- Sherry Simon (Editor)
Culture in Transit: Translating the Literature of Quebec. Véhicule Press (purchase at Amazon.ca)
- Michel Tremblay (Author), John Van Burek (Translator), and Bill Glassco (Translator)
Marcel Pursued by the Hounds. Talonbooks (purchase at Amazon.ca)
- Leonard E. Doucette (Author)
The Drama of Our Past: Major Plays from Nineteenth-Century Quebec. University of Toronto Press (purchase at Amazon.ca)
Reviewed by Louise Ladouceur
Pursuing her investigation of the translation into English of literary works from Quebec, Sherry Simon presents us with a collection of thirteen essays by prominent scholars and translators involved in different literary genres and confronted with various aspects of translating Quebec culture. As emphasized in the introduction of Culture in Transit: Translating the Literature of Quebec, this collection emerges from a tradition that reflects a distinctive aspect of Canadian culture: "Unlike most literary translation which is inter-national, Canadian translation has historically been an intra-national affair." Faced with the responsibility of representing the "difference," translators "must constantly make decisions about the cultural meanings which language carries." It is the individual encounter of each translator
with the "tensions of historical relationships"
that this publication invites us to share. In the first section entitled "Translating
Identities," Wayne Grady illustrates the peculiarity of Canadian culture, wherein Canadian translators are destined to translate only Canadian writers. Taking into account her personal background, Luise von Flotow explores her "positionality" in dealing with the eroticism, anger, frustration and ethnicity emerging in women’s writing in the eighties. How to translate ethnicity is also discussed by David Homel while Susanne de Lotbinière-Harwood reflects upon her personal voice shift in translations produced between 1979 and 1994. Barbara Godard offers us pages from a journal where she dissects the transfer and transformation process of a text through translation and Linda Gaboriau discusses the differences in the "cultures of theatre" in the Canadian and Quebec repertoires.
The second section entitled "Local Languages and the Politics of Equivalence" begins with an account of the translation of Antonine Maillet’s peculiar idiom by Philip Stratford, "from Mailletois into Stratfordese." Ray Ellenwood discusses the problems posed by the references to specific places, people, customs and language in translating Jacques Ferron’s fiction while Betty Bednarski investigates Ferron’s playful appropriation of English terms destined to "rectify" a Quebec linguistic reality and the challenge inherent to their transposition into English. Kathy Mezei explores the ways in which literary translation acts as a "vehicle of assimilation" through non- or mis-translation of the English appearing in the original French text. William Findlay introduces us to Michel Tremblay as "the most popular contemporary playwright in Scotland over the past few years" while Jane Brierley contrasts her approach to translating Philippe-Joseph Aubert De Gaspé’s Les Anciens Canadiens with the two existing translations of this literary canon. Lastly, Sheila Fischman, the author of more than sixty translations of books by major Quebec writers, reflects upon her experience with the many challenges posed by translation.
Through their analysis of various cultural obstacles inherent to translating Quebec literature into English, contributors also demonstrate subjective components of their work, an aspect of the translative process too rarely examined. In keeping with a recent orientation within translation studies, whereupon the traditional invisibility of the translator is questioned, this series of personal accounts offers valuable insights into the cultural as well as individual circumstances shaping the transmission of Quebec literature through English translation.
With no less than fifteen plays translated, published and produced in English since 1973, renowned Quebec playwright Michel Tremblay is certainly highly regarded on the Canadian literary scene. The latest of these plays, Marcel Pursued by the Hounds, is translated by John Van Burek and Bill Glassco, who have already signed their names to numerous translations of Tremblay’s drama. Following the approach adopted in earlier publications, there is no introductory material accompanying the play other than a summary of the action, a brief presentation of the celebrated author and quotations from reviews, all appearing on the back cover. Although one quotation mentions that "Tremblay revolutionized Québécois theatre by introducing joual to the stage," the reader is left without any explanation of what makes Tremblay’s use of joual revolutionary, linguistically as well as ideologically, or of the kind of difficulties involved in translating it into English. Considering the importance of Tremblay’s work and the challenge it poses to translation, one would hope to be given some indication of what obstacles the translators encountered and how they navigated a very problematic transcultural passage.
Textual strategies exhibited in this version follow in the footsteps of earlier English translations of Tremblay’s plays by Van Burek and Glassco. As a general rule, the level of language of the English version is more formal than the joual of the original. Although more discreet than they were in previous works, some Gallicisms are still used to underline the origin of the source text: terms like "Moman," "la rue Dorion," "la rue Fabre," "la rue Mont-Royal," and "ma tante Nana" have been kept in French but, unlike Les Belles-Soeurs, Bonjour, LÃ , Bonjour or La Maison Suspendue the title has been translated into English. It would be interesting to know what determining factors are at work in deciding whether or not to translate the title. An odd modification in the structure of the play occurs in the translated version where, for example, parts of the dialogue near the end of the play have been moved so as to appear earlier in the text. These interventions, however, are quite rare and, apart from the shift in the level of language, the English version faithfully reproduces the dialogue of the original.
In this play, Tremblay reunites the chorus of the fates, Rose, Violette, Mauve and Florence with their protégé, Marcel, who has witnessed a horrible crime and seeks refuge with his sister Thérèse. Displaying his usual mastery at building dramatic tension, Tremblay reveals more of the dark secrets that bind together members of Albertine’s family and the gang that controls the clubs and bars on the Main. We discover a little more about Marcel and Thérèse, their fears, hopes and delusions, in an uninterrupted stream of dialogue, with no act or scene breaks, constructed like a long howl resonating with Marcel’s terror. Stripped of some of the usual accessories of dramatic composition, this one-act play, set on "a bare stage before an immense sky," exposes a desolation that not only surrounds Thérèse and Marcel but inhabits them both and, ultimately, holds them together.
In The Drama of Our Past: Major Plays from Nineteenth-Century Quebec, Leonard E. Doucette offers us the results of a monumental undertaking. Presenting the first English translation of five full-length plays and five short playlets covering the major genres and themes treated by Quebec dramatists of the nineteenth century, this book provides as well detailed contextual and textual information about the plays and the period under study. Introductory essays are dedicated to each play and its author, followed by a description of the social, historical and political context in which it was created. We are then presented with a discussion of the play itself, its contribution to Quebec dramatic repertoire, its structure, characters, setting and language. This most instructive introductory material allows for a more informed reading of the plays, especially for readers, like me, who are unfamiliar with that period in Quebec theatre.
With Joseph Quesnel’s Anglomania, or Dinner, English Style (1803), Doucette introduces us to the "first play with an explicitly Canadian theme and setting to appear since the seventeenth century," after Bishop Saint-Vallier banned theatrical activity in the colony in 1694 thus putting a halt to the development of an indigenous dramatic tradition for most of the following century. The politically inspired Status Quo Comedies (1834) are five satirical playlets used alternately by the "révolutionnaires" of the French-Canadian Patriote party and their opponents to criticize and ridicule each other. The Donation(1842) by Pierre Petitclair was the first play by a Quebec-born author to be produced and published in Canada while A Country Outing (1865), by the same author, deals with the coexistence of anglophones and francophones in Quebec, a very Canadian topic, then and now. Félix Poutre (1862) by Louis-Honoré Frechette proposes an inspiring account of the Patriote rebellion of 1838 from the point of view of one of its major participants. It was also "by far the most popular play by a Canadian author to come out of nineteenth-century Quebec." The last play presented, Archibald Cameron of Locheill, or an Episode in the Seven Years’ War (1759) (1894) is an adaptation of the famous novel Les Anciens Canadiens by Philippe-Joseph Aubert de Gaspé, a dramatic work that "became the most popular play in Quebec’s system of collèges classiques."
With abundant notes explaining certain peculiarities of dialogue and the events or people they refer to, the translated versions themselves are most educative. Taking into account the various levels of language and dialectical characteristics of the originals, explained in the introduction to each play, the author proposes creative and lively equivalents that aroused my curiosity. Occasionally, I would have liked to examine the original text to see how some sections of dialogue were handled. Inasmuch as these plays have remained largely inaccessible both in French and in English, as Doucette points out in the prologue, it would have been interesting to have access to the originals as well. But why ask more from a book already generously filled with information and new material, discussed in an accessible style that conveys the flavour and spirit of nineteenth-century Quebec and the drama it produced?
- Queer As Folk Etymology by Ramona Montagnes
Books reviewed: Six Words You Never Knew Had Something to Do with Pigs by Katherine Barber
- French Canadian Narratives by Heinz Antor
Books reviewed: Der frankokanadische Roman der dreissiger Jahre. Eine ideologiekritische Darstellung. Canadiana Romanica Vol. 14 by Klaus-Dieter Ertler
- Personal Narratives by Bettina Stumm
Books reviewed: Shattered Voices: Language, Violence, and the Work of Truth Commissions by Teresa Godwin Phelps and Maps of Difference: Canada, Women, and Travel by Wendy Roy
- Telling Our Stories by Sherrill Grace
Books reviewed: If This Is Your Land, Where Are Your Stories? Finding Common Ground by J. Edward Chamberlin, Playing Dead: A Contemplation Concerning the Arctic by Rudy Wiebe, and Colours in the Storm by Jim Betts
- Le beat des répliques à la puissance deux by Stéphanie Nutting
Books reviewed: Dry Lips devrait déménager à Kapuskasing by Jean Marc Dalpé and Tomson Highway
MLA: Ladouceur, Louise. Transcultural Passages. canlit.ca. Canadian Literature, 8 Dec. 2011. Web. 19 June 2013.
This review originally appeared in Canadian Literature #159 (Winter 1998), Gay and Lesbian Writing in Canadian Literature. (pg. 191 - 193)
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