Translating the Orient

The Reception of Śākuntala in Nineteenth-Century Europe

By Dorothy M. Figueira

Subjects: India And South Asian Studies
Series: SUNY series in Hindu Studies
Paperback : 9780791403280, 260 pages, February 1991
Hardcover : 9780791403273, 260 pages, February 1991

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Table of contents


I. Background and Theoretical Considerations

II. Critical Reception and Methodology

III. Nineteenth-Century Translation Conventions

IV. An Introduction to the Sakuntala

V. Analysis of the Text


Act 5, Verses 1-3
Act 5, Verses 4-6
Act 5, Verses 23-27


VI. Errors in the Host Language: Grammatical Prejudices of the Sanskrit Language and the Horizon of the Text as a Nataka

VII. Dramatic Adaptations

VIII. Traduttore Traditore

IX. India a Source of Inspiration or an Alibi for Despair





This book examines the emplotment of India in the Western literary imagination. Basing her discussion on the reception of an emblematic Sanskrit text, Kālidāsa's Śākuntala, Figueira studies how and why this text was distorted in translation, criticism, and adaptation, and isolates the linguistic errors and cultural distortions that can be grouped into trends and patterns. The unique situation of Śākuntala's reception affords the author the opportunity to look at the way Europeans projected their cultural needs upon India.

The author puts into perspective an entire social and intellectual history of Europe's encounter with Indian culture, an examination of its cultural and political consequences, and a philosophical inquiry into differences between Eastern and Western world views.

Dorothy M. Figueira is Assistant Professor of Comparative Studies at State University of New York, Stony Brook.


"The book shows how prejudices, rather than cutting a text off from the present, initially open it to diverse readers. It shows how German concepts of Volk inscribe an alien sense of community into the Indian text; how the idea of Gluck imposes Western notions of the individual's right to happiness upon it; how Romantic ideas about nature mistranslate the Indian idea; how French Christianity reads a proto-existentialism into it; and how German cynicism and psychologism misread the text. It also presents a fine study of specific appropriations by Gautier, Lamartine, and Schlegel. " -- William J. Kennedy, Cornell University

"An important contribution to the field of comparative poetics, as well as to the field of translation, this is the only full-length study I know of that specifically addresses the problems of cross-cultural translation and their implications within the sphere of cross-cultural understanding. " -- Janet A. Walker, Rutgers University

"This book will be useful for Sanskritists, Orientalists, and general scholars of comparative literature. For Sanskritists, Figueira describes in a most enlightened way problems constantly encountered in translation; for "Orientalists," the story of SAakuntala translations is most revealing; for scholars of comparative literature, she has supplied a most interesting case study in 19th-century European thought and attitudes. With this book, Figueira has established herself as a scholar's scholar. " -- Frederick M. Smith, University of Pennsylvania