Let’s acknowledge our translators!

Helena Valentí

I was struck today, the last day of August, by a quotation from Virginia Woolf’s novel “To the lighthouse” (1927), which served as an introduction to, and probably as the inspiration for, Sílvia Soler’s evocative Final d’estiu on the back page of the newspaper Ara.

The article is atmospheric, Woolfian in its stream of thought and landscaped nostalgia, a Catalan pastiche of the original, a Mediterranean transposition of Woolf’s famous Hebridean sojourn.

I was struck by the audacity of Soler in setting up her article in this way and laying bare her source. In truth, a hot dry Mediterranean summer has little in common with a damp Scottish seaside holiday in the Western Isles. The lush greenery of a British summer contrasts with the dusty heat of Catalonia. Soler has transposed Woolf from the Isle of Skye to the Catalan Mediterranean, where the light, the flora and the seasons are all at variance. Taken at face value, this is a literary conceit.

In the newspaper, the Woolf quotation is given in Catalan:

La verdor de la casa era encara esquitxada de flors de passió morades, i les gralles deixaven anar tranquil·lament els seus crits de dalt del cel blau estant. Però es veié un bellugueig, una llambregada, un tomb d’ala argentada a l’aire.

Soler returns to the same text in her closing sentence:

El mes de setembre portarà un bellugueig, una llambregada, un tomb d’ala argentada a l’aire.

What struck me here is the richness of the Catalan text, including the flourish of “del cel blau estant” and the three nouns of movement – bellugueig, llambregada, tomb – which are contiguous verbs in Woolf’s original: “moved, flashed, turned”. Such features of the Catalan text are nowhere in the English version. They are the invention of the Catalan translator. Indeed, much could be said about these creative adjustments.

But the crux of the matter is that in Ara the Catalan translator passes unacknowledged.

30 September is International Translation Day, Saint Jerome’s Day, an annual celebration launched in 1953 by the International Federation of Translators to pay tribute to the work of translators.

It is, therefore, particularly appropriate at this time to give recognition to Woolf’s Catalan translator, Helena Valentí (1940 – 1990). It is her version of the novel “Al far” (Edicions Proa, 1984) that has been quoted here. Valentí successfully translated many novels from English into Spanish and Catalan in the 1970s and 1980s. You can read about her work in Pilar Godayol’s excellent monographic article Helena Valentí, fúria i traducció and also more briefly in the recently published entry online in the Catalan Translation Dictionary.

Let’s acknowledge our translators!

Richard Samson

About Richard Samson

I’m a teacher living in Osona, Spain. I'm into tennis, dogs, and chickens. I’m also interested in translation and Moodle (well, digital tools for teaching, in general).
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