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Claire Davison and Anne-Marie Smith-Di Biasio (eds), Trans-Woolf: Thinking Across Borders

Perugia, Morlacchi Editore UP, European Modernism 2, 2017, 300 p. ISBN : 978-88-6074-907-9. 17 €
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Claire Davison and Anne-Marie Smith-Di Biasio (eds), Trans-Woolf: Thinking Across Borders. Perugia, Morlacchi Editore UP, European Modernism 2, 2017, 300 p. ISBN : 978-88-6074-907-9. 17 €

Texte intégral

1Transnational in its conception, this collection of eleven articles by scholars from across Europe explores Virginia Woolf’s works from the specific angle of translation and transmedial studies, shedding new light on the afterlife of her writings in different languages (French, Spanish, Italian) and in different media (music, photography, comics). As well as linguistic and intermedial transpositions of her works, contributors look at issues of cultural transfer within her works, such as her belief in the positive effects of linguistic and cultural displacement, her rejection of fixed territories, her “politics of outsiderism” (to use Hermione Lee’s expression), her ability to create new patterns of relationality beyond the traditional frontiers of genre.

2In the first section, “Translational ethics”, Catherine Bernard draws on her experience as a translator of Woolf’s essays into French to examine the “ethics of cultural displacement” (23) in Flush, “To Spain”, “On Not Knowing Greek”, “Evening Over Sussex” and The Waves. As a form of “linguistic transport”, “a journey from one linguistic world to another” (23), Woolf’s poetics of translation always entails a form of displacement, a movement in space across borders, producing a sense of “joyful alienation” (30), of “liberating dislocation” (31), an awakening to one’s own identity through the experience of otherness. Elsa Högberg also examines the ethical implications of cultural transfer by reading Woolf’s “intra-cultural translation” in Between the Acts and Anon as a form of “anti-capitalist critique” (46). In the wake of Derrida and Cheyfitz, Högberg uncovers the “economy of violence” (50) contained in the substitutive logic of “translation-as-metaphor”, a logic leading to the “betrayal of an earlier cultural stage” (47), the “violent suppression of an original condition” (51). To counter such violence, Between the Acts and Anon enact a process of “reverse translation” (57), a melancholic return to the repressed “cultural unconscious of capitalist modernity” (47), embodied in a pre-modern mode of communal creation, performed by the “intra-cultural” translator as “a co-creator who cannot say ‘I’” (46), a figure of Anon.

3Section 2, “Intra-scriptural dialogues”, focuses on the role of translation and transmediality in the textual genesis of Woolf’s works. Uncovering the Darwinian subtext in Melymbrosia, particularly Darwin’s thoughts on music as a precursor to language, Claire Davison sheds new light on Darwin and Woolf’s common interest in the “translation of emotions into phrase or sound” (72), the translatability of words into music and of music into words. In The Voyage of the Beagle and The Voyage Out, both attempt to describe “unfamiliar soundscapes” (70), “new worlds outside the realms of conventional languages” (74). Approaching translation as a form of textual variant and as a significant stage in the genesis of To the Lighthouse, Jane Goldman provides close analyses of the intra-scriptural dialogues between Woolf’s early drafts and published version of “Time Passes”, Charles Mauron’s French translation, “Le Temps Passe” (1926), and Kath Swarbrick’s secondary rendering of Mauron’s translation, focusing on three different excerpts: “Sharp-edged furniture”, “Thorns”, “Charms”.

4In “Transmedial spectrality”, Anne-Marie Smith-Di Biasio and Adèle Cassigneul look at translation and photography as powerful agents of interpretation, uncovering within the original text a latent or spectral meaning waiting to be revealed (153). Using Freud’s concept of “working through” and Benjamin’s conception of translation as a process releasing the hidden meaning of the original, Anne-Marie Smith-Di Biasio shows how echoes of Federico García Lorca’s poetry contained in Al Faro (1938), the first Spanish translation of To the Lighthouse, by Antonio Marichalar, actualize a latent reference to death in Woolf’s original text. In her intermedial reading of Jacob’s Room, Adèle Cassigneul similarly approaches photography as a “haunting interpretant”, “an agent of intermedial translation” (147), and convincingly argues that the “optical unconscious” present in Woolf’s novel—photographs of Thoby Stephen and of Greek statues—contributes to creating an image of Jacob as “a phantasmatic intermedial construction” (148), “a vanishing spectral being” (150).

5In the next section, “Transgression and transmission in the present”, Anne-Laure Rigeade reflects on Woolf’s conception of intercultural dialogue in Three Guineas, tracing it back to Kant’s philosophy of translation as constant negotiation to reach mutual understanding. In Viviane Forrester’s and Léa Gauthier’s translations of Three Guineas, she analyses the rendering of key Woolfian concepts, such as the “Outsiders’ Society”, Woolf’s politically-charged use of the first-person pronoun “we” and her resort to irony. In “La romancière imaginaire: Pop Woolf, personnage de récits dessinés”, Caroline Marie offers new perspectives on the re-medialisation of Woolf’s life, her metamorphosis from a canonical writer into a fictional character in French, American and British comics or graphic novels: Virginia Woolf by Gazier and Ciccolini, Are You My Mother? by Alison Bechdel and Über by Kieron Gillen.

6The last section, “Transfixation and embodiment”, is devoted to Italian translations of Woolf’s works. Annalisa Volpone looks at Woolf’s representation of the sense of time, the sudden crystallisation of time into moments of being in To the Lighthouse, and the rendering of this poetics of “transfixation” in Italian translations. Paying close attention to polyphonic effects and rhythm, Elisa Bolchi analyses the interactions between re-translations or secondary translations of Woolf’s texts in Italian—translations of Mrs Dalloway by Carlo Linati, Alessandra Scalero, Nadia Fusini, Anna Nadotti and translations of The Years by Alessandra Scalero, Giulio De Angelis and Antonio Bibbò—showing how re-translations interact with one another, within differing and constantly changing sociocultural contexts, and pondering whether—according to Andrew Chesterman’s theory—re-translations succeed in getting closer to the original text.

7In her luminous afterword, Nadia Fusini retraces the evolution of Italian translations of Woolf’s works from the 1930s to the present, highlighting her own role as a translator, her attempt to correct ideological assumptions about Woolf as an “effete” and delicate female writer and to convey her true “experimental tone” and her “modernist style” (272). Fusini situates her own work within the larger evolution of the art of the translator, whose difficult task is to strike that “razor edge of balance” between preservation and alteration, the desire for complete transference and acceptance that something will inevitably be lost in the process, appropriation and surrender.

8In this afterword, Nadia Fusini captures the essence of the whole volume by foregrounding the vital role of translation in bringing Woolf’s works back to life. Conceived in a spirit of collaboration between the French Society for Woolf Studies (Société d’Études Woolfiennes) and the Italian Virginia Woolf Society, this volume is a significant contribution to Woolfian scholarship, true to Woolf’s own belief in the heuristic potential of cultural encounters with otherness.

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Marie LANIEL, « Claire Davison and Anne-Marie Smith-Di Biasio (eds), Trans-Woolf: Thinking Across Borders », E-rea [En ligne], 16.2 | 2019, mis en ligne le 15 juin 2019, consulté le 21 juillet 2019. URL :

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