Emily Dickinson, in her own words and in translation

Thursday, December 10, 2009 at 12:02 PM

In A Room of One's Own, Virginia Woolf poses a question that's had a major impact on discussions of writing and gender over the past and current century: Does writing have a "gender"? Does one’s gender leave a trace in words? Could you tell the gender of a writer just by reading what they've written?

Emily Dickinson was born on this day in the year 1860. And while in most of Dickinson's poems it's very obvious to me that they came from the pen of a woman, in others she seems to make her gender imperceptible.

My first introduction to Emily Dickinson was when reading her work in Spanish, and the translator for the book was another woman: the great Argentinean writer Silvina Ocampo. Here things become more complicated... how do we translate? And if writing has a gender, does a translation have it too? What is the task of a translator? Grammar has its own agenda and changes according to the language, so the traces of gender that appear in the original version of a poem may disappear in its translation. At other times, I've read translations that have unearthed traces of gender that were not evident in the original version.

Google Books has scanned books in over 100 languages, and you can search for titles in a specific language by selecting it on our advanced search options. If you speak a language other than English, why don’t you give it a try and look for versions of your favorite books in different languages? You will see it’s a totally different experience!


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