Lost in translation: exploring the variations in translated literature 


Translation is both an art and a science, it is balancing between fidelity to the original text and adaptation to a new linguistic and cultural context. When it comes to translating literature, each rendition is a unique interpretation, offering readers a fresh perspective on familiar stories and characters.  

The art of translation, or navigating cultural contexts and linguistic nuances 

Translating literature is not easy. Translators must navigate the tangled web of linguistic nuances, cultural references, and stylistic elements in the original text. Every language has its own unique rhythm, cadence, and specificities, which must be carefully preserved or creatively adapted to ensure that the essence of the original work remains intact. 

One of the most captivating aspects of translated literature is how different translators approach the task. Each translator brings their background, their own set of experiences, perspectives, and linguistic sensibilities to the table, resulting in a distinct interpretation of the same text. Some translators prioritise fidelity to the original language, trying to capture the author’s voice and style as faithfully as possible. Others take a more creative approach, taking the liberty to reinterpret and reimagine the text in ways that resonate with contemporary readers or their own vision of the book (here we could mention the translation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula in Icelandic, done by Valdimar Ásmundsson…check it out – at your own risk). 

The impact of translation choices 

One of the most intriguing aspects of comparing different translations of the same book is uncovering the subtle differences and nuances that emerge. From variations in vocabulary and syntax to shifts in tone and mood, each translation offers readers a fresh lens through which to view the story.  

However, translation is not without its challenges, and nuances can also be lost in the process. Cultural references may be obscure or lost in translation, idiomatic expressions may lose their impact, and subtle wordplay or linguistic quirks may be difficult to convey in another language. As a result, readers may encounter differences in tone, style, and interpretation across different translations of the same book, prompting questions about the nature of translation and the boundaries of linguistic and cultural fidelity. 

Embracing diversity and complexity 

Translated literature offers readers a window into different cultures, perspectives, and ways of seeing the world. Ultimately, the beauty of translated literature lies in its ability to cross linguistic and cultural boundaries, forging connections between people from different backgrounds and creating a deeper understanding of the human nature. Whether it’s through faithful renditions or bold reinterpretations, each translation adds a unique layer to the treasure of global literature, inviting readers on a journey of discovery and exploration across languages and cultures.  

For the BiblioLingua project, we decided to translate some of the ebooks into national languages of the partnership. Therefore, you can observe the subtle differences between the English, Spanish and French version of Goethe’s “The Sorrows of Young Werther”, or between the English, Estonian and Italian versions of Wilde’s “The Picture of Dorian Gray” and in many other ebooks… give them a read, and maybe you will find nuances, cultural differences or translator’s experience, all of which might have been poured in the national versions of these European masterpieces.  


Pillière, L. (2018). Style and voice: lost in translation? Études De Stylistique Anglaise/Études De Stylistique Anglaise, 12, 225–252.  

Gandin, S. (2009). What is really lost in translation?: some observations on the importance and the ethics of translation. ResearchGate.