The Enchanted Ring

Today a new story has been published in Peacock Journal online, “The Enchanted Ring”, written by Catulle Mendès in 1887, translated by me. The story is in his collection, Pour lire au couvent (To Read in the Convent), which might surprise since it’s a wee bit spicy for innocent convent girls and only a little less risqué than his tales in Pour lire au bain (To Read in the Bath).

To set the scene, the Peacock Journal editors have illustrated the story with Claude Monet’s impression of Vétheuil in the outer regions of Paris in 1879. This will give readers a hint that the story works its way towards a country inn where three rich and handsome princes are resting for the night (only one of them is asleep…).

Claude Monet, ‘Vétheuil, Paysage’, 1879

Another of my Mendès translations, “The Only Beautiful Woman”, appeared recently in The Brooklyn Rail inTranslation which you can read about in my blog post here where you’ll see a photo of Catulle Mendès standing casually in his study reading a story. Or a poem. If you don’t recognise Mendès, you might recognise his daughters from this painting by his friend Auguste Renoir in 1888, now in the Met Museum, New York:

daughters-of-catulle-mendes-renoir
Auguste Renoir, ‘The Daughters of Catulle Mendès’, (1888), Huguette b. 1871, Claudine b. 1876, Helyonne b. 1879

Peacock Journal has a theme: beauty. The editors search for it in every submission. I feel fortunate and chuffed that they found it in “The Enchanted Ring”. Make your day better by popping over to read this and other stories about beauty.

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The Only Beautiful Woman…

… is the title of my newest translated story, published yesterday by The Brooklyn Rail inTranslation. You can read the story online: go to the website, scroll down to the translator’s note (that’s me, of course) then click on “click here to read”. You’ll then be able to enjoy The Only Beautiful Woman by Catulle Mendès, originally “La Belle du Monde” in his collection Les Oiseaux bleus.

Like Perrault and the Grimm brothers, Mendès was a great creator of fairies. In “The Only Beautiful Woman” the incurable selfishness of humans is embodied in a trifling, time-wasting princess who frightens even the mirrors that reflect her beauty.

Image from
Image from “L’Illustration”, no. 3240, 1 April 1905

I’m very grateful to The Brooklyn Rail inTranslation editors for publishing my work, especially since this is my second appearance in their journal. In 2015 they published my translation of Madame Gorgibus by Jean Lorrain, another story in which one character suffers from another’s selfishness. But Mme Gorgibus never sees the victory of good over evil; her story is less of a comedy than Mendès’ little tale in which mirth predominates and the ending is happy.

I invite you to read these tales; they’re old and short but memorable! If you enjoy them please let me know.

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Women in Translation Month

August is Women in Translation month. This is a time to search for books by one of the minorities among writers, female authors who have been translated into English. As a translator of a couple of them, I’ve decided to slip out of my translatorly solitude and become somewhat actively involved. I’m very fortunate to have a daughter-in-law who works in a bookshop frequented by serious readers, ‘Paperchain’ in Canberra, so I took in a few copies of Spiridion by George Sand, (which I translated), and asked if she would be interested in making a small display of books authored by women in languages other than English. She selected a few from the shop stock and assigned a shelf to the cause, directly beneath the shelf assigned to Harry Potter books…

My translation of George Sand’s ‘Spiridion’ in the front row…

She then put a post on Paperchain’s Facebook page showing some translated books written by women and available in her shop.

This month, try to read at least one translated book originally written by a woman. I’m reading a book of poems by New Caledonian author, Déwé Gorodé, translated by Raylene Ramsay and Deborah Walker, and from the same island some short stories by Claudine Jacques, which are not yet available in English but will be, just as soon as I find a publisher for my work!

So, think outside the box that contains only male English-writing authors, and enjoy some of the other outstanding books from around the world.

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The Mandrake

‘The Mandrake’, my translation of ‘La Mandragore’ by Jean Lorrain – about a princess who gives birth to a frog – has just been published in a new literary journal, Belmont Story Review. I missed its appearance in May in this first issue, and discovered it one afternoon this past week when searching randomly online. A delightful surprise!

Cover of first issue of Belmont Story Review
Cover of first issue of Belmont Story Review

Jean Lorrain was a French author of the Belle Époque who wrote fantastical stories and novels that were original but often bizarre. He was loathed for the caustic humour of his newspaper columns in which he attacked many of the leading figures of his era. Yet, while his perversions repelled readers, this participant in Belle Époque decadence was also a spectator who wrote sarcastic analyses of its morals: many of his stories encourage questions about prejudices, leaving a reader unmasked and uneasy. Lorrain was particularly renowned for his flamboyant homosexuality and an addiction to ether. No surprise, then, that he died quite young, at 51, in Paris. Today much of his work remains unread, even by the French.

I’ve translated a number of Lorrain’s short stories, with a few published in literary journals. Last year I decided to translate ‘La Mandragore’ (1899), a dark fairy tale brilliantly illustrated by Marcel Pille and available online in the original French edition at Gallica. I submitted my work to a few journals and this year was fortunate to have it accepted. When you’ve read the translation available in print from Amazon or for free on the site of the digital publisher, Issuu, I highly recommend you check out Gallica, where you’ll see amazing illustrations like the one below which will give you clues to the story about a Queen and her frog daughter. Oh, and of course there’s a mandrake, the plant with an eerily human-shaped root…  Illustration by Marcel Pille in original edition of 'La Mandragore' by Jean Lorrain. My translation, 'The Mandrake' has been published in The Belmont Story Review (no illustrations, unfortunately). A Spanish translation was published in 2015, with the original illustrations. Ilustración de Marcel Pille para la obra La Mandrágora, de Jean Lorraine.:

‘La Mandragore’ has also been translated into Spanish by Alicia Mariño and Luis Alberto, and it looks to be a beautiful edition that includes the original illustrations.

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Joseph Olenin's Coat

By coincidence, a literary journal named The Cossack Review has accepted my translation of a story set in Russia and Ukraine. There are no cossacks in the story, but there is a quirky Russian man who falls in love with a coat. He is alone, winter is long, his sojourn in the Russian countryside is monotonous and tedious, and now he is besotted with a velvet and sable coat that is not his.

You can read ‘Joseph Olenin’s Coat’, my translation of ‘Le Manteau de Joseph Olénine’ by Eugène-Melchior de Vogüé (or Marie-Eugène-Melchior, Vicomte de Vogüé!), in Issue 6 of The Cossack Review, out now. The original was published in 1886 in an illustrated review, Les Lettres et les Arts. Above, in the header, is a part of the decorative first page as it appeared in the Paris journal. And here’s one of the images that appeared mid-story:

'Contemplation' by M. H. Gray, illustration in 'Le Manteau de Joseph Olénine' in 'Les Lettres et les Arts', Paris, 1 July 1886
‘Contemplation’ by M. H. Gray, illustration for ‘Le Manteau de Joseph Olénine’ in ‘Les Lettres et les Arts’, Paris, 1 July 1886

And here’s the cover of the spring 2016 issue of The Cossack Review (not from Paris, nor from Russia, but from America):

Issue 6 features new prose, poetry, and translation from twenty-five contributors and three translators.

A few weeks ago I told a friend that I do read Facebook but I never write on it. Well, today – never say never – I wrote on it for the first time, after reading, somewhere, recommendations for promoting one’s own writing. Apparently I was mad not to be taking advantage of it.

I much prefer blogging. I’ve enjoyed writing this post today, hunting down the picture and thinking about my words. Facebook seems too narrow by comparison; but perhaps I should look at it like one of those poster pillars we see in city centres, where people can legally post bills. So today, I posted a bill advertising the journal that has very kindly published my translation.

If you read ‘Joseph Olenin’s Coat’, let me know.

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Pinboard

Authors today are encouraged to promote promote promote their work on a blog (and on other popular elements of social media that I don’t use).  One promotional activity which hasn’t been too time-hungry and is even enjoyable is the creation of a Pinterest board with images associated with my translated works.  I’ve recently read articles by two much-published authors pushing Pinterest as an author’s friend.  So I tried it.  When you check out my board you’ll see intricately decorated pages from the original French versions of my translated stories, like this one from La Revue illustrée, 1st June 1899, illustrated by Alfred Daguet for ‘Princesse Mandosiane’, one of the stories you can now read in English in the Eleven Eleven journal (which you’ll have to buy):

First page of Princesse Mandosiane, in Revue illustrée, 1 June 1899
First page of Princesse Mandosiane, in ‘La Revue illustrée’, 1 June 1899

Look at the creature in the bottom left of the page doing a handstand while balancing an ‘L’ signpost in his mouth!  Reminds me of the sculpted column swallowers in Romanesque churches.  Such fun!  Why don’t we decorate our pages any more?

Of course, for every one of my translations that’s published there are several others not accepted.  Just this week I’ve received two rejections and a notice that someone is already translating some stories I’m working on.  Or, rather, was working on until that moment.  Submitting stories to magazines and journals has become a part-time job, taking so much time and effort that I hardly have time to translate new stories.  But why write it if no one will read it?  Between the writing and the reading, there must come submission, publishing and promotion.  Fortunately there’s pleasure in it all!

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Not quite the back of beyond

For a couple of months I’ve been waiting for a journal posted in August, and yesterday it arrived in my letterbox:  Eleven Eleven, Issue 19, a Journal of Literature and Art produced by the California College of the Arts.  I was surprised at the size of it, about half an inch thick, 256 pages of stories and poetry and art, some in colour.

Eleven Eleven Issue 19 cover
Eleven Eleven Issue 19 cover

The editors had published two stories I translated from a collection by Jean Lorrain:  ‘Princess Mandosiane’ and ‘Queen Maritorne’, and sent me a copy by way of payment.  Seeing the stories in the journal was pretty special, and knowing that readers will have to go out and buy it gives the experience an edge.

But even being published in a free online magazine earlier this year was, I have to admit, a thrill!  Another one of Jean Lorrain’s stories, ‘Madame Gorgibus’, was published in Intranslation, part of The Brooklyn Rail, ‘an independent forum for arts, culture, and politics throughout New York City and beyond’.  I was so glad to read that last word, my home being far far away from New York.  Indeed, I’m very grateful to American magazines that welcome submissions from Australia, from the back of beyond (well not quite), since there are virtually no journals here that would take my translations.

What opportunities there are for writers in this electronic world!

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Chopin's Raindrop

Today in Valldemossa, Mallorca, I heard two Chopin piano concerts, each lasting ten minutes.  They were included with the ticket to the Real Cartuja Municipal Museum which exhibits Frédéric Chopin and George Sand memorabilia in a few cells of the old monastery.  Though one of Chopin’s pianos is present in another cell, the Celda de Chopin (a different, privately owned museum), it was not played today;  the pianist played on a grand piano in the adjoining Palace of King Sancho, who owned the monastery before it was a monastery.

The Chopin pieces give visitors an impression of the sounds that drifted from the monks’ cells where he was staying in the winter of 1838/39.  Though he began his sojourn by composing on a borrowed instrument, in the last few weeks of his stay his new Pleyel piano arrived from Paris.  In the cold bare cells he composed a few Preludes, a Polonaise, a Ballade, a Scherzo – pieces now famous. Today’s tourists come to see this very piano in the private museum, they photograph it and even hear it played by concert pianists, but only in summer.  I missed out, being here in spring.

Chopin's piano in the Real Cartjua, Valldemossa
Chopin’s piano in the Celda de Chopin, Valldemossa

They photograph his handwritten musical scores, his death mask, his hand mask.  There’s little information attached to the exhibits, and if visitors can’t speak to the guide in Spanish, they can only look but not learn. Yet if Chopin’s name is famous here, it is a modern phenomenon;  when he and his lover, George Sand, were staying in Valldemossa, they were anything but popular, he having a disease which in the Mallorcan mind was contagious and deadly, and she wearing men’s clothes and not attending mass on Sunday.  Even two years later when she wrote her account of their stay, Un Hiver à Majorque, Sand did not reveal the name of her companion but discreetly referred to him as the sick one, the invalid, our friend, someone in my family.

Time passed, and the world learnt that Chopin had been here, had composed here.  They wanted to come and feel his presence, hear the echoes of his music in the cloisters, see his music scores with all their corrections exhibited on the walls.

George’s photos and images also adorn both of the museums, samples of writings by her and about her are exhibited under glass, with no indication of who wrote what.  Copies of paintings of Sand, Chopin and their contemporaries hang on the walls.

Display for George Sand in Chopin Museum, Valldemossa
Display for George Sand in the Celda de Chopin Museum, Valldemossa

The view from each cell is stunning, a distant perspective with a foreground of Mediterranean plantings in a monk’s garden. While Chopin composed, Sand finished Spiridion, the novel she’d begun a year earlier, coincidentally about monks in a monastery. What providence for a writer to land in her imaginary setting, to live for a short time the life of her protagonists!

View from monk's garden, Valldemossa
View from monk’s garden, Valldemossa

Copies of Sand’s travel account, Un Hiver à Majorque, are on sale in both museums in many languages. An English translation by Shirley Kerby James, A Winter in Mallorca, sells well. Clearly tourists like to buy it and relive Sand’s experience here with Chopin, its ups and downs, mostly downs.  His health deteriorated with the winter rains, the cells were miserably furnished and bitterly cold and the local food was unpalatable to them.  If you listen to Chopin’s Prelude in D-flat major, Op. 28 no. 15, sometimes called the Raindrop prelude because of the repeating A flat which seems to imitate insistent raindrops – it’s believed he wrote it during a rainstorm – remember him at this low point in his physical health, remember that this music came from his suffering.

As for Valldemossa, I can recommend it if you like well cared-for stone houses and cobbled streets, green-shuttered windows, and if you like to be surrounded by your fellow human beings, for masses of them flock to this village to see the place that unceremoniously inspired Chopin to write beautiful music, the place where Sand observed so astutely the Mallorcans and a few monks left over from the days when the Real Cartuja was a functioning Spanish monastery.

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George, Frédéric and Valldemossa

Early morning moon, Valldemossa, Mallorca
Early morning moon, Valldemossa, Mallorca

Morning, Valldemossa.  Defeated by the insomnia of jet lag, I rise and open the curtains to a full moon shining on me.  It’s four o’clock.  Sheep down below the valley wall shuffle through grass, chewing and bleating.  No other sound; no other presence; it’s the other extreme of Valldemossa.  Twelve hours ago the streets crawled with tourists, Europeans on spring holiday spending their money in the restaurants and terrace cafés, in the souvenir and art shops.  Their numbers surprised me.  I’d expected this small village to be of minor touristic interest, but I was wrong.  It’s all because of George Sand.  Well, more precisely, because of Frédéric Chopin.

His is the famous name.  Even the non-musical could tell you he composed music in some past century.  Without him, Valldemossa’s cafés wouldn’t be nearly as profitable.  It began when he fell in love with one of nineteenth-century-France’s gifted writers, George Sand, a woman six years older with two children in tow. In need of a warmer, healing clime for his bad chest, they ventured to Mallorca in the Mediterranean.  After a few weeks of hurdles and blocks (inevitable when travelling abroad) they found themselves on the west coast of the island, temporary residents of three monk cells in a recently secularised monastery, the Real Cartuja de Valldemossa. Real for Royal. Cartuja for Carthusian.  Once a king’s residence, then a Carthusian monastery.  Now a museum and tourist attraction.

Real Cartuja, Valldemossa
Real Cartuja, Valldemossa

I’m quietly, very quietly, celebrating the publishing of my translation of Spiridion, George Sand’s novel that she finished in the cells of the Real Cartuja while Chopin, in his poor health, composed several pieces – Preludes, a Polonaise, a Ballade, a Scherzo.

When you wake at three, the morning is long.  I wait for the new day by writing, and eating scraps of leftover food, my First Breakfast, like the hobbit.  Now it’s ten to seven and the ragged Mallorcan mountains are silhouetted in the east. It’s seven o’clock and church bells in the monastery are ringing. It’s twenty past seven and there’s light, soft and shaded by mountains. The warm yellow street lamps are still on. It’s a quarter to eight and the lamps are now off.  It’s half past eight and the hotel owners have set the tables.  Time for Second Breakfast.

Valldemossa sheep
Valldemossa village with sheep

Spiridion

Four years ago I began translating one of George Sand’s novels:  Spiridion.  She was, some say, the first French feminist.  I wrote a post about her here, not because she was a feminist but because she did what people said she couldn’t do:  George Sand was a female who earned her living from writing, which, if it’s difficult in the 21st century, was next to impossible in the 19th.

Two years ago I finished the translation, and SUNY Press agreed to publish it.

Today, sitting in an airport in a foreign land – an unusual experience no matter how many times I do it – I’ve received an email from them to say Spiridion is now available as an ebook from their website.  I’ve had a few short translated pieces published in literary journals, but this is the first novel.  It’s a morning of unusual things.

In May it will be available as a real hold-in-your-hand book.  Fantastic!

Here’s the book cover and summary of the story, with a little bit about me as the translator, copied from the web page.  Hope it tickles your 19th-century-French literary fancies!

‘Spiridion’, cover

An abbot’s ghost searches for an intelligent monk to exhume his manuscript from a hellish crypt and learn the truth that monks lack two things: freedom of inquiry and benevolence.

Both Gothic and philosophical, Spiridion tells the story of a young novice, Angel, who finds himself cruelly ostracized by his monastic superiors and terrified by the ghostly visits of his monastery’s founder, the abbot Spiridion. Though he founded the monastery on the search for truth, Spiridion watched his once intelligent and virtuous monks degenerate into a cruel, mindless community. Turning away from the Church and withdrawing into his cell, he poured his energy into a manuscript that tells the “truth” about Roman Catholic doctrine and monastic life and provides a vision of a new and eternal gospel. The manuscript was buried with him, and his spirit now searches for a monk who is intelligent enough to exhume it from his crypt, which is guarded by hellish spirits, and share its vision with the world.

Translated into English for the first time in more than 160 years, Spiridion offers a fierce critique of Catholic doctrine as well as solutions for living with the Church’s teachings. Although Sand had broken with the Church several years earlier, she nevertheless continued to believe in an omnipotent God, and her novel makes the distinction, as Angel’s protector, Father Alexis, puts it, “between the authority of faith and the application of this authority in the hands of men.” As translator Patricia J. F. Worth argues in her introduction, the novel’s emphasis on freedom of inquiry, benevolence, and moral reform inspired other nineteenth-century writers, including Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Matthew Arnold, and Henry James, and the novel is also relevant to twenty-first-century discussions of religious authority and rigid adherence to doctrine.

“This is an excellent translation of a tale of the supernatural by a major French author. With her searing critique of Catholicism and its labyrinthine structures, Sand in Spiridion deconstructs her culture in a way similar to what Mary Shelley has done in Frankenstein. Both works are effective as horror stories, but both can also sustain serious academic inquiry, yielding still deeper rewards. Beyond academe, serious students of religion will also find that Spiridion’s subject matter raises provocative theological questions.” — Lynn Hoggard, translator of Nelida by Marie d’Agoult

Patricia J. F. Worth is a French-English translator and private tutor of English and French. She received her master of translation studies from the Australian National University, Canberra, where she focused on nineteenth-century French literature and recent New Caledonian literature.

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On the SUNY Press web page for Spiridion there’s a link to what is called the ‘first chapter’, but it will in fact take you to the introductory material.  So, to read the first chapter you will have to get the book…

Happy Reading!

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