Translation Competence and Professional Habitus in the 2009 English Retranslation of Simone de Beauvoir’s Le deuxième sexe

Susan Pickford

Abstract


This article explores the controversy surrounding the 2009 publication of the second English translation of Simone de Beauvoir’s Le deuxième sexe, by Constance Borde and Sheila Malovany-Chevallier. It had long been widely agreed that Howard Parshley’s initial 1953 translation of Beauvoir’s classic study of womanhood was inadequate and the new translation was keenly anticipated in feminist circles. However, its publication sparked a heated debate, conducted largely on the letters page of the London Review of Books, with academics, professional translators, readers, the French publisher and Borde and Malovany-Chevallier themselves all weighing in to critique or defend the translation.

The article takes as its starting point the notion of translation competence as defined by the PACTE group at the Autonomous University of Barcelona, studying the translation’s epitext, particularly the debate in the LRB and the translators’ own comments on their work in articles and interviews, for evidence of their mastery of the full range of translation competences. The article posits that such mastery can be equated with a professional translatorial habitus. It concludes that the translation itself is problematic on several levels: a number of translation errors and the nature of the translators’ epitextual commentary hints at a shortfall in translation competence that reflects an incomplete acquisition of professional habitus. This situation, symptomatic of the low professional status of translation more broadly, reflects the extent to which, in the field of editorial translation, value is unequally distributed among the various forms of capital that play into the professional translational habitus, with the social capital of the translators playing in this instance a disproportionate role in the translators’ career trajectories.


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