Ralph Frederick Manheim (April 4, 1907 – September 26, 1992) was an American translator of German and French literature, as well as occasional works from Dutch, Polish and Hungarian. He likened translation to acting, the role being "to impersonate his author".
Manheim lived for a year in Germany and Austria as an adolescent, graduated from Harvard at the age of nineteen, and spent time in Munich and Vienna (studying at the universities) before the rise to power of Adolf Hitler. He also undertook post-graduate study at Yale and Columbia Universities. His career as a translator began with Hitler's Mein Kampf, commissioned by Houghton Mifflin and published in 1943. Manheim endeavored to give an exact English equivalent of Hitler's highly individual, often awkward style, including his grammatical errors.
Manheim translated the works of Bertolt Brecht (in collaboration with John Willett), Louis-Ferdinand Céline, Günter Grass, Peter Handke, philosopher Martin Heidegger, Hermann Hesse, Novalis, and many others. His translation of Henry Corbin's work Alone with the Alone: Creative Imagination in the Sufism of Ibn 'Arabi could be considered a major contribution towards the understanding of Ibn Arabi's and Sufi philosophy in the English-speaking world.
In 1961, he rendered transcripts of the trial in Jerusalem of Adolf Eichmann into English, and Grimm's Tales For Young and Old - The Complete Stories, published in 1977. Modern readers are familiar with his 1986 translation of E.T.A. Hoffmann's Nutcracker (The Nutcracker and the Mouse King), the story which inspired Tchaikovsky's ballet. It was published with illustrations by Maurice Sendak, in conjunction with the release of the 1986 film Nutcracker: The Motion Picture. Lovers of children's books also admire his agile translation of Michael Ende's The Neverending Story.
He moved to Paris in 1950 and lived there until 1985, when he moved with his fourth wife to Cambridge, England, where he died aged 85 from complications associated with prostate cancer.
Awards and Honors
The PEN/Ralph Manheim Medal for Translation is a major lifetime achievement award in the field of translation, and past honorees include Gregory Rabassa, Richard Howard, Edith Grossman, William Weaver, Richard Wilbur, Robert Fagles, Edmund Keeley, and Donald Keene. He also received the PEN Translation Prize in 1964.
Manheim's 1961 translation of Günter Grass's Die Blechtrommel (The Tin Drum) was elected to fourth place among outstanding translations of the last half century by the Translators Association of the Society of Authors on the occasion of their 50th anniversary 2008.
He received the 1970 National Book Award in category Translation for the first U.S. edition of Céline's Castle to Castle.
He was awarded a 1983 MacArthur Fellowship in Literary Studies.