Senate House Library has among its many holdings the literary archive of William Rose (1894–1961). A scholar of German, he upheld a belief in literature’s psychological contributions, and was responsible for translating the works of many exiled intellectuals from Nazi Germany and Austria.
These archival papers chart a friendship with writers from the late 1920s through to the 1950s, such as Robert Neumann, Franz Werfel, Else Lasker-Schüler, Alfred Kerr, Stefan Zweig and Thomas Mann. They also give an insight into the process of the writers’ reinvention that was forced on them through the experience of migration and exile.
In 1933 Sigmund Freud wrote to his friend, the novelist and poet H D Doolittle, saying ‘Excuse my writing to you in English … now I cannot recover how far I might trust your understanding German …’. Just like him, Rose’s correspondents invariably apologise for their lack of fluency in English, and express their desire for his assistance in transforming them and their language into ‘better English’. (Franz Werfel to William Rose Beverly Hills 1942, WRO)
This correspondence often speaks in the same breath of matters of life and death, exile and subsistence, visas and character references but also of petrol vouchers, tardy publishers and most important, the struggle with the new idiom. Writing in English was identified as an important component of this new chapter in the lives of exiles.
These writers, separated through language from their own foundational texts, turned to Rose for help. They, on the other hand, inspired Rose’s Pen Club lecture on the art and craft of the translator. The correspondence shows how writers thought of themselves and ‘recast’ themselves in exile, and highlights the contribution made by native speakers in this transformative process.
When Vienna’s University of Music and the Performing Arts asked me to contribute to its ‘Cultural translation and knowledge transfer on alternative routes of escape from Nazi occupied Europe’ conference, I thought Freud was right. He stated that there are no accidents and no coincidences, and that nothing comes ‘out of the blue’.
The chance to speak in Vienna of all places about Freud’s influence on a translator, whose work has always held me in thrall, was not one to miss. It would give me a chance to share my enchantment. Therefore, to paraphrase the great man, I became an actor in the drama of my own mind, pushed by desire, pulled by coincidence.
Thus, the paper looked at what I loosely termed the ‘linguistic reinvention’, which exiled writers underwent when they began their new lives in England or America through the lens of their letters to their friend and translator from the late 1920s through to the 1940s. It also tried to show that the concepts of what translating meant to Rose, and which he expressed in a PEN Club lecture, were influenced by his work, friendship and correspondence with exiled writers. It aimed to draw attention to the vexed question of the identity of the exile when authors divested themselves of their linguistic identity but simultaneously remained faithful to their mother tongue. The intention was to present the work of the writers that Rose translated and Rose’s own thoughts expressed in lectures and notes as being in a state of flux or continuous change.
His friendship and professional relationship with the poet and playwright Else Lasker-Schüler (1869–1945) is of particular interest in this context. Not only due to the warmth and kindness that suffuses their exchanges, but through the, I believe, unmistakable influence that her highly original pen-and-crayon drawings and collages that made their way into their correspondence had on the layout of Rose’s lecture notes.
This I hoped would induce researchers to these and the many related papers in the library, such as the archives of the Catalan publisher and translator Joan Gili.
My proposition is that research into these primary sources and the supporting secondary sources and related materials would give further insights into the intimate relationship between literature, translation, exile, and the now rather unfashionable psychological theories and therapeutic techniques that have their origin in the work and theories of Sigmund Freud. Examples include the British Psychological Society Library which is fully integrated with the Psychology Collection in Senate House Library.
I adhere to the thoughts expressed by the psychoanalyst and Professor of English literature Adam Philipps that ‘both literature and psychoanalysis can help us work out what are the conversations we crave that may get us the lives we want …’