In this article the “translatability” (and/or untranslatability) of nonsense is addressed. For this purpose, five Swedish versions of Lewis Carroll’s nonsense poem “Jabberwocky” from Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking-Glass (1871) are examined: the vocabulary, the syntax, the metre and rhythm, as well as the poem’s contextual framing, here mainly understood as the narrative in which Jabberwocky is embedded. Attention is also paid to the generic and stylistic context of the poem, and the corpus of Swedish translations. Such an exegesis is warranted by the status of Jabberwocky both as a seminal work of nonsense and as a translation showpiece. Influential critics, from Elizabeth Sewell (1952) to Jean-Paul Lecercle (1994) have used Jabberwocky as a key nonsense text. And even when it is to question whether Jabberwocky is a good example or not – Michael Heyman, for instance, argues that Jabberwocky is something of an “outlier” in the realm of nonsense since its nonsense is linguistic rather than logical (2015) – it remains a defining nonsense text. Moreover, it also a pivotal text in translation history. Indeed, because of the perceived difficulties in translating it, Jabberwocky has rightfully been called “the holy grail of translation” (Heyman 2015), something that is borne out by the large number of studies devoted to it, such as Orero Pilar’s 2007 monograph of several Spanish versions of Jabberwocky. What I bring to this critical discussion is empirical material that has not been brought to light before (the Swedish translations), and a new perspective.
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