Why Don’t you Like Lady Charlotte Guest’s Mabinogion?
From time to time I get an email asking me why I don’t like Lady Charlotte Guest’s translation of the Mabinogi. It’s not that I don’t like her translation (I do!) it’s that it’s not really accurate. Let me show you what I mean. The following passages are from the first branch, about Pwyll. First is the passage in Patrick K. Ford’s translation, then the same passage in Lady Charlotte Guest’s version.
And when the period of entertainment was past and it was time to sleep, to sleep they went. He got into bed, and his wife went to him. First he talked to her, then engaged in affectionate play and made love to her. She had not been accustomed to that for a year, and she thought about that.
“Dear God!” she thought,”what a different mind he has tonight from what he has had for the past year!” And she thought for a long time. And after her musing, he awoke and said something to her, and again, and a third time. But he got no answer from her.
“Why don’t you speak to me?” he asked.
“I tell you,” she replied, “that I haven’t spoken this much for a year under these circumstances.”
“Why,” he said, “we have talked continually.”
“Shame on me,” she said, “if from the time we went between the sheets there was either pleasure or talk between us or even your facing me—much less anything more than that—for the past year!”
And he thought, “Dear Lord God, it was a unique man, with strong and unwavering friendship that I got for a companion.” And then he said to his wife,”Lady,” he said,”don’t blame me. I swear to God,” he said, “I haven’t slept with you since a year from last night nor have I lain with you.”
And he told her the entire adventure.
“I confess to God,” she said,”as far as fighting temptations of the flesh and keeping true to you goes, you had a solid hold on a fellow.”
“Lady,” he said, “that’s just what I was thinking while I was silent with you.”
“That was only natural,” she answered.
(Ford, Patrick K. The Mabinogi and Other Medieval Welsh Tales. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1977)
And here’s Guest’s version:
And when it was time for them rather to sleep than to carouse, they went to rest.