My eighth Julian

Mirabai Starr:Julian

And just like that, I found ‘my’ Julian. The translation which sounds to me like Julian’s authentic voice, the one that feels like home, the one that touches my heart: The Showings Of Julian Of Norwich, A New Translation by Mirabai Starr, published by Hampton Roads.

When I first started reading different editions aloud of Julian as part of my daily devotion I had 2 aims. One was to find the edition I could take to read from every day, and the other was to be able to give or recommend a full text to anyone who was looking for one.

So this is my eighth Julian, but only the sixth complete text. The first was the pocket-sized Enfolded In Love book, and I keep a stack of them at home to give as a taster of Julian’s writing. I have given the current Penguin Classic (Elizabeth Spearing translation) a couple of times, and the John Skinner translation, but while I really liked them I didn’t feel I had found a translation to live with.

There have been translations I had expected to love which have left me cold, and so I came to this one without many expectations. The biography of the translator at the back of the book describes her as being ‘at the vanguard of the emerging Interspiritual movement’ and I read it with a sinking feeling, anticipating some kind of New Age woolly version of Julian.

How wrong I was. One of the quotes on the back of the book describes it as a ‘faithful but freeing’ translation, and while I haven’t read Julian’s original version I agree that this version is wonderful. It flows, it is poetic, it is easy to read and read aloud has the easy, musical cadences of a woman speaking of things she has meditated upon and knows well, of things she loves deeply and wants to share. This, to me, is Julian’s voice.

I still have a number of translations to read, but I have found  a translation to live with, to return to again and again. A translation as good as this is a wonderful gift to the world; to achieve it required a sensitivity to the material, but also a humility, a willingness to step back, to remove the self from the equation and facilitate another’s communication. This is Julian’s voice, and only Julian’s voice, and this is what makes this book stand apart from all the others I have read. All the others, to some degree, for me had a feeling of control, of another voice or mind beside Julian’s.

Mirabai Starr has crafted a wonderful translation, she has given Julian her voice.


My third Julian

julian3My third Julian is my favourite so far. After I finished the older Penguin Classic version (translated by Clifton Wolters) just before Easter, I decided that I wanted to continue reading Julian aloud, and this translation was my next choice. This is the current Penguin Classic version, translated by Elizabeth Spearing; it’s easy to find in the UK, but seems less readily available in the US (according to Amazon).

Like the Clfton Wolters translation, this one also has a very good introduction. I was interested to read that analysis of Julian’s dialect can suggest that she could have moved to Norwich but have been originally from further north. Since I grew up in Sheffield, I wonder if something in Julian’s cadences reminds me of the dialect I grew up hearing. This book also has a translator’s note, which I found useful. I was fascinated to read how the translator had approached the task, particularly regarding Julian’s very long sentences. She also mentions wanting to ‘keep the sound of a woman’s speaking voice’, and I feel she achieves this very well. As a text to read aloud it is accessible and flows naturally.

This translation contains both the short and long texts, which is another reason to choose this version, and retains the chapter headings, although there is no consensus on whether these were written by Julian herself or not. They have been part of the text for a very long time, and personally I find them helpful. For the most part the translation is from the manuscript known as S1, held at the British Library, although sometimes for clarification the translator has referred to the manuscript known as the Paris manuscript, held at the Bibliothèque Nationale. Unlike the Clifton Wolters translation, Spearing’s work retains the traditional wording of ‘All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well,’ which is satisfying to find. While understanding that Wolters’ translation truly updated the words while keeping the sense of what Julian meant, I felt disappointed to not find the traditional words there.

As I already mentioned, this is my favourite of the translations I have read so far. I am reading my fifth at the moment, but am a little behind on my blogging. Since I read Julian’s writings aloud, and read to hear her voice and connect with her, this works very well for me. I have already given it as a gift to several people. It’s a wonderful book. If you want to dip your toe into Julian, then the Enfolded In Love book is a lovely way to get an idea of her writing, but if you want to read the Revelations in their entirety this is the book to read.

My second Julian

Julian2I don’t remember when I bought this book, but it was my second Julian, and my first full translation. Now I have a number of different translations, but for many years it was the only one I had. Today it seems a little battered and worn, but considering it has accompanied me for what must be over twenty years it doesn’t look too bad.

I don’t know how many times I had read it, but when I was thinking about a text for my Lenten meditation this year it struck me that it would be a good idea to read Julian again, but this time to read her aloud. To lend her my voice during Lent. What a wonderful idea that turned out to be, one I do not take credit for, simply because it seemed so right and worked so well.

This Penguin Classics translation by Clifton Walters was published in 1966. Clifton Wolters was Provost of Newcastle Cathedral and translated not only Julian’s Revelations but also The Cloud of Unknowing and The Fire of Love by Richard Rolle. It has since been replaced in the Penguin Classics series by a more recent translation by Elizabeth Spearing, but it is still easy to find a second-hand copy.

The first thing I liked about this translation was the introduction. Only thirty-four pages long, it is a wonderful overview of the church and society Julian knew, the little information known about Julian herself, and the main themes of the Revelations.

The translation itself is modern, it flows naturally and is easy to read aloud. This book contains only the long version of Julian’s writing, and each chapter is headed with an analysis of the contents, which it is noted at the beginning of the book was compiled by ‘a later scribe’ and was ‘not part of the original book’. I find these headings useful and miss them when they are omitted. The short text does not have them, and other translations sometimes omit them or use other forms.

Reading this text aloud I found it spoke to my heart. I could hear Julian’s voice and to my surprise sometimes found her funny and always down-to-earth. The great let-down for me was the translation of Julian’s most famous words: ‘all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well’. In this translation it becomes, ‘it is all going to be all right; it is all going to be all right; everything is going to be all right’.

It was rather shocking to realise that ‘all shall be well . . . ‘ was nowhere to be found in this translation, since this is Julian’s best-known quote, but at the same time I felt that this is truly what we would say, and therefore it does fit. You miss out on ‘all shall be well . . . ‘ and if you know Julian from anywhere you are expecting to find it, but wouldn’t we reassure someone with ‘everything is going to be all right’? I understand why the writer of a modern translation would use these words. And yet, and yet . . . I missed the quote. For me, it is the weakness of this translation.

Having said that, this is a wonderful translation, and one I know I will read again and again. I am still trying to find the one that best suits my way of reading Julian, and my third Julian is my favourite so far, but Clifton Wolters’ translation is definitely worth reading.