A Thousand and One Nights

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Richard Burton’s foreignized translations of The Haroun Tales, in comparison with Malcolm Lyons’ domesticated translations of the same tell us that while the distinction between domestication and foreignization is certainly pertinent in some cases, features of both will always emerge in each text. The applicability of distinguishing between domestication and foreignization is also largely contingent upon the time period in which the text was published and the nature of the readers of each time period.

In The Haroun Tales, Lyons most prominent method of familiarizing his text he refrains from using cultural terminology. His substitution of “Allah” with “God” and “Hammam” with “Bath” are examples of this. This was done possibly with the intent of allowing his readers to relate more with the characters, since both “Allah” and “Hammam” are cultural terms of Islam, and “God” and “bath” are more general terms used in everyday language. In “The Mock Caliph” Burton’s intent of foreignizing the story can be seen throughout the text, for instance when he uses the phrase “prayer-carpet of yellow silk” while Lyons uses “rug of yellow silk”. Burton uses the phrase “lute of Hindu make” while Lyons uses “made by Indian craftsmen”. Burton describes the mock caliph to “rent his raiment to the very skirt” while Lyons describes him to “[tear] his robe down to its hem”. Lyons can be said to be evading culture-specific descriptions, and giving more familiar or recognizable imageries, which is his way of domesticating his text for his readers.

Despite these fairly operative features, the extent of Burton’s foreignization can be put under question. One way to perceive this is to scrutinize his portrayal of violence, which is essentially similar to that of Lyons. In the Mock Caliph when the false Caliph returns from having visited Lady Zubaidah, Lady Dunya is said to “[draw] up both her feet and [give him] a kick”. Similarly in Lyons, she “put her feet together and kicked [him]. Later when she decides to punish him, Both Lyons and Burton use the same phrase “they beat me on my ribs”. Other foreignizers like Mardrus provide a fair amount of graphic detail for this particular scene, including phrases like “beat me cruelly upon the most sensitive parts of my body” and “murderously lashed my private parts”. Since the content of the original text is unknown, comparison tells us that Burton seems to be wary of depicting a scene consisting of too much violence. As the principal characteristic of Victorian readers was sensitivity, this results in domestication of the text. Diminishing excessive violence from a scene can be seen as Burton’s way of eliminating the shock-value of his text. Since modern readers are more immune to such kind of vividness, it would thus be expected of Lyons to provide more explicit portrayals of violence seeing as his. In this way, the degree of domestication that Lyons intended requires some scrutiny; a method of comparison is Burton and Lane’s portrayal of sexuality. Burton’s depictions are considerably explicit and harbor lust more prominently than love. The false caliph, for example, is said to “[have] a mind to enjoy her”, while in Lyons’ he “wanted to lie with her”. Burton describes him to have had a “lover’s privacy” of her and never had “a more delicious night”. Lyons instead chose to say that they were “alone as lovers” and the false caliph had never had “a sweeter night”. From this it can be noted that Lyons’ more gentle depictions visualize a respectful and loving relationship, while Burton’s focused on the lustful way the false caliph regarded his wife. This would be testimony to the foreignizing effect of Burton’s text considering the traditional and conservative nature of Victorian readers. His depiction of the false caliph’s relatively crude demeanor escalates the element of shock in the text. Furthermore, instances like when the false caliph “rubbed” his wife’s feet, while Lane’s “stroked” them, emphasize...
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