, then maybe I’m starting to believe in this Internet thing after all.