Saturday, November 19, 2011

Revisiting Simone de Beauvoir Wrap-up

Sheila Malovany-Chevallier
Translators, philosophy buffs, students and francophiles alike had the unforgettable pleasure of an audience this Thursday evening at the Alliance Française de Melbourne with Constance Borde and Sheila Malovany-Chevallier, the translators of the first ever unabridged English version of Simone de Beauvoir’s Le Deuxième Sexe.

Illuminating not only the history of the feminist chef-d’œuvre but also the history of its translation, Constance and Sheila revealed to what extent the previous English translation mistreated and cut the original text at the insistence of the American publisher Knopf, in the belief that de Beauvoir suffered from “verbal diarrhoea”.

Constance Borde
Fascinatingly (and sadly), since other translations, such as the Chinese version, were often based on the English version, this mistreatment was only compounded over time.

Constance and Sheila’s 2010 translation, in contrast, is an exercise in extreme fidelity, the two women (American, based in France since the 1960s) having laboured intensely to respect the 800-page work’s original punctuation and syntax, a task made all the more difficult, they explained, by Simone de Beauvoir’s extensive use of the semi-colon. Ultimately, however, they were faithful even to these subtleties, having realised that to change them would “betray her voice”.

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