Britain and America hardly took any interest in nineteenth century Flemish literature, with the exception of Hendrik Conscience (1812-1883), “the Walter Scott of Flanders”. In order to understand this international success, it is useful to follow some of the individual traces of the diffusion and reception of his work. As a complement to a more systematic analysis, this approach might tell us more about the specific circuits in which his texts functioned and the agents that mediated. It should also provide an insight into the discourses that surrounded the translations, the expectations they met and the position they occupied within the repertoire.
Beginning with a Conscience reference by Lafcadio Hearn, we then move on to three case studies. Series such as The Amusing Library by Lambert & Burns (London) or the New York Dunigan’s Home Library used translations to establish channels to new audiences and reading practices. These were challenged by reviewers such as George Eliot and Wilkie Collins. George Hull, a minor British Catholic author, testifies of his reading experience and ranks Conscience within a transnational European literary system. The same appetite for reading, significantly present in Conscience’s Hugo Van Craenhove, led Brownson’s Quarterly Review (Boston / New York) to reflect upon the popularization of knowledge and education. It seems that the rather conservative choices Conscience made with respect to the Flemish market, a weak literary system conditioned by strong national and ethical restrictions, gave his work a universal appeal to similar audiences abroad.
[Note: This text was originally conceived in Dutch on this blog (2012) and revised for publication in Verslagen & Mededelingen van de Koninklijke Academie voor Nederlandse Taal- en Letterkunde (2013). As a I thought it might be of interest to an English audience I translated it. I welcome any suggestion or correction [form at the bottom or email]
[A good introduction to Hendrik Conscience can be found here]