Thursday 10 November 2011

Novel forms and linguistic considerations

Some of the earliest novels were written in the form of letters. I can quite understand that now as I fictionalise my German girls’ letters. I have seven girls and their teacher. As I write each letter I become the person writing the letter. The writer in me knows that I am giving a little of the girl’s personality, a little information about her personal life and some information about the setting. I have to do this in as natural a way as possible yet still keep the reader engaged.
The real letters are a little dull and repetitive in places. Yet there are some very interesting moments- such as when one girl reads of another’s marriage in a newspaper. Maybe I should say ‘young woman’ rather than ‘girl’. Another is when Fräulein Braun recommends burning the volume of class letter when every girl has seen it. Is there a hint of something sinister here?
In that same letter, the teacher admits that she is quite a shy person. At this point she starts addressing the girls with the “Sie” form (second person polite) instead of Ihr (second person plural familiar). That is quite hard to show in the English text.
All the texts are peppered with German words. Renate uses Mutti, Vati, even when in England. Yet I’m having the German girls refer to mother, father, daddy, and mummy. It seems right: the German girls are thinking in their own language – so the reader must too. For Renate, Mutti and Vati are names. You don’t translate names.
Some other names are staying in German – various cakes – Bienenstich, Apfelkuchen, Käsekuchen and Hilter and the other Nazis  are generally referred to as Herr Hitler etc.
Most of this has been intuitive and now I’m trying to explain why it’s working.
One thing remains a puzzle.  I sometimes want to call the class letter the Rundbrief but other times just refer to it as the class letter. Maybe this goes back to something in the original letter.  

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