The Prohibited Peter Pan: Monteiro Lobato's politicized translation

Arts and Law
Wednesday 25th February 2015 (16:15)
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  • 'Translation Profession' talk

Speaker: Professor John Milton, University of São Paulo (USP)  

Venue: Strathcona Building, Seminar Room 3

José Bento Monteiro Lobato (1882-1948), publisher, journalist, writer of fiction, children's books, and treatises, most of which focus on bringing a more forward-looking mentality to Brazil, is one of the best-known figures in Brazilian literature and a key figure in the development of the Brazilian publishing industry. In a number of his translations of children’s literature, especially La Fontaine’s Fábulas (1921) [Fables]; Peter Pan (1930); D. Quixote das Crianças (1936) [The Children’s Don Quixote]; and Histórias de Tia Nastácia (1937) (Stories of Aunt Nastácia) he uses a technique of retelling whereby the grandmother educator, Dona Benta, retells the stories to the group of children and dolls at the Yellow Woodpecker Farm. The result is a text with many translation shifts, including abridgement, explanations, and additions, as well as paratextual commentary from Dona Benta, the narrator, and the audience of children and dolls.

Through Dona Benta’s retelling and the comments and questions from the audience Lobato is thus able to insert his own critiques of the present social and political situation of Brazil under the populist dictatorship of Getúlio Vargas (1930-1945). The voices of the original authors are almost completely lost, and we hear Lobato’s voice much more than those of La Fontaine, Barrie or Cervantes. Following Julie Kristeva, we can say that the point of enunciation changes, and the original text reacts with Lobato’s works and ideas, forming a new “intertext”.

Particularly interesting is Lobato’s retelling of Peter Pan, in which the standard of living in England and the quality of British goods are favourably compared to Brazil. Indeed, Peter Pan was seen as a politically threatening work, and copies were confiscated in the state of São Paulo. This translation was also partly responsible for Lobato’s sixth-month period of imprisonment in 1941.

John Milton is Titular Professor, University of São Paulo (USP), Brazil, teaching English Literature at undergraduate level and Translation Studies at M.A. and Ph. D. level. He is also the Coordinator of the M.A. and Ph.D. programmes in Translation Studies at USP. His main academic interest is in the theory, history, sociology and politics of translation and has published several books in Brazil and edited (with Paul Bandia) Agents of Translation, Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 2009. He has also published many articles in Brazil, and in Targetand The Translator, and has also translated poetry from Portuguese into English, and, together with Alberto Marsicano, the poetry of Keats, Wordsworth and Shelley into Portuguese.