August Is for Women in Translation

WITmonth3 + text1Honestly, I have never paid much attention to the aspect of translating literature. I read in both English and German, so the number of books that are available to me in their original language is quite large. I also don’t pay much attention to the gender of the author whose book I read. It is simply not that important to me. In that regard, I might be one of the less passionate participants in this month-long event. Mainly, I am looking forward to getting introduced to some translated fiction I have never heard of. Please head over to Biblibio’s blog for much more information about the Women in Translation event.

I picked two books to read for this event. The first is The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly, a book that has been on my radar for several months. I picked it mainly because I had noticed the lag between the publication in its original language and its translation into other languages. Then I accidentally stumbled upon a second book: Francoise de Graffigny’s Letters from a Peruvian Woman (Lettres d’une Peruvienne). I have only read the introduction so far, but I am already very happy that I did not resist my impulse to purchase this book. Francoise de Graffigny led quite an interesting life. If you do not yet know her, please allow me to introduce her to you (summarized from Joan deJean’s introduction in my 1993 edition from MLA Texts and Translations and a quick Google search).

FrancoisedegraffignyFrancoise de Graffigny was born in 1695 in Lorraine, France. She got married to Francois Huguet in 1712 and had three children, who all died shortly after birth. In 1723, she obtained a legal separation from her husband who had frequently and violently abused her. The separation was likely granted not because of the physical abuse, but because her husband had squandered his inheritance and was in the process of squandering her money as well. Then her husband died as well, and Francoise found herself penniless and alone. She moved to Lunéville, where she began to write. For a while, she was dependent on the hospitality of others, but at age 44, she moved to Paris and settled into a literary milieu. The success of her first play opened new doors to her, and she became one of the most important salon hostesses in mid-century Paris. She knew Voltaire, Diderot, and Rousseau.

Lettres d’une Peruvienne was published in 1747 and became “one of the most popular works of the eighteenth century.” It appeared in more than 130 editions, reprints, and translations. This is remarkable in and of itself, but it is made even more so considering the content of the novel. It voices “some of the most vehement feminist protest in eighteenth-century literature” and creates a radically new type of epistolary heroine, one who uses the letters to her fiancé to criticize contemporary French society. Most importantly, at the end of the book, the heroine decides not to marry her suitor. So it seems that in its historical context, this is quite a revolutionary text, and I can’t wait to read it!

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8 comments

  1. These are the characters that are hard to forget:” the heroine decides not to marry her suitor”.
    Read Princesse de Clèves and she was one of these women! Looking forward to Lettres d’une Peruvienne!

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