Women Translators go crazy for Joyce

In the last decade, women have proved to be the most passionate translators of Joyce. Among these are Dai Congrong, Marianna Gula, Akram Pedramnia, Iglika Vassileva, Tamar Gelashvili, Dirce Waltrick do Amarante and Jolanta Wawrzycka who translated some of Joyce’s works into Chinese, Hungarian, Persian, Bulgarian, Georgian, Brazilian-Portuguese and Polish respectively. Why have more and more women engaged in the translating of the works of one of the most puzzling and controversial authors of Ireland in the last few years?


Marija Girevska
Macedonian Translator Marija Girevska

In February 2020, I had the chance to sit down with the Macedonian translator of Ulysses, Marija Girevska, and personally deliver her translation to the Museum of Literature Ireland (MoLI) which opened its doors in September last year. On the last floor of the historic UCD Newman House on St Stephen’s Green in Dublin, the museum hosts a collection of 64 different translations of Joyce’s work – including his children’s book The Cat and the Devil which is out of print in English – lying on a wide and luminous wall. Today the works of Joyce are available in more than 20 languages, including Icelandic, Japanese, Arabic and Malayalam. Ulysses, among others, boasts over 40 translations nowadays, although its Irish version – originally published through a dozen pamphlets between 1987 and 1992 – is currently out of print.  


The wall of “Joyce in Translation” on the last floor of MoLI in Dublin - Headstuff
The wall of “Joyce in Translation” on the last floor of MoLI in Dublin

“I first read Ulysses in my first year at university. It took me three months. You see, we don’t have Joyce studies or Irish studies in our universities and in a way this gave me the freedom to explore on my own, to discover Joyce intuitively, spontaneously, randomly… Joyce was like nothing I’ve read before”, Marija explained with a smile. Marija teaches Bible and Literature in the Faculty of Orthodox Theology in Skopje. Her translation first came out in two volumes in 2013, followed by two more printings as a single book in 2017 and 2019. Passionate and gutsy, she is not – of course – the conventional scholar of Joyce that we would expect. “I was surprised how no one, not even the best professors of literature or translators in Macedonia, wished to engage in translating Ulysses. The poor excuse was that it was simply untranslatable. I was stubborn enough, I guess, I didn’t want to give up that easily.” 

Marija certainly did not let herself be intimidated by the arduous challenge of translating one of literature’s most notoriously complex works. However, apart from the ambiguity of the Joycean puns and the book’s abundant intertextuality, it was surprising to hear that what challenged her most was the “Irishness” of Joyce. “These cultural nuances can be lost in a translation. Sometimes comments or notes are necessary because it’s simply impossible to transfer the exact meaning(s) in the exact way as it is in the original.” There is no coincidence that the entire corpus of her translation amounts to almost 3000 footnotes. 

The Macedonian translation of Ulysses by Marija Girevska - Headstuff
The Macedonian translation of Ulysses by Marija Girevska

Marija is one of the women translators who have proved to be at the forefront of translation of Joyce’s works in recent years. “I don’t really divide translators into gender categories. I never thought of myself as a woman translating Joyce. As a literary translator I had a job to do and I had to do it professionally. And yes, for certain passages in ‘Nausicaa’ I had to consult a male perspective in order to translate it properly into Macedonian”, she admitted. 

Due to his emphasis on female sexuality, Joyce has often been accused of misrepresenting women in his fiction – although French feminist author and academic Hélène Cixous defined Molly Bloom’s soliloquy as one of the earliest examples of Écriture feminine (women’s writing). Moreover, several critics labelled him a misogynist. Once Joyce even told his friend Mary Colum “I hate intellectual women”. However, as professor Marian Eide has pointed out, his attitudes towards cerebral women were nothing but “a fear of gendered usurpation.” The turn of the twentieth century saw women abandon the private sphere to enter the social scene. Although his position on the female has been much discussed, Joyce’s work has been and continues to be of great interest to many women, including translators and writers. “If Joyce were a chauvinist towards women, he was also a chauvinist towards his fellow tradesmen or anyone else for that matter. I don’t think he hated intellectual women, but I believe he didn’t much like pretentious or hollow people, be it men or women. He was a strong individualist. He belonged to no one, but himself. On the other hand, the people who helped him publish Ulysses and his “Work in Progress” were mostly women: Harriet Shaw Weaver, Sylvia Beach, Margaret Anderson. Simone de Beauvoir was amazed by Joyce; she saw him as the most remote and inaccessible of writers,” Marija noted. 

James Joyce and his publisher Sylvia Beach in Paris in the 1920’s - Headstuff
James Joyce and his publisher Sylvia Beach in Paris in the 1920’s

Currently, Maria is working on a new translation of Ulysses which is due out in 2022. With her translation of Ulysses complete, has she considered translating the even more stylistically challenging Finnegans Wake? “I would love to try and complete Finnegans Wake in Macedonian. It has never been done in Macedonian. I have already started scratching the surface of the ‘Anna Livia Plurabelle’ chapter. But it takes time and hard work. I hope that by the end of this decade I’ll have my translation of Finnegan’s Wake finished.” Marija undoubtedly has all that it takes to meet this new challenge, as she has consistently proven herself to be a passionate and consistently ardent translator. We can only wish her the best of luck with her new crazy venture.

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