Un Cuarto Propio

I never did blog about my recent trip to the 18th Annual Woolf Conference in Denver the other week. That experience my be lost to the ether. One part of it, however, I want to make sure to document: Leah Leone’s paper on Borges’ translation of A Room of One’s Own, Un Cuarto Propio. Leah explained that, given Borges’ stature—and Woolf’s—this particular translation of Woolf’s 1929 feminist pamphlet is by far the most widely available one. It was commissioned by another Latin American modernist and Woolf fan, Victoria Ocampo. However, while Ocampo was a feminist, Borges was not.

Leone’s paper laid out in really persuasive detail five or six examples of moment when Borges muted Woolf’s feminism. For example, even though Borges’ collection of stories was entitled Ficciones, he translated the phrase “woman and fiction” as “las mujeres y la novela” (working from memory with only Dora-grade Spanish) abjuring the cognate “fiction”—less common in Spanish but very much in Borges’ vocabulary—in favor of the Spanish for novel. Why does this matter? “Novel” is a narrower genre, a more feminine one, and a genre that Borges did not admire.

Elsewhere, where Woolf uses “we” in the context of a room full of women, Borges translated the pronoun not as “nosotras,” which indicates women, but “nosotros” which indicates any group that contains at least one man. Sigh.

Still, what was so elegant about Leah’s paper was that for all she found lacking in the Borges translation, she did not deliver a screed against him. Instead, she discussed feminist theories of translation on the one hand and what we can learn about Borges himself on the other.

Part of me wanted someone to get up and just really get angry about the injustice of it all, but mostly I was really impressed and fascinated by Leah’s work—and I know that I would have striven for the same balanced and intellectual tone that she so ably struck.

I wished Ana Maria had been there, but I promised Leah that I’d write it up so that she could read it—and you can, too.

Apparently, there are new, better translations out—several in recent years—but they come from smaller feminist presses and, of course, don’t carry the Borges name.

UPDATED to correct my mispelling of "propio" as "propRio"--as I mention in the comments, I'm sure it's all those years of trying to get my tongue around the French "propre." I don't speak Spanish, so I muddle my way through...