Translation, Illustration, Interpretation

Matthew Reynolds

Studies In Comparative Literature 30


25 September 2013  •  242pp

ISBN: 978-1-907975-82-0 (hardback)  •  RRP £80, $110, €95


Translation, illustration and interpretation have at least two things in common. They all begin when sense is made in the act of reading: that is where illustrative images and explanatory words begin to form. And they all ask to be understood in relation to the works from which they have arisen: reading them is a matter of reading readings. Likenesses explores this palimpsestic realm, with examples from Dante to the contemporary sculptor Rachel Whiteread. The complexities that emerge are different from Empsonian ambiguity or de Man’s unknowable infinity of signification: here, meaning dawns and fades as the hologrammic text is filled out and flattened by successive encounters. Since all literature and art is palimpsestic to some degree — Reynolds proposes — this style of interpretation can become a tactic for criticism in general. Critics need both to indulge and to distrust the metamorphic power of their interpreting imaginations.

Likenesses follows on from the argument of Reynolds’s The Poetry of Translation (2011), extending it through other translations and beyond them into a wide range of layered texts. Browning emerges as a key figure because his poems laminate languages, places, times and modes of utterance with such compelling energy. There are also substantial, innovative accounts of Dryden, Stubbs, Goya, Turner, Tennyson, Ungaretti and many more.

Matthew Reynolds teaches at Oxford where he is a Fellow of St Anne’s College and The Times lecturer in the English Faculty. It has been said of him that ‘the best critics, like the best poets (in Browning’s words) impart the gift of seeing to the rest: Reynolds has this gift of seeing and imparting’ (TLS). His earlier books are The Poetry of Translation: From Chaucer and Petrarch to Homer and Logue, The Realms of Verse 1830-1870, the novels The World Was All Before Them and Designs for a Happy Home, and editions of Dante in English and of Manzoni.


  • ‘The collection reveals an impressive breadth of scholarship, travelling between disciplines and across centuries from George Stubbs’s equestrian paintings, through the more familiar Reynoldian territory of Robert Browning, to the conspicuously contemporary, ‘Dante on the Tube’. This diversity effectively demonstrates ‘continuities’ in literature, impressing upon the reader the contemporary relevance of earlier works through juxtaposition.’ — Rebecca Butler, Modern Language Review 110.3, July 2015, 793-94 (full text online)

Bibliography entry:

Reynolds, Matthew, Likenesses: Translation, Illustration, Interpretation, Studies In Comparative Literature, 30 (Legenda, 2013)

First footnote reference: 35 Likenesses: Translation, Illustration, Interpretation, matthew Reynolds, Studies In Comparative Literature, 30 (Legenda, 2013), p. 21.

Subsequent footnote reference: 37 Reynolds, p. 47.

(To see how these citations were worked out, follow this link.)

Bibliography entry:

Reynolds, Matthew. 2013. Likenesses: Translation, Illustration, Interpretation, Studies In Comparative Literature, 30 (Legenda)

Example citation: ‘A quotation occurring on page 21 of this work’ (Reynolds 2013: 21).

Example footnote reference: 35 Reynolds 2013: 21.

(To see how these citations were worked out, follow this link.)

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