María José Carrera
Universidad de Valladolid, Spain

Creative Commons 4.0 by María José Carrera. This text may be archived and redistributed both in electronic form and in hard copy, provided that the author and journal are properly cited and no fee is charged for access.

Nuria Fernández-Quesada, José Francisco Fernández Sánchez, Bernardo Santano Moreno. Almería: Editorial Universidad de Almería. Colección: Humanidades 68. Serie: Literatura 2, 2019. 234 pp.

ISBN: 978-84-17261-68-9.

Beckett scholars in Spain and Latin America can only welcome the publication of Samuel Beckett en español. Bibliografía crítica de las traducciones de su obra (2019), a reference work that comes to ameliorate the endemic scarcity of academic publications on the Irish author in Spain and/or in Spanish. Like other good data banks, this one proves an invaluable source for future researches by providing a carefully laid-out path for others to walk on: any future research on how and when Samuel Beckett has been rendered into the Spanish language – and into Catalan, Galician, and Basque – will have to start from this recent publication.

The book is an annotated catalogue of the translations of Beckett’s works published both in Spain and Latin America over a period of sixty-one years (1954 to 2015), preceded by a prologue signed collectively by the three authors (9-12) and an introductory essay authored by Nuria Fernández-Quesada: “España, ‘A Beckett Country?’ Seis décadas de traducción y olvido” (13-38). From the reading of the latter we get the picture of how different the reception of Beckett’s texts in Spain and in other European countries was: if Beckett was extolled in 1950s France, England, and Germany as one of the great challengers of realism in fiction and drama, in Spain his works were found to be completely alien to the bourgeois morality promoted by the dictatorship of Franco. The Regime’s official censors, as well as the journalistic critics, had a field day with Beckett, as testified by the existence of fifty-four theatrical censorship files, mostly for amateur productions, with only one leading to the actual prohibition of a commercial performance in 1959. Beckett’s texts were subjected to heavy suppressions and corrections, and these interventions, Fernández-Quesada claims, were tantamount to a prohibition for the theatre companies (23).

Two landmarks in the publication of the translations of Beckett’s texts in Spain can be singled out from Fernández-Quesada’s account: the 1960 Catalan translation of Waiting for Godot – the first extant version of a Beckett text in Spain – and the 1989 critical bilingual edition (English-Spanish) of Happy Days by Antonia Rodríguez-Gago. A decade of renewed interest in Becket’s work follows the year of the author’s death and, hence, a larger number of translations materialise. With a number of previously untranslated texts now seeing the light in Spanish, the twenty-first century somehow alleviates the bleak panorama of having some of the main texts in Beckett’s drama and prose still only available in the translations of the censorship period.

As well as bearing witness to these chronological ups and downs in the translators’ involvement with Beckett’s works, the information which the authors of Samuel Beckett en español have carefully laid out for its readers also evidences a lack of acknowledgement of the bilingual nature of many of Beckett’s texts. Indeed, Beckett’s bilingual canon has always been a source of controversy when it comes to turning his works into other languages: from which language is the text (to be) translated? Which language is favored by the different translators in the different target languages? By looking into the catalogue of translations in this book, scholars can now confirm that the Spanish versions of Beckett’s texts tend to favor the language in which they were first written by the author, with notable exceptions like the 1963 translation of Días felices from the French Oh, les beaux jours (1963) preceding the 1989 translation from the English Happy Days (1961). This is in line with an overall preference among Spanish translators for French over English as a source language.

The three hundred and sixteen bibliographical cards which compose the catalogue have been organised by the authors into six sections titled: Anthologies and Compilations (referring, respectively, to selected writings in the same literary form and miscellanea of texts from the different genres practiced by Beckett), Narrative, Drama, Poetry, Essays, and Other genres (a miscellany of radio and TV plays, the screenplay for Film, individual texts from Disjecta like “German letter of 1937”, “Pour Avigdor Arikha”, “Hommage à Jack B. Yeats”, etc.) A hundred and thirty entries make Poetry the longest section, which is understandable given that each individual poem’s translation is singled out and provided with its own bibliographic card, most of them cross-referencing to five of the poetic anthologies and miscellaneous compilations included in the first section. The numbers of the card entries for the prose works (fifty-seven) and for the plays (fifty-three) are interesting in themselves as an indication of the different fates of Beckett’s main texts in Spanish: one would expect his major dramatic works to have received a closer attention on the part of the translators but, as the catalogue shows, there have been few attempts, if any, to tackle the rendition of those works in Spanish after the versions of the 1960s and 1970s, while Galician, Basque, and Catalan translations were produced. At the same time, a number of Beckett’s prose texts have late-twentieth and twenty-first translations: Worstward Ho (2001), Molloy (2006, Galician), “From an Abandoned Work” (2008), Mercier and Camier (2013), Texts for Nothing (2015), etc.

With the exception of the Anthologies and Compilations, which are given to the reader with the Spanish title with which they were published, each catalogue card provides the reader with the title of the work in the original language (or languages when the work is bilingual); the title of the translated work (in Spanish, Catalan, Galician, or Basque); the language (languages, in the case of the Anthologies) from which the text has been translated; the name of the translator(s); the place of publication and the publishing hose; the name of the journal (if applicable); the year(s) of publication; the ISBN; and either the page numbers or the number of pages of the publication. To ease the path of the reader through the catalogue, the original titles of the works (or, again, of the translations in the case of the Anthologies and compilations) are organized alphabetically, each title acting as a heading for a new subdivision within each of the six main sections of the catalogue.

A descriptive section accompanies the bibliographic cards providing mostly factual information such as the list of contents compiled in each of the anthologies and miscellanies or cross-referencing to other cards in the catalogue (most of them sending the reader to those in the Anthologies and Compilations section). The prologues, essays, introductions, biographical sketches, and translators’ notes that may accompany each publication are also listed and, most of them, summarized. The collective overview of these paratexts that Samuel Beckett en español facilitates makes the reader aware of at least two facts: most try to pinpoint Beckett’s works as belonging to some trend or another; and a vast majority presents Beckett as the author that brings despair to the quotidian, emphasizing the existentialist reading of his works, and largely ignoring their humor and linguistic brilliance. Indeed, well into the twenty-first century we continue to be introduced to Beckett as an absurdist author in the Galician (2005) and Spanish (2014, Mexico) translations of Waiting for Godot.

However, there are notable exceptions. In her 1989 translation of Happy Days Rodríguez-Gago feels the need to claim for an interest in Beckett’s language and not so much on his personal life and oeuvre. And Jenaro Talens, another of the big names in the Beckett world in Spanish, also discusses the problems posed by Beckett’s use of language. When he “apologizes” for the liberties he has taken in translating Beckett’s poetry on account of the difficulty of replicating the “violence exerted on the French language” in the original texts (189), one cannot help but recall the amount of abuse that Beckett threw on his own self-translations and those of others translating him. Beckett actually approached the translations of his works by others in much the same way in which he approached his own translation tasks: he loathed the process and the results intensely but then begged for the respect due to the pains taken by the translator. The pioneer translation of En attendant Godot by Trino Martínez Trives (1954) is a good case in point. Beckett claims repeatedly that “the Spanish translation is execrable”, “bad”, “full of mistakes & omissions and unjustifiable liberties”, and “awful” (Beckett 447, 448, 449, 456) only to refuse, exactly one year later, to forbid Martínez Trives to put on his play with the censors’ cuts “in view of the trouble he has taken and the difficulties he has had to overcome” (Beckett 529).

Talens’s reflections on the “linguistic liberties” he took led me to recall Beckett’s disdain for Martínez Trives’s “unjustifiable liberties”, which in turn resulted in seeing him take sides with the translator who cannot escape the censors’ axe in 1950s Spain. May this serve as an example of the sort of connection that scholars can establish between the content made available by Samuel Beckett en español and the rest of Beckett’s scholarly sources. Many other incursions are bound to be made into the little-trodden world of the translation and reception of Samuel Beckett’s texts thanks to this valuable reference work and its aim to provide a “form to accommodate the mess” of the translations of his works in Spain and Latin America.

Works Cited

Beckett, Samuel. The Letters of Samuel Beckett. Volume II: 1941-1956. Ed. George Craig, Martha Dow Fehsenfeld, Dan Gunn and Lois More Overbeck. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011.