Two Translations of Tennyson’s Poem
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Turning literary work into film is a complicated process because the result of it depends on many factors. The main task of the filmmakers, who aim to create a worthy literature-based movie, is to interpret the meaning and value of the text and communicate the author’s main ideas. The majority of present-day films are based on the works of literature. Some films are the renditions of the written stories, while the others so not closely follow the source texts. All these interrelations are closely connected to the methods that are used by the filmmakers for their screen adaptations. For a better understanding of these interrelations, one has to orient himself or herself in the notions “adaptation” and “translation”. The difference between them has been debated by many writers and even today, there is no exact boundary (Naremore 11). Despite the fact that the term “adaptation” is more wide-spread and “to adopt” means to move the text from one entity to a new one, Linda Cahir suggests another point of view. She claims that turning literary work into film is the process of translation, as filmmakers translate the book into the language of the film (14). In this way, the two films under analysis are to be discussed in terms of translation. The creators of the films Enoch Arden (1911) and Move Over, Darling (1963) translate the touching plot of the original poem written by Alfred Lord Tennyson, creating new independent works each with its peculiarities and specific ways of expressing the main idea of the source text.
The touching plot of Alfred Lord Tennyson’s famous narrative novel Enoch Arden (1864) has been attracting the attention of many filmmakers. The poem tells the story about a young man, Enoch, who once sails abroad searching for hope and money. He leaves his family expecting that he will come back soon. Eventually, he gets marooned on the isolated island after a shipwreck. When Enoch returns after many years, he sees that his place in his family is taken by Philip, a friend of his. His love for his wife and children stops Enoch from revealing himself to the family. Eventually, he dies of this very love. Among the themes employed by Tennyson are the faith in God, human suffering, sacrifice of personal happiness for the family’s sake and many others. Speaking about the structure of the text, it needs to be mentioned that the author uses numerous repetitions and religious connotations. The general tone of the poem in combination with the writing style of Tennyson makes the story an ideal source for its screen translation and adaptation.
One of the first attempts to translate the poem was undertaken by David Wark Griffith in 1911 and by means of traditional translation resulted in the movie Enoch Arden. Initially, the poem was staged and performed in the theatres, but later on with the invention of cinematography, enthusiastic filmmakers like Griffith used the plot for their works. The film Enoch Arden (1911) may be called the traditional translation for many reasons. Firstly, the black-and-white silent movie maintains the main traits of the book. Secondly, Griffith leaves the plot and settings almost unchanged. Thirdly, the atmosphere and tone of the film resemble those of the source text as well. However, some details are changed in a way that is more suitable to the society of those days. The director of the film creates the proper atmosphere by using parallel editing and numerous repetitions. These techniques, as well as the music, settings and subtitles underline the key points of Tennyson’s poem and capture viewers’ attention by pointing to the most important things. One cannot help noticing the details of the plot that are omitted in the film. For instance, in the poem one of the children dies, but in the film he just disappears without any explanation. Another example is hidden in the subtitles, where it is written that a “new baby came” but not “was born”. These changes in the plot are the results of a common convention of early cinema not to depict pregnancy, death and birth. Besides, in the poem Enoch wants his friend Lane to fulfill his last wish and to tell his wife, Annie, about his arrival and death. In the film, the end is a little different, as Enoch does not want to stand in the way of her happiness.
Another screen version of the poem about Enoch Arden, Move over, Darling, was created in 1963 and is considered a radical translation of the original text. Comparing to silent movies of 1911, films had changed greatly, both stylistically and technologically (Welsh 13), but still the plot of Tennyson’s literary work was being retold. This film is the remake of the comedy My Favorite Wife (1963). The main heroine, Ellen Arden, who is thought to be dead after an airplane crash, shows up five years later. The woman finds her husband, Nick, newly married and meets him in the hotel where they spent their honeymoon. The tensions are growing when Nick finds out that Ellen was not the only person on the island and that she spent five years of life with another man. This movie has a happy ending, typical to all American comedies. As a matter of fact, in terms of translation Move over, Darling refers to the third mode, which is the radical translation. Such translation reshapes the book in extreme and revolutionary ways. In this case, a film is considered a fully independent work. Certainly, in this film instead of a man, viewers see a woman, who comes back from the isolated island. While Enoch is the victim of shipwreck, Ellen is lost after a plane crash. Besides, when she returns, the first thing she does is calling home and visiting the house where her family lives. Similarly to Annie in Enoch Arden, Nick is married to another woman. However, Ellen is found out to be not as lonely as Enoch was and she spent time with another man on the island. Contrasting two films, we see the difference not only in the sound, image and plot but in the general tone and the portrayal of the main events. In Move Over, Darling there is an emphasis of the technical progress (for instance, plane crash instead of shipwreck). The later version of Enoch Arden is optimistic and encouraging. Such portrayal is the mirror of the society for which it was shot. It is clear that the filmmakers of different epochs in cinematography had different aims and they were achieved accordingly.
The two examples of the translation of the poem Enoch Arden into the film language prove that cinematography and literature are closely connected. Translating literary works into the movies is very complicated, yet interesting process that differs due to the existing differences in the society, audience, its perception of the film, and cultural values of contemporaries. Although the films Enoch Arden and Move Over, Darling are based on the same poem, they are the results of two different interpretations and thus they differ on many points. At the same time, all three works mentioned teach the audience the same things and values and this fact let us consider the translation successful.