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The role of translation

Suzan van Dijk:

The role of (male and female) translation in constructing female canons

In the context of a European HERA project entitled Travelling TexTs 1790-1914, colleagues from five countries of the “fringes” of Europe are studying the reception of women’s writings in their respective countries (Finland, Netherlands, Norway, Slovenia, Spain). We consider in particular also the reception of works by women from other countries – neighbouring as well as further away. This will lead to finding “female networks” between European women authors, but also to distinguishing those women whose works were “leading”: either providing inspiration for their female readers, or helping publishers to make money…

The role of translation is of course a crucial one, but different according to the different languages – in the sense that for one language (in particular French, which women were often quite able to read) less translation was needed than for other. I have made a global overview concerning this “need for translations” for the Netherlands, and would like to further discuss the distinctions to be made between the foreign female presences in the Netherlands of writers from “larger” countries and language regions (France + Switzerland; Germany + Austria; England + Ireland), but also from less important countries (such as the Scandinavian countries) where women were publishing works, which often were also translated by female translators.

The approach will be global, starting from quantitative data now present in the WomenWriters database: 107 women (with 381 works) from francophone countries, 141 (491 works) from Germany/Austria and 206 (948 works) from England and Ireland. This quantitative analysis will also lead to conclusions about the importance of a certain number of individual authors. Here distinctions are to be made on the content level: between “feminist” texts and those more conform to current norms for female behaviour; and on the gender level: between the roles taken by male mediators and those of women.

SvD, January 2014

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