Hollingdale: The Man and His Translation of Philosophy

In his lifetime Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) remained largely an obscure figure; however, since then he has become one of the best known philosophers of the twentieth-century, whose thinking has shaped the work of Thomas Mann, Samuel Beckett and Martin Heidegger. Reflecting this growth in interest and popularity, the scholars and translators keen to make his work available to the non-German speaking world are too numerous to count, but among their number stands Reginald John Hollingdale (1930-2001), whose distinguished translations are highly respected. While best-known for his work on Nietzsche, which includes an original biography (Nietzsche: The Man and his Philosophy) and study guide, Hollingdale also composed scholarly essays, delivered lectures, wrote short stories, worked as a journalist for The Guardian and translated works by Theodor Fontane, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and Wolf Lepenies. After his death in 2001, his family were left with a meticulously ordered collection incorporating his works in their various stages, alongside an equally well-organized assemblage of correspondence. These papers found their way to Swansea University’s Richard Burton Archives and in the summer of 2015 it became my job to assist with the cataloguing of the collection.

I began with the manuscripts, which gave me a chance to read parts of the translations, Hollingdale’s introductions and his short story entitled ‘Montemo in Gondola’. Through this reading, an idea of his personality began to emerge from his choice of words and way of phrasing an observation: laconic, humorous, dry. For example, in his introduction to Fontane’s Before the Storm, a novel in which ‘the action contained in a six week period is divided into no fewer than 81 chapters’, he remarks that ‘until the final quarter of the book, there is hardly any action – so little, indeed, that when so trivial an incident as the nocturnal break-in at a manor house at Hohen-Vietz occurs in the 31st chapter the author entitles the chapter “something happens”’ (Hollingdale 1985), a comment that elicited a quickly-stifled chuckle from my corner of the reading room. This emerging picture was confirmed by his correspondence, the extent of which demonstrates his exceptional thoroughness as he has kept nigh-on every letter he received since 1977, in addition to copies of those he sent. By sifting through and cataloguing letters to/from publishing houses, friends, colleagues, his ex-wife and two children, the skeletal image of the academic was fleshed out into that of a man. It is this aspect of the process that I found most interesting. As a student whose research focuses on ‘confession’, it occurred to me that the form of the Hollingdale collection – filed in numbered boxes with a index – rendered it readable in these terms: these papers are not the gathered scraps of a life never intended to be seen, they are pieces of a puzzle intended for someone else’s eyes and interpretation.

For scholars whose academic interest is translation, the collection offers real insight into this highly subjective and creative process. In his library of books there are several limited editions, one of which is a book of fifteen English translations of Zarathustra’s Roundelay, which allows the reader to compare the various English adaptations of the same piece of writing. There are also numerous letters in which Hollingdale justifies his translation of a word, outlines his views on what makes a good translation and defends his unique style. One remarkable letter that emphasises Hollingdale’s feelings on the unique style of a translator is a letter in which he insists that his name should not appear on the 1999 Penguin edition of Freud’s The Interpretation of Dreams because, despite his extensive work on this text, the amendments made rendered it no longer his own.

As an academic, working with this collection, one can marvel at its completeness and appreciate the potential it offers for original research. However, as a person, I was left with mixed feelings that so much of Reginald Hollingdale’s life existed in this way, as the figure that most endeared me to him was that of a loving father who was always torn between his highly-valued and admired work, and the family whom he dearly loved and seemed to yearn for.

The above text was written by Katie, who helped with the cataloguing of the Hollingdale collection.