Archive > Women Writers In Translation Month 2015
Peter Owen has always championed quality writing from around the world and has published works in translation by many women writers throughout the last 64 years of the company’s existence. We owe much of our success to the skill of our translators and editors, to Peter Owen’s eye for exceptional writing, and of course to a successful collaboration with UNESCO’s scheme to support world literature. It’s still the case though that women writers represent only about 30% of all authors translated into English, and, according to some sources, are often less likely to be promoted significantly when they do make it into print.
One author we have been publishing in translation for many decades is Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette who recently made one selection of 22 Essential Women Writers to Read in Translation. Still in print are the two linked novels Duo and Le Toutounier and her first novel in the Claudine series under her own name, Retreat From Love. This last novel came about after her emancipation and separation from her husband Willy (Henry Gauthier-Villars), the Svengali mentor, author and journalist under whose name she had previously written.
Undoubtedly one of our current star writers in translation is Finnish author Johanna Sinisalo whose novels Birdbrain, Not Before Sundown and The Blood of Angels have captured the imagination of a worldwide readership. More recently we have published the exceptional memoir of the courageous young women’s rights activist Rekha Kalindi. A Bengali girl who stood against cultural tradition and the desire of her parents that she cease education and marry very young, her documentary portrait of her struggle is an inspiring story to young women all over the world. Written with the collaboration of distinguished Radio France correspondent Mouhssine Ennaimi, The Strength to Say No: One Girl’s Fight Against Forced Marriage has been translated for us by Sarah Lawson.
Another fascinating writer we have published over the years is extraordinary pioneering Swiss writer and cross-dressing traveller Isabelle Eberhardt (1877-1904) who spent much of her short adult life in north Africa where she converted to Islam. Still in print are her In the Shadow of Islam (translated by Sharon Bangert) and the exceptional collection of stories and vignettes, The Oblivion Seekers, translated and introduced by no less than friend to Peter Owen and cult author Paul Bowles. Juliet Stevenson describes Eberhardt as ‘the first hippy. She travelled with no money living from day to day; she had no concept that chastity was of any value and was sexually voracious; she was into kif-smoking and she lived in Morocco dressed as a man.’ Daughter of a Russian Nihilist who forbade her any contact with society and insisted she dress in men’s clothes and that her education consist of hard physical labour, perhaps unsurprisingly she ran away to North Africa in 1897, aged twenty. There she travelled through the Sahara and became one of the few white women ever to have been initiated into Sufism. She also produced a small but exceptional body of writing.
Also worth mentioning is The Lady and the Little Fox Fur, a charming novella by French author Violette Leduc (whose hugely successful memoir La Bâtarde Peter Owen also published in translation in 1965 with a preface by none other than Simone de Beauvoir). A few first edition hardbacks of The Lady and the Little Fox Fur can still be found on AmazonUK for surprisingly reasonable prices.
Also unmissable is the Norwegian writer Cora Sandel. Born Sara Fabricius in Oslo in 1880, after a difficult childhood in the northern Norwegian town of Tromsø, Cora Sandel wrote the semi-autobiographical Alberta trilogy. These novels earned her an immediate place in the Scandinavian canon, but it was not until the 1960s that Sandel, now living as a recluse in Sweden, was discovered by the English-speaking world. Her books were acclaimed in the mainstream press, and feminist critics reinvented her as a champion of women’s emancipation. She wrote many other novels and short stories and was awarded a State Pension for artists by Norway and died in 1974. The three novels in the trilogy are Alberta and Jacob, Alberta and Freedom and Alberta Alone.
There are many other women writers in translation that Peter Owen has published over the decades – too many to list in this short blog post, but here is a handful of others worth investigating: Monique Wittig, whose novels The Opoponax, Les Guérillères and The Lesbian Body Peter Owen first published in the 1970s, Natalia Ginzburg whose Dear Michael was published in the same period, Mahademi Varma, the Hindi poet, freedom fighter and women’s activist whose A Pilgrimage to the Himalays and Other Silhouettes from Memory Peter Owen published in 1975; Mathilde Wolff-Mönckeberg whose Second World War memoir of life in Hamburg On the Other Side was translated from the German and published in 1979. We should also mention here the extraordinary Japanese author Chiyo Uno whose hit 1935 novel Confessions of Love Peter Owen published in translation late in the author’s life when she was still going strong at the age of 93! Peter went on to publish Uno’s memoir The Story of a Single Woman in 1992, by which time Chiyo Uno was 95.
(We have decided not to mention the memoirs of François Timoléon, Abbé de Choisy, who wasn’t actually a woman but liked to dress up like one.)
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