Brigid Brophy doesn’t sound like my cup of tea, but Bernard Hoepffner (who’s been working for a decade on a French translation of her In Transit that he can’t get publishers interested in) has an interesting discussion of the problems of translating a novel full of multilingual puns—a novel, to make things worse, whose narrator is of indeterminate gender:
This creates different problems in English and in French, and it is of little importance to try to work out in which language the constraint is more difficult to overcome (e.g. personal pronouns in both languages, possessive pronouns in English, adjectives and participles in French); it is sufficient to know that when writing the book, the author, if faced with a particular problem which seems impossible to solve, can always choose an alternative formulation (decide to remove a word, a sentence, a paragraph, scrap the whole book even); this solution is not available to the translator, who must translate each sentence as it was written, more or less each word, but unfortunately not as it was written (Pierre Ménard was not a translator)… To take just one example, the adjectives applied to the narrator, innocuous enough in English, are gendered in French. To take a single instance, in the sentence «The problem was the more acute because I was alone in a concourse of people» «I was alone» would normally be translated by «j’étais seul» or «j’étais seule» depending on the gender; this being impossible, another construction had to be found: «Ma solitude au milieu d’une foule de gens ne faisait qu’aviver le problème», which would retranslate back into English as «My solitude in a concourse of people made the problem more acute.» A different sentence although not a mistranslation. Numerous examples show that, in the case of a translation of In Transit, the French text will rarely be, through the simple test of back-translation, a strictly faithful translation of the English original. A count of the adjectives used in the translation would certainly indicate that a great number of them (at any rate a greater percentage than is normally found in a text written in French) do not change according to gender (propre, aimable, etc.). In most cases, the passé composé was also ruled out as the auxiliary être requires a past participle with an «e» if the subject is a woman, or, if the verb is constructed with avoir, the object (if the object is the narrator) cannot not be placed before the verb («Il a regardé Patricia», «Patricia, quand il l’a regardée»).
He says “In Transit has been a frequent companion; in the same way that, in nineteenth-century novels, it was through the Bible that the children of the poor were taught to read and write, I somehow learned to read English «in transit».” Even if I’m not enthusiastic about the idea of reading the actual book, I enjoyed reading about his difficulties in wrestling with it. (Via wood s lot.)