Translating Tristram Shandy – Kersti Juva

The Electronic Journal of the Department of English
at the University of Helsinki

ISSN 1457-9960

Volume1, 2001

Translation Studies

© 2001 Kersti Juva


Kersti Juva

Abstract. In this paper I describe some of the issues I encountered when translating Laurence Sterne’s Tristram Shandy into Finnish, mainly concentrating on obvious and fairly superficial questions of vocabulary. It is my experience that the more central an issue is to the translating process, the more evasive it becomes; to describe in precise words what is a delicate and partly unconscious process seems to be even more complicated than the actual translation. As I am an artist and not an academic, I will not even attempt that here.

1. Introduction

Lawrence Sterne started publishing Tristram Shandy in 1759 and continued until his death in 1768. As long ago as in 1872, Suomalaisen Kirjallisuuden Seura (The Society of Finnish Literature) advertised for a translator to carry out the translation of this important work, unsuccessfully. Considering there was very little original Finnish literature at the time – the first Finnish novel, Aleksis Kivi’s Seven Brothers was not published until the following year – this was very early indeed. Premature, it proved, as it took another 125 years before I agreed to translate the book for the publishing house Werner Söderstöm (WSOY).

The agreement can only be described as madness on my part. Tristram Shandy is untranslatable; but it can be and has been argued that the translation of literary works is always impossible. As everyday experience discredits this theoretically faultless position, the impossibility of translating Tristram Shandy can only be a matter of degree.

2. Problems in the source text

The first task of the translator is to try and understand the source text (referred to as TSE below). As almost 250 years had passed since Sterne wrote his book, not only the language but also the world has changed considerably. Some factors came to my rescue. English language and society might have changed significantly, but there is a conservative element in them which does not discard the old when adopting the new. Society and language are layered: history is present today, no violent revolution has shattered their foundations. By disregarding the modern layers and behaving like a linguistic archaeologist, it was possible, with a lot less effort than I had expected, to decipher Sterne’s meanings. Let’s take an example. Where better to start than the beginning:

I WISH either my father or my mother, or indeed both of them, as they were in duty both equally bound to it, had minded what they were about when they begot me; had they duly consider’d how much depended upon what they were then doing;—that not only the production of a rational Being was concern’d in it, but that possibly the happy formation and temperature of his body, perhaps his genius and the very cast of his mind;(and, for aught they knew to the contrary, even the fortunes of his whole house might take their turn from the humours and dispositions which were then uppermost:— Had they duly weighed and considered all this, and proceeded accordingly,—I am verily persuaded I should have made a quite different figure in the world, from that, in which the reader is likely to see me. (TSE 5)

The words temperature, genius, humours and dispositions are not used in a modern way in this extract; they refer to a traditional understanding of human beings which was in the process of being replaced in Sterne’s time. The Oxford English Dictionary explains them thus:

humour, humor n

1. b. spec. In ancient and mediæval physiology, one of the four chief fluids (cardinal humours) of the body (blood, phlegm, choler, and melancholy or black choler), by the relative proportions of which a person’s physical and mental qualities and disposition were held to be determined: cf. 4, and see temperament. Obs.


3. a. Of persons: Characteristic disposition; inclination; bent, turn or temper of mind. Obs.


5. Astrol. a. The situation of a planet in a horoscope, as supposed to determine the nature or fortune of a person, or the course of events. Obs.


5. a. The combination of ‘humours’ in the body; also, the bodily habit or constitution attributed to this; = temperament 6. Obs.

But what is Sterne talking about? Divorced from its context, the beginning of the book is incomprehensible. We have to understand that there was a belief that a little homunculus travelled from father to mother during intercourse and that Tristram’s mother’s words about winding the clock so upset the father that the homunculus possibly suffered. In Sterne’s words:

what if any accident had befallen him in his way alone? (or that, thro’ terror of it, natural to so young a traveller, my little gentleman had got to his journey’s end miserably spent;—his muscular strength and virility worn down to a thread (TSE 6)

When I had deciphered the above paragraph, I had to start thinking how to express all this in Finnish. I strove to convey not only the meaning of it but also Sterne’s peculiar breathless, tongue-in-cheek, long-winded style, while wanting to produce readable, understandable, idiomatic Finnish. As this is the first sentence, it is of utmost importance; if the reader is put off by the first sentence, all my efforts might be in vain – he or she might not read on.

3. Working on the target text

I translated Tristram Shandy into standard modern Finnish as the book is complicated enough and it does not need any deliberate distancing. The fact that there is no such thing as 18th century literary Finnish helps here. I tried to avoid using expressions that are recognizably modern and instead employ layers of Finnish vocabulary and style that have been around for a long time.

Another important decision was my attitude to Sterne’s humour. I found Tristram Shandy one of the funniest, smuttiest, most hilarious books I have ever read. Surely it was my duty to convey this in Finnish, so when presented with a choice between, say, accuracy and joke, I went for the joke every time.

This is how I translated the first sentence:

Voi kunpa isäni tai äitini, tai suoraan sanoen molemmat, sillä he olivat siihen toki kumpainenkin yhtä velvolliset, olisivat vähän katsoneet, mitä tekivät pannessaan minua alulle; jos he näet olisivat pitäneet mielessä, miten paljon riippui heidän senhetkisistä puuhistaan;—että pelissä ei ollut vain järjellisen olennon tuottaminen, vaan mahdollisesti saattoivat myös sen ruumiin onnistunut muotoutuminen elementtien oikeissa suhteissa ja kenties jopa koko sen luonne ja mielen laatu;—ynnä, sikäli mikäli he tiesivät, sen huoneenkin menestys, määräytyä niiden ruumiinnesteiden eli humorien ja suhteiden nojalla jotka tuolloin olivat vallitsevina. (TSF 13; TSF refers to my target text throughout this paper.)

I have used some fairly colloquial Finnish words and expressions to seduce my reader to the right mood: olisivat vähän katsoneet, pelissä, puuhistaan. The word temperature I have explained as ‘formed in the right proportion of elements’ but I have retained humours as an explanation for ruumiinnesteet ‘bodily fluids’, which I felt would have led the reader astray if used alone.

Finnish does not relish long sentences, but I felt that chopping Sterne’s sentence here (and in most other cases) would be an act of violence against his style, so I tried instead to make the Finnish flow as naturally as possible within the sentence. When possible, I chose familiar words, collocations and phrases rather than less frequently used ones, without distorting the meaning. I tried to introduce things in an order that should be grammatically straightforward to follow, avoiding heavy left-branching structures, that is, attributes and qualifiers piled before head words.

This was the nuts and bolts of translating Tristram Shandy. Trying to follow Sterne’s meaning, getting his jokes, and conveying it all in readable Finnish – not very different, in fact, from any literary translation, just harder work.

During the translation I immersed myself in 18th century English culture and language; I used commentaries, dictionaries, encyclopaedias, the Internet, experts, colleagues and friends in both England and Finland. Armed with this knowledge, I was all set to annotate the Finnish edition, but as my work progressed I began to feel that the work would speak for itself and that footnotes or endnotes would only distance the reader from the immediate reading experience. It did not matter if some things were obscure or incomprehensible, this is the experience of the English reader as well: it is only the translator who cannot skip a single word, meaning or allusion.

Sterne quotes extensively both real and imaginary sources. Sorting these out would have been impossible without annotated editions. The annotations led me to the original text (if there was one) and where I could find an existing and suitable Finnish translation, I used it. The Bible is a case in point. A new Finnish translation of the Bible had been published in 1992, but I decided to use the 1933-38 edition because I felt that earlier editions than that were too arcane and the more recent unfamiliar. On a few occasions I had to use 19th century translations as they retained literal (and obscure) details found also in the Authorized Version. For example the quotation from Hebrews in the beginning of the sermon Trim reads aloud:

—For we trust we have a good Conscience.

“TRUST! trust we have a good conscience! Surely if there is any thing in this life which a man may depend upon, and to the knowledge of which he is capable of arriving upon the most indisputable evidence, it must be this very thing,— whether he has a good conscience or no.” (TSE 99-100)

The 1933-38 translation uses the word tiedämme ‘we know’ for trust, which would have completely destroyed the argument here. Luckily an earlier version uses a noun derived from the verb uskaltaa ‘to trust, to dare’.

—Sillä se on meidän uskalluksemme että meillä on hyvä omatunto.—

“Uskalluksemme! Se on meidän uskalluksemme, että meillä on hyvä omatunto! Mitä uskallusta siihen tarvitaan? Eikö nyt ihminen tässä elämässä voi olla varma ainakin yhdestä asiasta, eikö hänen ole mahdollista päätellä kiistattoman todistusaineiston pohjalta,—onko hänellä hyvä omatunto vai ei.” (TSF 118)

The names of both people and places needed special attention. If I could trace a Finnish form for the name in question I used it, otherwise I went back to the language of origin. Thus:

Zeno, Cleanthes, Diogenes Babylonius, Dionysius Heracleotes, Antipater, Panætius and Possidonius amongst the Greeks;—Cato and Varro and Seneca amongst the Romans;—Pantenus and Clemens Alexandrinus and Montaigne amongst the Christians (TSE 127)


Kreikkalaisista Zenon, Kleanthes, Diogenes Babylonialainen, Dionysios Herakleialainen, Antipatros, Panaitios ja Poseidonios;— roomalaisista Cato ja Varro ja Seneca;—kristityistä Pantenus ja Clemens Aleksandrialainen ja Montaigne (TSF 147)

Sometimes the choice between a Latin or Greek or native form of a name was difficult. When I could find the Latin form used by Sterne in some Finnish source I used it, otherwise I rendered it in its native form. Thus Lucianus becomes Lukianos, Alphonsus Tostatus Alfonso Tostado, Piereskius Peiresc and Stevinus Stevin, but Heinsius and Grotius are retained even if they also have Dutch names: Daniël Heins and Hugo, or Huigh, or Hugeianus de Groot. I also used a Finnish form of a saint’s name whenever possible, even when they referred to places in the quarter called the City, kaupunginosassa, jota kutsutaan nimellä Cité:

In St. Denis, fifty-five streets.

In St. Martin, fifty-four streets.

In St. Paul, or the Mortellerie, twenty-seven streets.

(TSE 401)

P. Teinossa, viisikymmentäviisi katua.

P. Martissa, viisikymmentäneljä katua.

P. Paavalissa eli Mortelleriessa, kaksikymmentäseitsemän katua (TSF 434)

Before the Duke of Marlborough had been taken through Europe in Finnish, I had scholars in the Bodleian Library, Oxford, tracing his steps, and colleagues in Finland studying modern German road maps:

how Marlborough could have marched his army from the banks of the Maes to Belburg; from Belburg to Kerpenord—here the corporal could sit no longer) from Kerpenord, Trim, to Kalsaken; from Kalsaken to Newdorf; from Newdorf to Landenbourg; from Landenbourg to Mildenheim; from Mildenheim to Elchingen; from Elchingen to Gingen; from Gingen to Balmerchoffen; from Balmerchoffen to Skellenburg, where he broke in upon the enemy’s works; forced his passage over the Danube; cross’d the Lech—pushed on his troops into the heart of the empire, marching at the head of them through Friburg, Hokenwert, and Schonevelt to the plains of Blenheim and Hochstedt? (TSE 455)

kuinka Marlborough saattoi marssittaa armeijansa Maasin rannoilta Bedburgiin, Bedburgista Kerpeniin—(tässä kohden korpraali ei enää pystynyt istumaan) Kerpenistä, Trim, Kühlseggeniin; Kühlseggenistä Neudorfiin; Neudorfista Ladenbergiin; Ladenbergista Mindelsheimiin; Mindelsheimista Elchingeniin; Elchingenistä Giengeniin; Giengenistä Ballmertshofeniin; Ballmertshofenista Schellenbergiin, jossa hän murtautui vihollisen varustusten läpi; mursi tiensä Tonavan yli; ylitti Lechin—työnsi joukkonsa keisarikunnan sydämeen, marssi niiden kärjessä Friedburgin, Hohenwartin ja Schöneveltin kautta Blenheimin ja Höchstädtin alangoille? (TSF 491-2)

Neudorf is my own translation, and Blenheim is retained as Marlborough’s great victory is known by that name (as is the palace which was presented to him as a reward) even if the village now has a different name in modern Germany.

Sometimes Sterne invents names. Doctors Coglionissimo Borri and Bartholine are mentioned but according to my research they never existed, instead there are two 17th century physicians called Francis Borri and Thomas Partholine. Coglionissimo is derived from coglione, the Italian for testicles. I have left it for readers familiar with the Italian language to enjoy this little joke.

There are a number of names derived from place names in Book VI Chapter 30:

There was the great king Aldrovandus, and Bosphorus, and Capadocius, and Dardanus, and Pontus, and Asius,—to say nothing of the iron-hearted Charles the XIIth, whom the Countess of K***** herself could make nothing of.—There was Babylonicus, and Mediterraneus, and Polixenes, and Persicus, and Prusicus, not one of whom (except Capadocius and Pontus, who were both a little suspected) (TSE 366)

Only Aldrovandi and King Charles refer to real people, the rest are pure invention. Shakespeare has a person called Polixenes, but I came to the conclusion that Sterne had derived the name from the Greek polis. To distinguish between real and invented Latin names I used Finnish orthography in the invented ones. I did not go as far as translating Mediterraneus as Välimerius, using the purely Finnish word for the Mediterranean, and justifying myself with the fact that the English form comes from the Latin Mediterraneum. To my shame I seem to have omitted Dardanus by mistake! Obviously it refers to Dardanelles and should have been retained as Dardanus.

He ovat suuri kuningas Aldrovandi ja Bosporus ja Kappadokius ja Pontus, ja Aasius, — puhumattakaan kivisydämisestä Kaarle XII:sta, josta itse K*****:n kreivitär ei saanut mitään irti; ja Babylonikus ja Mediterraneus ja Poliksenes ja Persikus ja Preussikus, eikä heistä yksikään (paitsi Kappadokius ja Pontus, joita molempia hiukan epäiltiin) (TSF 399)

I spent a disproportionate amount of time on the recurring forms of address his/your Lordship, Reverence, Honour, Worship, and Sir, and Trim’s an’ please your honour. I came to the conclusion that the Finnish reader was best served with something fairly simple which would convey the rank of the person addressed. So I translated: armollinen lordi, arvoisa kirkonmies or hurskas herra, arvon herra, hyvä herra, ylhäinen herra or ylhäisyys. If I had translated Your Reverences more literally, as I did in my early drafts, as kunnianarvoisat herrat, the Finnish reader would have had no way of knowing that this refers to clergy. The even more literal version Teidän kunnianarvoisuutenne I did not even contemplate, as I felt it was clumsy and distinctively un-Finnish. Trim’s phrase took the form: jos arvon herralle sopii. I soon got so used to it myself that no other translation would have felt right. I hope the same is true of readers.

Sterne uses a multitude of terminology which is more or less obsolete nowadays; some of it was obscure in Sterne’s day as well. I have already mentioned the concept of humours. After figuring out the meaning of each term, I had to distinguish between the terms that are meant to sound silly and the ones that are used in earnest.

In the first book there is a parody of a legal document including the following:

that the manor and lordship of Shandy, in the county of –, with all the rights, members, and appurtenances thereof; and all and every the messuages, houses, buildings, barns, stables, orchards, gardens, backsides, tofts, crofts, garths, cottages, lands, meadows, feedings, pastures, marshes, commons, woods, underwoods, drains, fisheries, waters, and water-courses;—together with all rents, reversions, services, annuities, fee-farms, knights’ fees, views of frank-pledge, escheats, reliefs, mines, quarries, goods and chattels of felons and fugitives, felons of themselves, and put in exigent, deodands, free warrens, and all other royalties and seigniories, rights and jurisdictions, privileges and hereditaments whatsoever.—And also the advowson, donation, presentation, and free disposition of the rectory or parsonage of Shandy aforesaid, and all and every the tenths, tythes, glebe-lands (TSE 35)

As the joke is in the multitude of forms of property, which in themselves are rather ordinary, I translated these quite straightforwardly. I could not resist taking the liberty of translating underwoods as pusikot (a rather colloquial word for bushes) – just to entertain the reader. I justified this with the number of jokes inevitably lost in translation.

Shandy Hallin kartanon ja sen isännyyden —:n kreivikunnassa, kaiken mikä siihen kuuluu, oikeudet ja tilukset; ja kaikki asumukset, talot, rakennukset, ladot, tallit, hedelmätarhat, kasvimaat, ulkohuoneet, tilat, haat, torpat, maat, niityt, pellot, laitumet, suot, yhteismaat, metsät, pusikot, salaojat, kalastusoikeudet, vesistöt, joet ja purot; —sekä kaikki vuokrat, vuokramaat, taksvärkit, vuosimaksut, torpat, mäkituvat, kaivokset, louhokset, rikollisten, karkulaisten, itsemurhaajien ja perijättä kuolleiden omaisuuden, käyttömaksut, tuomiovallan, etuoikeudet tahi mi[n]kä tahansa perintönä kulkevan omaisuuden, —Ynnä myös edellä mainitun Shandyn pappilan papin nimitysoikeuden ynnä kaikki kymmenykset, kirkollisverot ja pappilan maat (TSF 45-6)

Theological and religious terminology was rather problematic, as few modern Finnish readers understand the complexities of English 18th century religious life. How to convey the fact that the mere mention of such Catholic terms as transubstantiation or real presence is contemptuous, whereas sacrament day, canonical and salvation were everyday words for Reverend Sterne? My solution was to translate the mocked words literally and keep them obscure but to explain the everyday words: muodonmuutos, reaalinen läsnäolo, and sakramentin sunnuntai, kanonien sallima – the word pelastus ‘salvation’ is, of course, still understood. A more complicated use of theological language mocks the Catholic Dr. Slop after he has left his obstetrician’s instruments home. The Finnish word päästö is standard for delivering children but does not normally refer to religious deliverance. In the Lord’s Prayer it does occur in such a context: päästä meidät pahasta ‘deliver us from evil’ . The more standard word vapahdus for deliverance was an alternative. The religious association would have been more obvious but the Finnish word is never used idiomatically of delivering babies. I also quite like the alliteration of pelastus and päästö.

thou has left thy tire-tête,(thy new-invented forceps,—thy crotchet,—thy squirt, and all thy instruments of salvation and deliverance, behind thee (TSE 88)

sinulta on jäänyt kotiin tire tête eli päänvedin, —keksimäsi uudet pihdit, —koukkusi, —ruiskusi, ja kaikki pelastuksen ja päästön välineet (TSF 105)

Another area of terms is medical vocabulary, for example:

there was no injury done to the sensorium;—no pressure of the head against the pelvis;—no propulsion of the cerebrum towards the cerebellum, either by the oss pubis on this side, or the oss coxygis on that (TSE 121)

Tässä tapauksessa, hän sanoi, sensorumille ei tehty mitään vahinkoa; —ei minkäänlaista pään painetta lantiota vasten; —sen paremmin os pubis kuin os coccygis eivät päässeet survomaan isoja aivoja pikkuaivoja kohti (TSF141)

I retained the more obscure Latin terms while translating more familiar ones. Note the word survomaan – a colourful verb not normally found in medical texts, that I chose to direct the reader to the funny side of what is going on.

By far the most hilarious special vocabulary relates to fortification. Uncle Toby’s exploits in the world of fortification are one of the main themes of the book. In the early stages of my work, I translated the terms transparently so that a reader could more or less follow what was going on, but as my understanding of the purpose of these passages as well as my knowledge of Finnish equivalents grew, the translations became more and more obscure. I ended up with a combination of words of both Finnish and foreign origin, and a few I invented. This solution is more demanding for the Finnish reader but hopefully more rewarding.

one of the most memorable attacks in that siege, was that which was made by the English and Dutch upon the point of the advanced counterscarp, before the gate of St. Nicolas, which enclosed the great sluice or water-stop, where the English were terribly exposed to the shot of the counter-guard and demi-bastion of St. Roch: The issue of which hot dispute, in three words, was this; That the Dutch lodged themselves upon the counter-guard,and that the English made themselves masters of the covered way before’ St. Nicolas’s gate, notwithstanding the gallantry of the French officers, who exposed themselves upon the glacis sword in hand.[…] differences and distinctions between the scarp and counterscarp,—the glacis and covered way, —the half-moon and ravelin, —as to make his company fully comprehend where and what he was about. (TSE 67)

An early version ran as follows:

eräässä tuon piirityksen ikimuistoisimmista hyökkäyksistä englantilaiset työntyivät yhdessä hollantilaisten kanssa kohti sulkua eli patoluukkua suojaavan P. Nikolauksen portin edustalla ulostyöntyvää luiskaa, jossa englantilaiset joutuivat alttiiksi St. Rochin suojavallin ja puolibastionin tulitukselle. Tuon kuuman kamppailun kulku oli sanalla sanoen tämä: hollantilaiset nousivat suojavallille, —ja englantilaiset saivat haltuunsa ulkovarustusta P. Nikolauksen portin edustalla kiertävän suojakäytävän, vaikka urheat ranskalaiset upseerit antautuivat linnanpaltalle miekka kädessä.[…] mitkä ominaisuudet ja erityispiirteet erottivat toisistaan vallihaudan sisämuurin ja ulkoluiskan, —linnanpaltan ja suojakäytävän, —puolikuun ja raveliinin, —jotta hänen kuulijakuntansa ymmärtäisi kaikin puolin, mistä ja mitä hän puhui.(TSF 81)

The final translation is more difficult to follow without expert knowledge of fortification, but obscurity is Sterne’s purpose. The word kontreskarppi appears in Finnish discussions of fortification but I did not come across skarppi. Nevertheless I decided to use it to retain the neat pair scarp and counterscarp. For glacis, I discarded the Finnish linnanpaltta here, but used it elsewhere. For fortification I also used two terms, a neutral word linnoittaminen and an old word derived from Swedish, västinki, which to my ear at least sounds old-fashioned and slightly humorous.

eräässä tuon piirityksen ikimuistoisimmista hyökkäyksistä englantilaiset työntyivät yhdessä hollantilaisten kanssa kohti sulkua eli patoluukkua suojaavan P. Nikolauksen portin edustalla ulostyöntyvää kontreskarpia, jossa englantilaiset joutuivat alttiiksi P. Rochin kontregardin ja puolibastionin tulitukselle. Tuon kuuman kamppailun kulku oli sanalla sanoen tämä: hollantilaiset nousivat kontregardille, —ja englantilaiset saivat haltuunsa P. Nikolauksen portin edustalla katetun tien, vaikka urheat ranskalaiset upseerit antautuivat glasiisille miekka kädessä […] mitkä ominaisuudet ja erityispiirteet erottivat toisistaan skarpin ja kontreskarpin, —glasiisin ja katetun tien, —puolikuun ja raveliinin, —jotta hänen kuulijakuntansa ymmärtäisi kaikin puolin, mistä ja mitä hän puhui. (TSF 81)

I was delighted to find out that kurtiini has been used for curtin and sarvilinna for hornworks in Finnish, as the words were, on one occasion, used in a pun. By adding the word kurtiisi (an obscure word for courtship), I managed to create a possible misunderstanding in Finnish which, with a bit of good will from the reader’s part, should work:

I would not, brother Toby, continued my father,I declare I would not have my head so full of curtins and horn-works.— That, I dare say you would not, quoth Dr Slop, interrupting him, and laughing most immoderately at his pun […] the curtins my brother Shandy mentions here, have nothing to do with bedsteads;— tho’, I know, Du Cange says, “That bed-curtains, in all probability, have taken their name from them;”nor have the horn-works he speaks of, any thing in the world to do with the horn-works of cuckoldom (TSE 89)

Minä en, veljeni Toby, jatkoi isäni, —halua päätäni täyteen sarvia ja ties mitä kurtiinia — Sarvia ja kurtiisia, virkkoi tohtori Slop, keskeyttäen hänet ja nauraen vallan häpeämättömästi sanojensa kaksimielisyydelle […] kurtiinilla, joihin veljeni Shandy tässä viittaa, ei ole mitään tekemistä kurtiisin kanssa; — vaikka on mahdollista, että sanat ovat sukua; — ja sarvet, joista hän puhuu, ovat sarvilinnoja, eivät niitä, jotka kasvavat aisankannattajan otsaan (TSF 106)

Tristam Shandy is full of puns and sexual innuendo. Puns are a very visible part of any translation and a cheap way to get praise. They do need a lot of work and a fair amount of lateral thinking, but at the end of the day they are just gimmicks compared to the gargantuan task of rendering English sentences into Finnish. For example, Tristram promises to stop his bad habits and stick to decent subjects: chamber-maids, green-gowns, and old hats (TSE 291).

All these words have sexual connotations, but unfortunately Tristram has just been talking literally about chamber-maids, green gowns, and old hats, so they cannot be replaced with words that are far from these in meaning. With a little help from my editor, Alice Martin, I translated the pun as sisäpiikoja, pukupuoliasioita ja vinhoja hattuja (TSF 320). The word pukupuoliasioita is an invention and could mean matters of dress, but if you change the first letter you get sukupuoliasioita, which is an everyday Finnish expression for matters sexual. Vinha hattu ‘striking hat’ is a totally incomprehensible expression as such, but it should help the reader notice the hidden spoonerism. To legitimise this strange combination of words, I had to plant the striking hats into the text. So a couple of pages earlier when Trim drops his hat:

and are we not—(dropping his hat upon the ground) gone! in a moment!—’Twas infinitely striking! Susannah burst into a flood of tears (TSE 289)

I translated this passage as:

ja nyt (hän pudotti hattunsa maahan) poissa! Noin vain! — Vaikutus oli vinha! Susannah puhkesi kyyneltulvaan (TSF 318)

Sterne has filled his work with double entendres; one of the most difficult was the conclusion of Tristram Shandy, which troubled me endlessly.

Ld! said my mother, what is all this story about?—

A COCK and a BULL, said Yorick—And one of the best of its kind, I ever heard. (TSE 539)

Like the beginning, the end is extremely important. Sterne ends with a flourish, and describes his life’s work. The Oxford English Dictionary explains:

cock and bull

2. to talk of, a story of, a cock and a bull: (to tell) a long rambling, idle story; tedious, disconnected, or misleading talk.

In addition, the word bull has some very masculine connotations, and the first quote in OED for cock as ‘penis’ dates back to 1618, so we can safely assume that it was understood in Sterne’s time. Unfortunately a real life bull has just been discussed in the text and must therefore be mentioned. The night before submitting my manuscript to the publishers I woke up with an idea. The Finnish for bull is sonni. There is a word in Finnish jonninjoutava which means trifling, idle. To also incorporate cock, I had to be more “creative” than I would normally allow myself to be. So, in Finnish, Yorick calls the story idle and rather like scrambled eggs for one – the Finnish for egg can refer to the male organ. Stretching the pun a little I translated:

Hyvä J—a! sanoi äitini, mikä juttu tämä on?—

Sonninjoutava juttu, sanoi Yorick—ja varsinainen munakokkeli tarinaksi. (TSF 562)

4. Conclusion

Most of the problems of vocabulary discussed in this paper arose because of the distance in time and culture between 18th century England and late 20th century Finland. Some, particularly the puns, derive from Sterne’s idiosyncratic way of writing. My aim was to produce a literary rather than literal translation that modern Finnish readers could enjoy but which would at the same time convey as much as possible of Sterne’s world and style. Compromises were inevitable. When forced to choose, I tried to retain Sterne’s humour rather than historical or linguistic accuracy, but it is of course the translator’s ambition to convey both.

In the future I hope to look at problems of typography as well as some wider questions of syntax and style. Tristram Shandy is such a wonderfully rich book that its translation certainly offers many interesting avenues for future study.



Laurence Sterne (1990) The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy. Oxford: OUP.

Laurence Sterne (1998) Tristram Shandy, elämä ja mielipiteet. Trans. Kersti Juva. Helsinki: WSOY.

The Oxford English Dictionary (1992) Second edition. OED 2 on CD ROM, version 1.01.


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