"A book is not born, but rather becomes, a translation"
June 27, 2010 12:35 AM Subscribe
As translation contretemps go, the one surrounding French philosopher Simone de Beauvoir (1908-86) and her foundational work of modern feminism, Le Deuxième Sexe, first published in two volumes in French in 1949, remains one of the most tempestuous and fascinating. For decades, Beauvoir scholars in the English-speaking world bemoaned, attacked, and sought to replace the widely used 1953 translation by H.M. Parshley (1884-1953), a zoologist at Smith College who knew little philosophy or existentialism, had never translated a book from French, and relied mainly on his undergraduate grasp of the language. A few years back, they succeeded in getting the rights holders [...] to commission a new translation. [... But] Norwegian Beauvoir scholar Toril Moi, a professor at Duke and one of the foremost critics of Parshley's translation, savaged the new version in the London Review of Books. [...] How everyone involved got from vituperative discontent to hopeful triumph and back to discontent makes an instructive tale in itself and offers some lessons for what matters and doesn't in the evolution of a classic.
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