Student Summer Scholars


Translation, La femme patiente


French and Francophone Language and Literature




Translation seems to be a simple process: a translator with a strong command of two languages renders a phrase from Language A into Language B for the purpose of wider communication. Given her intimacy with both languages, it should be a relatively easy task to transport meaning from one language to another. Yet a superficial transformation of language is not enough to create a successful translation; rather, a translator must seek to grasp and communicate the literary heart of a piece, as well as convert the complexities of its linguistic skeleton.

I explored translation’s double nature by translating a French novel, La femme patiente, into English. After examining the work from a literary point of view, it was apparent that the author, Alain Gagnol, had constructed a prose style meant to underline the unique qualities of his protagonist. Clearly, it was my duty as a translator to maintain Gagnol’s French style in the English in order to preserve its literary integrity. But how?

One question in particular that appeared repeatedly addresses a translator’s fidelity to the source text. How far may a translator stray from the original text while remaining “faithful”? How does maintaining the original author’s literary style contribute to fidelity?

The other side of translation is a linguistic component, which includes a question of how to find adequate equivalents for seemingly untranslatable words and phrases. If a concept exists and can be expressed effectively in one language, but not in another, how does the translator adapt? It is clear that deep intimacy with the target language and its culture is necessary for a translator in order for her work to be successful.