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BCLT Research Seminar - Angela Carter’s Translational Poetics

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BCLT Research Seminar - The Milk in the Looking-Glass: Angela Carter’s Translational Poetics - Martine Hennard Dutheil

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Because translation is a (re-)creative act that often inspires new writing, it is a powerful and yet often hidden force of innovation, renewal and transformation at work in many individual oeuvres and literary traditions. The British writer Angela Carter (1940-1992) is probably best known today for her collection of fairy-tale rewritings The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories (1979). Translation in fact played a key role in the making of this genre-bending collection and in the fashioning of the author’s unique style and writing method. Carter used translation as a creative matrix out of which her own fiction developed, from her early efforts to translate French poetry to her accomplished translation of The Fairy Tales of Charles Perrault (1977), out of which her collection of ‘stories about fairy stories’ for adult readers, was conceived, giving rise to a veritable sub-genre.

Testifying to her life-long fascination with fairy tales, Carter’s oeuvre is filled with allusions to Lewis Carroll’s Alice books, from her early poems to the collection of short stories that she put together on her deathbed. Carter seems to have associated the defamiliarizing experience resulting from her encounters with foreign languages, literatures and cultures with this favorite intertext. Unlike the ordinary mirror, which presupposes a mimetic relation to reality and, by analogy, an equivalence between languages, the Carrollian looking-glass opens up into a strange and wonder-filled space that Carter explored as a translator from the French and during her stay in Japan. I propose that a translational reading of her work sheds light on her unique oeuvre and, in turn, on her intertextual sources in mirror-like fashion. As her notebooks confirm, Carter’s literary practice is inseparable from translation as a creative and critical practice through which she engaged with texts that sparked her own writings, while drawing our attention to the fact that Carroll’s Alice books and Baudelaire’s poetic prose were themselves indebted to translation.

Martine Hennard Dutheil de la Rochère is Professor of English and Comparative Literature at the University of Lausanne, Switzerland, and former Associate Dean of the Humanities. She has published on various aspects of modern and contemporary literature (including Dickens, Conrad, Nabokov, Carter, Rushdie, Donoghue, Yolen), the international fairy tale tradition from Antiquity to the present, and literary translation (theory, practice, reception). She is the author of Origin and Originality in Salman Rushdie’s Fiction (1999), which focuses on the poetics and politics of cultural translation, and Reading, Translating, Rewriting: Angela Carter’s Translational Poetics (2013), which traces the interplay of translation and rewriting in Carter’s fiction. She guest-edited Angela Carter traductrice – Angela Carter en traduction (2014), and co-edited After Satan: Essays in Honour of Neil Forsyth (2010), Des Fata aux fées: regards croisés de l’Antiquité à nos jours (2011), Cinderella across Cultures: New Directions and Interdisciplinary Perspectives (2016), Translation and Creativity – La traduction comme création (2016), Visages: Histoires, représentations, créations (2017), FéminIinIvisible: Women Authors of the Enlightenment. Übersetzen, Schreiben, Vermitteln (2018), and La nouvelle jeunesse des contes: Transcréations des recueils de Perrault et des Grimm (2019). She is an international corresponding member of the the BCLA, and sits on the Advisory Boards of the Chichester Centre for Fairy Tales, Fantasy and Speculative Fiction as well as the Angela Carter Society. She was awarded an Honoris Causa Doctorate from the University of Angers in 2019.

Photo credit: Félix Imhof © UNIL

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