Category Archives: Discoveries

New Translation of “Les Marocaines chez elles” part 1, by Edith Wharton

Screen Shot 2020-08-21 at 9.54.41 AMFrom “Les Marocaines chez elles,” by Edith Wharton, translated by Nandan Kulkarni

I try, while exchanging compliments through our interpreter, to note down the details of their dresses. But how shall I describe the complex jumble of the gauze thrown on the heavy brocades? The lovely movements made with thick silk ribbons in large gold loops which are slipped under their underarms and lift their heavy sleeves? The fullness of the beautiful fabric, with folds like those in a Veronese painting, high above the large rigid belts? And, above all, the incredible complexity of their hair? Their black hair, curled and shaved at the bulge of the forehead, makes only a black line below the gold diadem or cloth band that a jewel holds just above their arched brows… Braids fall over every other part of their face; over their ears, which are laden with heavy earrings, coral pendants, big gold rings with emeralds or pearls, “bijoux de juifs” (jewels of the Jews) made in the blue Mellahs (Jewish quarters) of white cities. The countless necklaces fall on the gleaming of rich caftans, above the little pink, blue, or white gauze frills in the style of Watteau. On a narrow neck of black velvet: necklaces of gold, amber, coral, eccentric combinations of amulets and rough stones crafted in the same goldsmithery in the Mellah. All this forms an ensemble of extraordinary radiance, where the pink gauze blends with the blue and gold brocade, the white gauze with old rose gauze and violet or green-apple belts. Through the group weaves in and out a little négrillon (negro boy) with the sweet little face of Zamor, whose violet silver-spangled caftan is encircled by a beautiful raspberry-pink silk scarf.

***

In the fall of 1917, at the invitation of the French government, Edith Wharton spent three weeks touring Morocco by car. “Like a burst of sunlight between storm-clouds,” this excursion in the middle of the First World War gave Wharton, with unique privileges of access granted by her hosts, the opportunity to observe and then write about what was then, to Westerners, “a country still completely untouched by foreign travel” (A Backward Glance, 358). The tour resulted in a series of articles in Scribner’s and the Yale Review, which were then, reorganized and illustrated with photographs, published in 1920 by Scribner’s as the book In Morocco. While the brevity of her trip prevented her from writing the full-scale tour guide she felt was needed, Wharton did give her book a historical preface using scarce French sources, thus bringing more information about North Africa to a popular Anglophone readership than was previously available. Wharton was also fully aware, it seems, that as much as her book would provide “vivid and picturesque” glimpses of a “curious…beautiful” country “rich in landscape and architecture,” it would also encourage and enable a “deluge” of tourism that would destroy much of what she recorded (In Morocco, ix-xi, passim).

There was one other article in which Wharton documented her trip, an account in French that appeared in La Revue des Deux Mondes in the spring of 1918: “Les Marocaines chez elles,” which includes some observations not duplicated, it appears, in any of her Anglophone publications about Morocco. The partial translation excerpted above, and fully available here, was undertaken by Johns Hopkins University rising junior Nandan Kulkarni as a final project this spring for “Scribbling Women,” an undergraduate course I teach that is cross-listed in English and the Museums & Society program. In this class, we examine the speeches, private writings, and published poetry, fiction, and journalism by a selection of North American women who draw attention in their works to race-, gender-, and class-based inequities. Students especially consider the creation, publication, reception, and legacy of our texts, which date from the 1820s through the 1930s, using rare books, archival materials, and other primary sources. The class culminates in public projects designed to provide broad and accurate access for other potential readers of these texts. With the pandemic-related transition to remote learning, we moved, like so much else this year, from hands-on examinations of materials to digital resources and digital final projects.

We read several short works of fiction by Edith Wharton, looking at their first publication in books and magazines, as well as their current availability in e-books and digital archives. Nandan was intrigued by Wharton’s writing, her long residence in Paris, and her travels, and asked to undertake a translation of one of her French language works for his final project. Wanting to give students as much latitude as possible during a difficult semester, I allowed him to do so although it was not one of our established assignment options—my own French is certainly not at the level of Wharton’s—setting the condition, however, that he would have to find a short text by Wharton originally written in French for which a translation was not already readily available. I was thinking he might translate a few of her letters to Léon Bélugou, from the collection at the Beinecke Library; but, learning that many are already translated in Edith Wharton in France, he found instead, to my surprise, “Les Marocaines chez elles” in a digitized volume of La Revue des Deux Mondes in HathiTrust. We decided that he would translate the first half of it for our class blog, with my editorial supervision. As he explains in his headnote, parts of it are similar to sections of In Morocco but some of it does not seem to have been carried over. We were not able to make a detailed comparison to the English-language essay in the Yale Review (the print collection in our library was unavailable throughout the spring due to pandemic-related closures) but it seems to differ from that version, as well. We look forward to the full translation that is forthcoming in the Travel Writings volume of The Complete Works of Edith Wharton.

—Gabrielle Dean, PhD, William Kurrelmeyer Curator of Rare Books and Manuscripts, Johns Hopkins University

(See https://literaryarchive.net/2020/04/28/les-marocaines-chez-elles-by-edith-wharton-section-i/ for the entire translation.)

INTERVIEW WITH VIRGINIA RICARD, TRANSLATOR OF NEWLY DISCOVERED EDITH WHARTON LECTURE “FRANCE AND ITS ALLIES AT WAR”

p3_WhartonOn February 14, 2018, the Times Literary Supplement published a newly discovered lecture by Edith Wharton, “France and Its Allies at War: The Witnesses Speak,” translated by Virginia Ricard (University of Bordeaux).   Professor Ricard is co-editor of volume 29, Translations and Adaptations, of the Complete Works of Edith Wharton, a 30-volume series under contract at Oxford University Press.

The entire lecture is online at https://www.the-tls.co.uk/articles/public/america-at-war-wharton/ (Image courtesy of this site.)

Read the rest of this interview at the Complete Works of Edith Wharton site, https://whartoncompleteworks.org

  1. How did you happen to discover this piece?

In France we have an extraordinary tool, Gallica, a digital library created by the Bibliothèque nationale. Like the Internet Archive, it constantly expands the amount of material it makes available and improves accessibility. Over the years, I have downloaded anything and everything concerning Wharton or by Wharton that I found on Gallica. “L’Amérique en guerre” was published in the Revue hébdomadaire on 2 March 1918, and the review was uploaded by Gallica in December 2013. I read the lecture, among other things, soon afterwards. But it was in Washington, in July 2016, as I listened to Alan Price’s paper that I realized just how interesting it was. So the credit really goes to Alan. When I began looking at the translation work required for the Complete Works of Edith Wharton, I realized that “L’Amérique en guerre” had never been published in English and so I set to work on it. As I did so, I thought 2018 seemed the right moment to publish it—just a hundred years after Wharton gave her lecture and a little over a hundred years after the United States entered the war—still an important event in Europe although I think all but forgotten in the United-States.

  1. What can you tell us about this lecture? Do we know how it was received by those who heard it?

“L’Amérique en guerre” was part of a series organized in 1918 by the Société des conferences, that is, a lecture society that worked closely with the Revue hébdomadaire in which the lectures were regularly published. This particular lecture was one of ten called Paroles de témoinsThe Witnesses Speak. The nine other speakers were politicians, members of the Church, and writers, all closely involved in the conflict for various reasons. I think is is pretty clear why the organisers asked Wharton to take part. She had influenced American opinion, which the French saw as an essential factor in the American decision to enter the war, and she had contributed to the war effort in France. So she was, in that sense, “a witness.”