Thank you for visiting the Translating Women site. I’m Helen, and I write most of the content here. I work in the Department of Modern Languages and Cultures at the University of Exeter (and you can view my professional pages here), but this blog is a more informal space that represents the public-facing side of my research project into the UK independent publishing industry and the translated literature market. Twenty years of research have been leading towards this: in 1999 I studied for a Masters in Literary Translation, which led to a PhD, during which my focus shifted from translation to literary analysis. I worked in the field of contemporary women’s writing for fifteen years, but always with an interest in translation in both my research and my teaching. This was fuelled by – and developed with – Richard Mansell, a brilliant academic specialising in translation history, who I had the great fortune to marry in 2011 and whose passion for his subject re-ignited my own interest in translation as a discipline. In 2016 my path came back to translation more fully, and the people I have worked with and met along the way have been instrumental in shaping this project, which brings together almost everything I love: reading and talking about books, language and translation, women’s writing and women’s rights… it’s the first time that I have worked on something irrespective of the source language, and has opened up to me a wealth of literature from around the world that I very much enjoy sharing in my regular reviews and opinion posts. You can find out all about the project here, and sign up on the sidebar for blog posts to come directly to your inbox. In the meantime, read on below to find out about my life in books, or visit my (sorely in need of updating) virtual bookshelf for women in translation recommendations.
Reading for life
When I started this blog, this section included anecdotes about the reading I enjoyed up until the launch of this project in 2018. Looking back, the thing that jumps out at me is that despite growing up between languages and cultures, most of the books that had shaped my life were not only in English, but also originally written in English. This has shifted so dramatically since 2018 that I am torn between leaving up the original text as a reminder of how much my reading has shifted, and deleting it forever because it makes me slightly ashamed of how long it took me to question that “life in books”. As a compromise, I’ll summarise and reflect on what I originally wrote:
Though the majority of important books I had read in my adult life were written by women, from Jane Austen, the Brontë sisters and Edith Wharton to Simone de Beauvoir, Margaret Atwood and Angela Carter, it has taken me a long time to question the hierarchy still implicit in the discovery of and attachment to these (very high-profile) authors. At the start of 2018, it had been a long time since I discovered a new author, but it was the joy of reading a new book that led me to this project. In the years since then, I have read over 300 books by women in translation, and you can read my thoughts on many of those in the reviews section. There are flaws in the way I compile my reading list (which suggests it’s a more structured endeavour than it is in reality!) and I know there are changes I want to make, to ensure that what I read covers a broader representation and doesn’t fall into facile assumptions that reading women in translation automatically means reading without or beyond bias. It’s a journey that I hope will evolve over many more years, and one I hope you’ll join me for.