It has been a long wait for a new translation of The Emperor of Portugallia but now it is here, to delight Selma Lagerlöf fans old and new. Translated by Peter Graves, it is the latest addition to our ‘Lagerlöf in English’ series, which was launched in 2011 with the aim of making the works of Selma Lagerlöf readily available to English-language readers in new, top-quality translations. Previously published titles in the series include: The Löwensköld Ring (2011), The Phantom Carriage (2011), Lord Arne’s Silver (2011), Nils Holgersson’s Wonderful Journey through Sweden (2013), A Manor House Tale (2015), Charlotte Löwensköld (2015), Mårbacka (2016) and Anna Svärd (2016).
The Emperor of Portugallia is a tale of the bond between parents and children; of the expectations that lie in the roles of the different family members and the conflicted feelings tied to these. The main character of the novel, who adopts the title Emperor of Portugalla as he later descends into madness, is Jan, a poor farm labourer. He becomes a father at quite a late age and, rather to his surprise, finds himself thrilled and overwhelmed with love for his baby daughter. His daughter Klara is a wilful and clever child, and their bond grows stronger as she grows older. When she reaches the age of 17, Jan finds himself in huge debt through no fault of his own, and Klara offers to help by going to the big city, Stockholm, to work and earn the money the family desperately needs. Klara leaves, and so does Jan’s sanity. He creates a fantasy world for himself; a world where his alter ego the Emperor of Portugallia resides with the Empress Klara. Despite the seeming madness of this world, it functions as a cradle of support for Jan and provides surprising insight.
This novel has been described as perhaps the most private of Selma Lagerlöf’s books. At the core of the story, we find the relationship of father and daughter – a theme Lageröf frequently returns to in her works. For this particular tragic novel, the theme led her to consider ‘a Swedish King Lear’ as a possible title. The Emperor of Portugallia, then, is a novel that explores the family and the rights and duties in the relationship between parents and children. It has been described as ‘a sermon on the fourth commandment’ – ‘Honour thy father and thy mother, as the Lord thy God has commanded thee’.
Selma Lagerlöf was a popular writer during her lifetime, and when Kejsarn av Portugallien was published in 1914, it was quickly translated into an array of languages. In fact, translations of Lagerlöf’s works exist in close to fifty languages. Most of her novels were translated into English during her lifetime. But the interrelations between nations and cultures change over time, and the same is true of language and of approaches to translation. That is why it is important to renew translations and inject new life into old classics over the course of time. Each Norvik Lagerlöf volume has a ‘Translator’s Afterword’ in which a range of issues encountered by the translator can be highlighted – an aspect of the volumes that also adds to their usefulness in teaching.
Back in 1916, Velma Swanston Howard was responsible for the English translation of Kejsarn of Portugallien. She was an American of Swedish origin and by far the most prolific early translator of Lagerlöf’s works; many of her translations have been repeatedly republished up to the present day. Without her work and dedication, Lagerlöf’s novels might not have been available to English readers. But language inevitably evolves, and it was high time for a new English version of this moving classic. We hope you will enjoy it!
Get your copy of The Emperor of Portugallia here.