Narrator

by Andy James

The disparities between Jozefina Smutna's A Guide To Wales, published in Czechoslovakia in 1974, and its English translation, by Stanley Fuller which saw the light of day in 1997, have been noted before. They are all the more remarkable considering the probity of Fuller's previous work, which includes immaculate and uncontentious English editions of Smutna's numerous other western guidebooks. His rendering of her One Year in Madrid is considered definitive and his dedication in bringing to the English speaking world her rich body of work is universally applauded. A Guide to Wales has always been problematical, though, a fact acknowledged by Rinter and Sons when they last year issued what they described as a 'new' version of Smutna's Wales, the only one of her books to be thus far afforded such treatment. Rinter's translation - oddly uncredited and thus giving the book the impression of having been written by Smutna in English - corrects many of Fuller's errors and eliminates entirely some, but not all, of his apparent interpolations. Rinters claim in publicity materials that their translation was made with Smutna's co-operation, but obviously without Fuller's, Stanley Fuller having passed away in 1998. Their version has not been entirely accepted by scholars, with some even preferring Fuller's edition, but an unbiased appraisal suggests the latter is certainly less literal. A well-known example, in the first chapter, concerns Aberdare. Smutna writes:

SMUTNA
Priemyselna sila v meste Aberdare zacala upadat v dvadsiatom storoci a jej posledne uholne bane sa zatvorili pred desiatimi rokmi.

NARRATOR
Fuller renders this as:

FULLER
Aberdare, and her dreams which ended under a decade of mines, coal black and industrial.

NARRATOR
It might be argued that Fuller's work is an enrichment of Smutna's somewhat dry style, and this indeed is the approach taken by Fuller's supporters. There are many instances of such 'enrichment' in the first few chapters of the book, largely concerning the Rhondda Valley and the Vale of Glamorgan, which - whilst they may be irritating to a Smutna purist - retain something of the original. However, once we pass beyond Llanelli into west Wales, the nature of Fuller's text changes to a degree many have found unacceptable. Here is Smutna's original opening to chapter 4:

SMUTNA
Prvym zaujimavym mestom v tomto kraji je primorske mesto Tenby. Tu sa nachadzaju ruiny hradu a ako aj hradby ktore pochadzaju z 13.storocia.

NARRATOR
The same chapter in Fuller's English edition begins thus:

FULLER
I finally left Swansea as autumn approached. I had had to remain there much longer than intended, whilst I waited for my car to be repaired. The mechanic responded most rudely when I made him salient of the delays he had foisted upon me. I drove away, just as the rush hour subsided. I listened to a radio talk show in Welsh, picking out a word here and there. At 8.30, I arrived at a town by the name of Llantrary.

NARRATOR
The most striking difference between the two passages is Fuller's omission of any reference to Tenby. Indeed, Tenby is not mentioned at any time in Fuller's entire book, whilst Smutna spends most of chapter 4 discussing it and mentions it again in chapter 11 as a point of comparison against the merits of Prestatyn. While the entirety of Fuller's passage is questionable, his mention of the town of Llantrary presents particular problems. No such town, village or hamlet has ever existed in Wales, as far as can be ascertained from the documentation. Neither does Smutna herself mention it, either in her book of Wales, or her entire body of correspondence. The current consensus is that Fuller must have either misread the name in Smutna's original, or somehow been misdirected in his own research. It is known, for example, that he often retraced Smutna's journeys before undertaking his translations. Might it be possible that he alighted upon a village he somehow took to be named Llantrary, and inserted it into his text in a spirit of completism? We will never know. Unlike Jozefina Smutna, Stanley Fuller burned all his letters and papers shortly before his death. In any case, having arrived at Llantrary, Fuller seems unwilling to leave it. The next six chapters of his are based solely within its confines, whilst the corresponding portions of Smutna's book range from Haverfordwest, the Pembroke National Park, up the coast to Aberystwyth and eventually to Snowdonia. Indeed, it is at this point in Fuller's text that he begins to abandon the basic precepts of a travel book. The following paragraph is a fairly mild example:

FULLER
Dusk in Llantrary is routinely accompanied by fornication, often of an extremely uninhibited kind. On my way from the Jarvis Woods, I espied a couple engaging each other's attention in the backroom of the millhouse. At first I believed them to be young lovers, but as I approached closer, I realised that the female was of very advanced years, whilst her companion was but a boy. Seeing my interest, they asked me to remain and observe them, which I was happy to do.

NARRATOR
Needless to say, no passage even remotely resembling this one is to be found anywhere in Smutna. That it is preceded in the narrative by a lengthy discourse concerning the trees and attendant wildlife of Llantrary, and is followed up by a tableau depicting Fuller's evening meal is all the odder. A Guide to Wales was the last translating work - or literary work of any kind - that Stanley Fuller undertook before his death. Perhaps this is of significance. Perhaps also of significance is Rinter's decision, apparently under the guidance of Smutna herself, to retain almost verbatim the controversial village priest incident, in its new translation. This was long thought to be another of Fuller's bizarre interpolations, as nothing akin to it is to be found in Smutna's original. It is too long to include here in its entirety, but the following extract, from Fuller's edition, will give a flavour of the piece.

FULLER
He was a priest, I saw. For some reason, he had chosen to display his collar and vestment whilst committing the act. The hill was empty, the sun rising behind it with rays that mixed in with the flames around the baby, giving the effect of a raging red sea, or some terrible invocation. Very shortly, the infant stopped screaming, but the priest stayed for quite some time, watching the flames eat themselves out.

NARRATOR
Fuller's edition also includes a small number of photographs which do not appear in Smutna's original, but which are retained in Rinter's new translation, sometimes in place of Smutna's own. In Chapter 7 of Smutna's original guide is a photograph depicting a red house with a small door below which is the comment:

SMUTNA
Najmensie Mesta vo Velkej Britanii

NARRATOR
In Fuller's Wales, the same caption is placed beneath a photo of what appears to be a butcher's shop front, sausages and ribs being visible beyond a plate glass window in which is faintly reflected the cameraman himself, in detail that is unfortunately too scanty to reconcile with any confidence against the known likenesses of Fuller or for that matter Smutna. The one distinguishing feature is the hands, which are disproportionately, even distressingly, large. No photographer is credited in any extant version of the book, and as both Smutna and Fuller are believed to have hands of unremarkable dimensions, the identity of this figure must remain a mystery. One of the locals of Llantrary, perhaps. Like many aspects of this unusual case, we simply do not know.

FULLER
I finally managed to gain access to the upstairs rooms very late into the night, after my hosts had passed out. Before leaving, I made sure to check that their slumber was complete, and after satisfying myself as best I could that it was, I tiptoed out and into the hallway. Unlatching the adjoining room, I proceeded to ascend the stairs, which were of a particularly unstable variety. Each step produced the sound of screeching wood, which vexed me greatly. I felt sure my hosts would awaken and reclaim me. The stairway opened onto a narrow passage, on which I was relieved to note the presence of a carpet. As instructed, I avoided the first door, declining even to look in its direction. I thenceforth came to the second, onto whose handle I then placed my hand. As I did so, I heard a scuffling noise inside, as if something had been disturbed. I gingerly rotated the handle and swung open the door. Beyond was darkness, only partially illumined by the light from the hall. I could dimly make out a figure at a table in the corner. It was a woman, and she was wearing but a small slip to protect her modesty. I noticed what appeared to be a sunbed in the corner of the room, and the woman staring at me with palpable fear but also, I felt, a measure of hope. I assured her I had no intention of hurting her, and then she understood and smiled. Without further delay, I strode across the room to her. A window was open to the night, behind us, but I heard none of the familiar sounds of Llantrary. As we embraced, I ran my fingers through her hair, and closed my eyes. When we pulled away, I saw her face shiny with tears. I tried to catch her as she fell, and turned her on her back so that the process might be accelerated. After I was certain she was dead, I retraced my steps back to the living room, where my hosts lay, still apparently unconscious. I do not to this day know whether they had remained asleep, or were only pretending. I was not to see them again.

 



Andy James was born in Wales and currently works as a Forensic Scientist in London. He has recently been published in Eclectica