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Dissertation : NANCY HUSTON AND SAMUEL BECKET: BILINGUAL WRITERS AND SELVES- TRANSLATORS. Recherche parmi 233 000+ dissertations

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Dilyana Hantova

SWU “Neofit Rilski”, Blagoevgrad, Bulgaria


This paper is devoted to two authors who write in multiple languages. The reasons why Nancy Huston and Samuel Beckett translate their own works from one language into another are examined. The way a body of work produced by the same authors in two languages links the relationship between the cultures and the world is discussed. The research is to examine the differences of their translations from one language to another.

Key words: selves-translators, bilingualism, Nancy Huston, Samuel Beckett

Nancy Huston and Samuel Beckett were born Anglophones who began their writing career in France, adopting French language thus becoming two the few famous writers who self-translated.

According to Alison Rice, Nancy Huston moved to France “to resist the assimilating influence of American culture” (Rice 2008:108).

Nancy Louise Huston, novelist, essayist, philosopher and musician, was born in Calgary, Alberta, Canada on September 16, 1953.

She was six year old when her mother abandoned her family and Huston’s family moved to Wilton, New Hampshire. She studied at Sarah Lawrence College in New York City, where she was given the opportunity to spend a year of her studies in Paris. Arriving in Paris in 1973, Huston continued her studies at the graduate level, writing her Master’s thesis under the famous literary theorist, Roland Barthes.

Samuel Beckett  an avant-garde novelist, playwright, theatre director and poet was born in Foxrock -a suburb of Dublin- in County Dublin, Ireland, on April 13, 1906.

At the age of 14, Samuel Beckett went to the Portora Royal School, in what became Northern Ireland, a school that catered to the Anglo-Irish middle classes. From 1923 to 1927, he studied Romance languages at Trinity College, Dublin, where he received his Bachelor’s degree. After a brief spell of teaching in Belfast, he became a reader in English at the École Normale Supérieure in Paris in 1928.

Both of them went to live in France and settled in Paris in different historical situations.  

Definitions of “self-translation” usually refer to the practice and products of “translating one’s own writings into another language” (Grutman 2009).

Hokenson and Munson define a self-translator as a “bilingual writer who authors texts in one language and then translates them into the other.” They further explicate that it is not always known which was the language of the “original or first composition, but in all cases the texts are the creations of the same writer”. They claim that “the bilingual self-translator does not just bridge the gaps between cultures but combines them as a single subject living bilingually, and writes both languages with one hand” (Hokenson and Munson 2007:12).

Borges and Levine discuss translation as the problem that is most “essential to literature and its small mysteries”. They effectively place translations not as inferior to the original text, but more so as important methods of re-evaluation, not dissimilar to watching a film for the second time. They also bring to light the question of fidelity to the original text, with the conclusion that a literal translation and one that has taken certain artistic liberties are both faithful to the original text and deserve to be considered as serious contributions to the original text (Borges and Levine 1992:1136).

Petruča writes that the works of self-translators and of bilingual authors are most of the time studied in only one of the two languages and in only one of the two cultures. A consequence of this is that, a significant dimension of these works is unexplored without considering that the autotranslation could be seen as a mediation between two cultures (Petruča 2013).

Kellman insists that literary bilingualism became particularly prominent in the twentieth century, due to massive migrations, modernist aesthetics of alienation, and the formation of a new canon inspired by literature of exile – translingual literature (Kellman 2002).

When referring to “bilingual writers”, Hokenson and Munson  mean “authors who compose texts in at least two different languages.” They characterise their distinction between bilingual texts and self-translations as follows: According, to the self-translators there are idiomatic bilingual writers who have two literary languages: they compose texts in both languages, and they translate their texts (Hokenson and Munson 2007:14).

Their writings illustrate common themes, including language, exile, uprooting, birth, death and the absurdity of existence. Nancy Huston mimics the style of the Irish writer, referring to his work and some of his characters. This pastiche, which is a tribute to the man she apostrophes as a "brother", describes the uncertain situation between the two languages ​​of self-translation, "swamp between the two" made "blissful open bite between the words" (Huston 1996:23- 27).

Samuel Beckett became fluent in French through education, he studied French and Italian language and literature at Trinity College in Dublin, and through long visits to France and finally, by living in another culture; from 1937 till his death in 1989, Beckett lived in Paris (Sabljo 2011:163).

At the beginning of his career, Samuel Beckett rendered the works of foreign writers into English/French.  Beckett switched to French as a target language, and he translated a fragment from Joyce’s Work in Progress (the future Finnegans Wake) (qtd. in Grutman 2013,193). He continued translating the works of foreign writers during his career. For example, “in 1949, he was mandated by UNESCO to translate an anthology of Mexican poetry edited by Octavio Paz (Grutman 2013, 190-191). Samuel Beckett published his French translation of his 1938 novel Murphy ten years later, although he also practised simultaneous self-translation. The French Murphy and the English Unnamable can be labelled “delayed” or “consecutive” self-translations, because they were prepared after the completion and even publication of their other-language counterparts. In addition,  most of the time he translated almost all of his own works bidirectionally from English into French and from French into English (Grutman 191-192).


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