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A Journey in Translation: Anne Hébert’s Poetry in English

The University of Ottawa Press gratefully acknowledges the support extended to its publishing list by the Government of Canada, the Canada Council for the Arts, and the Ontario Arts Council. This book has been published with the help of a grant from the Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences, through the Awards to Scholarly Publications Program, using funds provided by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.

Copy editing: Robbie McCaw

Proofreading: Helen Guri

Typesetting: CS

Cover design: Édiscript enr.

Cover image: Hand and Quill, Rue des Jardin, 2014. Photo © Elizabeth Schwaiger.

Library and Archives Canada Cataloguing in Publication

Skallerup, Lee, 1977-, author

A journey in translation : Anne Hébert’s poetry in English / by Lee Skallerup Bessette.

(Canadian literature collection)

Includes bibliographical references and index.

Issued in print and electronic formats.

ISBN 978-0-7766-2376-4 (paperback).--ISBN 978-0-7766-2377-1 (pdf).--ISBN 978-0-7766-2378-8 (epub).--ISBN 978-0-7766-2379-5 (mobi)

1. Hébert, Anne, 1916-2000--Translations into English--History and criticism. 2. Canadian poetry (French)--20th century--Translations into English--History and criticism. I. Title. II. Title: Anne Hébert’s poetry in English. III. Series: Canadian literature collection

PS8515.E16Z887 2016






© University of Ottawa Press, 2016

Printed in Canada by Gauvin Press




Anne Hébert, her poetry, and their translation

Translation Studies and the Author

Translation in Canada

The Paratextual and Translation

Using Dialogue as a Model of Literary Translation

A Theory of Power and Authority



F. R. Scott, Translator

F. R. Scott, Lawyer

F. R. Scott, Friend

F. R. Scott, Collaborator

F. R. Scott, Instigator




Peter Miller, The Tomb of Kings

Alan Brown, Poems

Alfred Poulin Jr., Selected Poems and Day has no Equal but Night

Lola Lemire Tostevin, Day Has No Equal but the Night



The “English” French Canadian Canon

Anne Hébert as French Canadian

Anne Hébert as Canadian




Hébert as Woman Writer in the United States

Hébert as French Poet

Hébert as Poet




Power Dynamics within the Narrative

Poet vs. Translator

Archives and the Future of Translation Studies

The Story of Anne Hébert and The Story of ?

Found through Translation: A Poet





This book, which started out as my PhD dissertation, has been almost fifteen years in the making, and thus has fifteen years of people to acknowledge and thank. First and foremost, I would like to thank the University of Alberta’s comparative literature program and Faculty of Graduate Studies. I was able to teach for four years, travel to many conferences, perform research on various travel grants, and take a year off to complete my dissertation. The financial support was truly appreciated. I would also like to thank my supervisor, Dr. Lynn Penrod. She supported my research, my administrative aspirations, and let me do the project I had envisioned. I would also like to thank Dr. Albert Braz for his support, patience, and a place to stay while I attended Trent University, in Peterborough; Dr. E. D. Blodgett for his thoughts on translation and Canadian literature; Dr. Anne Malena for her thorough editing job and useful suggestions; and my external reader, Dr. Sherry Simon. I would also like to thank Dr. Carl Amrhein for his sound advice and sympathetic ear.

The idea for this dissertation came while I was still an undergraduate student at the Université de Sherbrooke. Dr. Richard Giguère introduced me to the poetry of Anne Hébert and Dialogue sur la traduction, an exchange between a writer, Hebert, and a translator, F. R. Scott. He also allowed me to begin comparing translations of Hébert’s “The Tomb of Kings” for a paper in his class. I will be eternally grateful for the wonderful journey he unknowingly sent me on. I would also like to thank Dr. Gregory J. Reid for his supervision of a long MA thesis. If I hadn’t ever completed that, I would never have arrived here.

My research would have been impossible without the help of countless reference librarians, both in Canada and the United States. Here is a list of some of the people who helped me along the way (there are countless other librarians and staff members who undoubtedly spent hours fulfilling my photocopying requests who shall remain nameless, but no less appreciated). I would like to thank Bernadine Dodge and Jodi Aoki from Trent University; Stephen C. Jones and Ellen Cordes of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale; Richard Virr and Mary Houde at McGill; Christiane Bisson and Natalie Watteyne from the Centre Anne-Hébert at the Université de Sherbrooke; Patti Auld Johnson at the University of New Brunswick, Saint John; Jennifer Toews and Sandra Alston at the University of Toronto; Apollonia Steele at the University of Calgary; Jessica Coffey at Oxford University Press; Catherine Bernier at Université de Montréal; Rebecca C. Cape, B. Breon Mitchell, Erika Dowell, and Michael Taylor at Indiana University, Bloomington; and finally, Anne Goddard, Alex McEwan, Sophie Tellier, Alain Lamarche, and Janet Murray at the National Archives in Ottawa. More recently, thank you to June Can at the Beinecke Library, Penny R. Ramon at the Lilly Library, Allison Wagner at the University of Calgary, Lauren Williams at the University of Toronto, and Sara Viinalass-Smith at the Library of Canada; I am grateful because they were able to provide for me the reference information I had neglected to save all those years ago in order to complete this manuscript.

There were others who were invaluable to me in navigating the archives. I would like to thank William Toye for granting me permission to visit the F. R. Scott and John Glassco archives. Brian Busby, who has written a biography of John Glassco and happened to be at the Glassco archives the same time I was, provided me with letters from Glassco regarding his views on translation later in his life, for which I am grateful. Patricia Godbout, whose theoretical approach became the centrepiece for my dissertation, not only provided me with the courage to continue on in my research, knowing there were others out there doing similar work, but also introduced me to a number of letters I never even knew existed. And Jo-Anne Elder, for whom my project became more personal, graciously shared with me stories and memories on her long-time colleague and collaborator Fred Cogswell, and her father, David Elder. She was also very supportive of my overall approach and project. I benefited from friends who lived close to some of the archives and were able to make last-minute visits and get me needed documentation, so thank you to Chris Doody and Trip Kirkpatrick for indulging me and sending me much-appreciated gems from the archives.

Some of the authors and translators discussed in my book were kind enough to answer my questions and share their insight with me. Daniel Slote granted me an interview at his home in Montreal, and it was a wonderful conversation. Graham Dunstan Martin wrote letters to me, answering my questions, and he sent me his press clipping as well as some of the original drafts of his translations. Willis Barnstone was also kind enough to chat with me about translation. Janis L. Pallister sent some of her drafts and correspondences electronically, which were invaluable as well. I would also like to thank P. K. Page, John Robert Colombo, Leslie Monkman, Morton Weinfeld, Bernard Pozier, Lola Lemire Tostevin, Wanda Campbell, and Evan Jones for their e-mail correspondences with me.

No dissertation or manuscript is without a few bumps in the road. A few well-timed conferences as I went through the process of writing helped me get out of slumps. So to Denise Merkle, who organized the conference “Translating from the Margins” at Université de Moncton, and Suzanne Jill Levine, who organized “Translation in a Non-Literary Age” at UC Santa Barbara, I say “thank you.” At both conferences, I met and was able to speak with a number of translators and scholars who offered me their feedback and support, notably Sherry Simon and Lawrence Venuti. Their words of encouragement and feedback were timed perfectly and pushed me forward in my writing and my thinking. I would also like to thank Moira Killoran and Amy Benson Brown for the help and support to make the final push to polish this study into the book it is today. I have also benefited from the assistance and support of Dean Irvine and the Editing Modernism in Canada project. His enthusiasm for the project was invaluable, and I’m glad that the archival research I did will have a new life and a new home with EMiC. I wouldn’t have been put in touch with him if not for Melissa Dalgleish, whom I met at the CWRC2 Canadian Women Writers: Space/Place/Play conference. All of these events and interactions reminded me that my work is a part of a larger dialogue and that I am a part of a larger community of scholars. I am also grateful for the patience and support Dominike Thomas at the University of Ottawa Press brought to shepherding this publication into existence, alongside Elizabeth Schwaiger, who, among other things, designed the cover, and copy editor Robbie McCaw, whose eye for detail greatly improved the scholarship herein.

To my friends and family who supported me throughout this journey, you will forever have my love and gratitude. Over the fifteen-plus years it took to prepare this book, I’ve lived in two countries, four American states, worked at seven different universities, gotten married, and had two kids. Every step along the way added another layer to this work. I would also be remiss not to mention how important my large and eclectic networked community was in supporting me during this long process. But my husband has been there from the beginning of this book, when I excitedly described my dissertation project to him on the night we first met.

This book, however, is dedicated to my Nanny and Granddad, who did not live to see it published. They are always in my heart.


The archives cited herein are varied and inconsistent in their documentation format. Every effort has been made to give as much information to the reader as possible in order to allow for further research and consultation of the primary sources used here. Below is a key to the abbreviations used in the parentheticals throughtout the book.

Alan Brown fonds—ABF

Barnstone MSS

Blackfish Press fonds—BPF

Contact Press records—CPR

Fiddlehead/Cogswell Papers—FCP

Fonds Anne-Hébert—FAH

Francis Reginald Scott fonds—FRSF

Gael Turnbull fonds—GTF

John Glassco fonds—JGF

Louis Dudek fonds—LDF

Mordecai Richler fonds—MRF

P. K. Page fonds—PKPF

A. Poulin papers and BOA Editions records—AP-BOA

Raymond Souster Papers—RSP


All translations in the text, unless otherwise noted, are by the author herself. Thank you to Elizabeth Schwaiger for her feedback and advice.


In 2013, Les Presses de l’Université de Montréal published, as part of their now-defunct Bibliothèque du Nouveau Monde collection, the first volume of the Œuvres complètes d’Anne Hébert, which focused on the author’s complete works of poetry. Edited by Nathalie Watteyne, the book is an exhaustive critical edition, complete with annotations, versions, and introductory essays. Rare for a scholarly work of this nature, it received glowing reviews in both major French-language Montreal daily newspapers, Le Devoir and La Presse. In her review for La Presse, Chantal Guy calls Hébert “l’un de nos plus importants écrivains,” while Marie-Andrée Lamontagne in Le Devoir says that Hébert’s poetry has reached “le statut de classique.” And Anne Hébert’s poetry remains central to understanding her larger body of work; as Watteyne said in Lamontagne’s review, “Chaque fois qu’elle terminait un roman, elle retournait à la forme brève. J’ai l’impression qu’on ne peut plus maintenant parler de sa poésie de la même manière.” As put by Mary Lewis Shaw in her book, The Cambridge Introduction to French Poetry, Hébert is the “preeminent woman poet from Québec” (136).

But Hébert’s poetry isn’t just celebrated in Quebec. She is one of the best-known twentieth-century Québécoise authors; her death, in 2000, was noted in extensive obituaries in both the Los Angeles Times and New York Times. Her poetry and prose have transcended formidable regional and linguistic barriers to become part of the canon of world literature. Her case is unique in Canadian literary history. Hébert is considered one of Canada’s foremost poets, and in both of the county’s official languages. But she is also considered an important voice in French-language poetry more generally. Moreover, her inclusion in the larger French canon eventually facilitated her translation into the English-language version of the French canon as well, paving the way for her inclusion in the “world” literary canon.

Exactly how did this one woman’s work travel so much further than the vast majority of that by Québécois1 authors? Though the haunting quality of her art partly explains her wide appeal, her work would have never travelled so far without the effort of scores of passionately committed translators, editors, and archivists. Textual-studies pioneer Jerome McGann2 highlights how all texts are in fact “social texts,” with many different hands shaping the text before, during, and after publication. The amazing journey of Hébert’s work was charted by people that critic André Lefevere describes as “in the middle” of the process of editing, publishing, distributing, and preservation. Though the work of such “middle men” is seldom recognized, much less scrutinized as a factor in shaping the meaning and reach of an artist, in Herbert’s case a fascinating and extensive record of paratextual documents provides evidence of their influence. This study will interrogate the “socialization” (to use McGann’s term) that led to pieces of Anne Hébert’s œuvre’s journey into a larger literary world.

This book traces the remarkable journey of Hébert’s shifting authorial identity as versions of her work travelled through complex and contested linguistic and national terrain from the late 1950s until today. Though the impact of translation, editions, and archival work has been largely ignored in studies of Canadian literary history, the treasure trove of such paratextual records in Hébert’s case allows us to better understand the reach of her work. More importantly, it provides insight into and raises critical questions about the textually mediated process of nation-building and literary-canon formation. Thus, the question this study seeks to answer is who made these texts in English? This is a question Martha Nell Smith explores in her own groundbreaking archival research on Emily Dickinson.3 Pushing past the cult of personality that surrounds Dickinson, Smith focuses instead on the socially mediated textuality of Dickinson’s published and unpublished writings. Like Smith, I am interested in socially mediated elements of Hébert’s translations into and publication in English. The “who” at the centre of my exploration of Hébert’s work are the people who were inspired by her poetry to translate and more widely disseminate her poems to a wider audience.

Certainly, these kinds of critical analyses of translation and anthologization have taken place in Canada, particularly in regards to the development of national identity that took place in the 1960s, but they rarely cross both linguistic and national lines. In looking at the specific journey of Anne Hébert, I will be taking an approach described by Kathy Mezei as looking at “the particular system of the text, the system of the culture out of which the text has sprung, and the cultural system in which the [translation has been] created” (Mezei, “Speak” 15) to see how these shaped the image of the author in English. More commonly known as a polysystem approach, it is an effort to consider the multitude of influences on the translation, translator, editor, and anthologizer, as well as the critical reception of the work.4 Much like McGann, the polysystem approach seeks to answer the question who made this text, or what process of socialization was involved in the making of the text? As feminist translator and scholar Barbara Godard argues:

Criticism and translation are two important modalities of textual ‘manipulation’ which, along with literary history, anthologizing, and many types of paritextual apparatus (prefaces, advertising, book jackets, etc.) engage in mediation and negotiation between different fields or different positions in a field, and so realign borders. Such rewriting functions metatextually to determine its reception in the process of forming an audience by means of specific textual regularities and performativity of discourse. Forms of ‘rewriting’ propose a certain ideology and a certain poetics in function of a given socioeconomic power by means of which one culture intervenes on another. (“A Literature in the Making” 58)

How was Hébert re-written into various canons and contexts, and how did she dynamically influence that process?

Vital to this study is the inclusion of archival research in order to more fully understand the systems Godard describes above. Unfortunately, this type of archival research is not very common in Canadian literature. Outside of two recent studies by Patricia Godbout5 and Jane Everett,6 there is little research on how archival research can inform our understanding of issues of translations, canon formation, and nation-building. Clearly, this type of archival research, as applied to translations studies, needs to be expanded. Not only does it provide a greater understanding, as Godbout points out in her work, of the formation of nation and national identity, but it brings the translator into a central and visible position. With the rise of globalization, archival research on translations and translators promises to shed new light on the process of cultural exportation. James S. Holmes defines the translator of poetry as a metapoet, and the archive provides invaluable insight into what he calls the “activity of confrontation and resolution,” or

the activity of organizing and resolving a confrontation between the norms and conventions of one linguistic system, literary tradition, and poetic sensibility, as embodied in the original poem as he has analysed it, and the norms and conventions of another linguistic system, literary tradition, and poetic sensibility to be drawn on for the metapoem he hopes to create. (11)

In the case of Hébert, and indeed as regards her translators and anthologizers, the archives are invaluable in understanding her shaping and evolution as an author in the English-speaking world. Diaz-Diocaretz looks at the translator (“translator-function,” as she calls it) as both an omniscient reader and an active writer. She points to the lack of analysis of the translator as reader (16), and one of the ways we may be able to close that gap is through archival resources. Many of the letters by the translators of Hébert’s poetry focus on their initial readings of her poetry. As an active writer, the translator must make choices

which are motivated by the will to solve translation problems, [while] the translator’s own cultural and ideological presuppositions are a major factor, besides specific interests and objectives, and in addition to the restrictions imposed by language use and aesthetic norms in a given system. (27)

This insight into the process of translators further evidences how they perform as metapoets, in a sense, and again illustrates ways in which the archives can be useful in understanding the translator’s decisions, influences, and so on. Many of Hébert’s translators are open about their political, aesthetic, and cultural biases in their letters discussing their translations, providing an opportunity for us to further analyze the complex process of translating. And even if they did not account for those aspects that Diaz-Diocaretz addresses as being important for the translator to consider, the archives reveal the what and the why of their decisions, or their nescience. To fully understand their actions, however, we must first look more closely at the figure who compelled them to the translation table or to include and share her poetry in a wider context.


Anne Hébert is both an important and fascinating figure in Québécois and Canadian letters. Her career spans a time of great upheaval in Quebec. Her first collection of poems, Les Songes en équilibre, appeared in 1942, during the height of Canada’s (and Quebec’s) involvement in the Second World War. Jeanne L’Archevêque-Duguay, in a review, stated that when “[un] livre est beau et grand quand, en le méditant, nous sentons qu’il enrichit l’esprit, élève l’âme, enchante l’oreille. Les Songes en équilibre remplissent cette mission” (10; a book is beautiful and significant, when, as we peruse it, we sense that it enriches our spirit, lifts our soul, enchants our ears. Les Songes en équilibre fulfills this mission). Eleven years later, in 1953, Hébert published Le Tombeau des rois, which firmly established her as a new and important poetic voice emerging from Quebec, and prompted Gilles Marcotte in Le Devoir to call her “un grand poète.” This collection was published during the grande noirceur (great darkness), the period when Maurice Duplessis was premier of the province and when rural, Catholic values dominated the social and political narrative in Quebec, while the population nonetheless became more urban and secular. Duplessis died in 1959, the Quiet Revolution began in 1960, and that same year, after having published her first novel, Hébert released Poèmes, a book containing the poems from Le Tombeau des rois as well as a new collection, Mystère de la parole, for which she won a Governor General’s Literary Award for Poetry. At this point, frustrated by her inability to find a publisher in Quebec, Hébert had relocated in Paris, becoming a part of a generation of Quebec authors who chose to flee the oppressiveness of Quebec society at the time. Hébert would publish poems only sporadically after that, concentrating instead on prose writing, until 1992, when Le Jour n’a d’égal que la nuit appeared, which was a collection of older, uncollected poems, as well as new ones. Grazia Merler outlined the evolution that had taken place in this new collection: “À la différence, cependant, des trois autres recueils qui tracent un parcours intime et spirituel de la mort vers la vie, celui-ci explore différentes attitudes à l’égard de la vie et de la réalité quotidienne, différents états d’âme et impressions” (110). One year later, Œuvre poétique: 1950–1990 was published,7 containing all of her collections of poems, except Les Songes en équilibre. Her final collection of poems, Poèmes pour la main gauche, was published in 1997. André Brochu noted the full circle Hébert had completed: “L’auteur renoue avec la perfection du discours, la diction très personnelle, l’originalité profonde du Tombeau des rois, sans toutefois répéter l’exploit du poème-synthèse qui terminait le recueil de 1953” (259; The author returns with the same perfection of discourse, a very personal diction, and the profound originality of Tomb of Kings without ever repeating the feat of poème-synthèse that concluded the 1953 collection).

Her importance in Québec literature cannot be overstated. Often read as allegories to Québecois nationalism, her poems represented a new and dynamic voice that appeared at a time when there was heavy censorship of literature in Quebec by the Catholic Church. The Dictionnaire des œuvres littéraires du Québec offers this nationalistic interpretation of Le Tombeau des rois, by Pierre-Hervé Lemieux:

Mais la grande poésie se montre capable non seulement de recueillir mais aussi de faire crouler l’expérience commune enfouie en la mémoire…Un tel renversement, celui qu’opère le Tombeau des rois, est proprement historique même s’il a pu passer presque inaperçu malgré les critiques louangeuses qui revélaient en fait la fusion réussie d’une écriture toute personnelle et d’une préoccupation collective. Il est enfin significatif que cet exploit, comme le signale Pierre Emmanuel, le préfacier, s’opère ‘à Québec’, en cette capitale, défavorisée par tant de séquelles coloniales ou cléricales et qui regagne ainsi,—comme avec Saint-Denys Garneau, Alain Grandbois et Roger Lemelin,—quelque chose du leadership littéraire ancien qu’elle avait perdu. (1001; But great poetry succeeds in not only gathering but also breaking down the collective experience buried in memory…A reversal of this kind, at work in Le Tombeau des Rois, is steeped in history, even though it may have gone unnoticed despite rave reviews that revealed the successful merging of an intensely personal style with an interest in collective concerns. It is significant, then, as pointed out in the Preface by Pierre Emmanuel, that this was accomplished in Québec, in this capital city, looked down upon by the colonial or clerical powers who were in charge respectively, and thus reclaims—alongside Saint-Denys Garneau, Alain Grandbois, and Roger Lemelin—some of the historical literary leadership that had been lost.)

Here we see the tendency to inflate the poems as symbols of Quebec culture and society: the oppression of “la grande noirceur.” Lemieux is not the only critic who sees Hébert’s poetry through this lens, as Axel Maugey,8 René Lacôte,9 Denis Bouchard,10 Pierre Pagé,11 and Pierre Popovic,12 among others, all share this perspective to varying degree.

A more apolitical perspective was equally popular and evolved simultaneously with the nationalist stream. Within this group there are a number of sub-divisions; these sub-divisions, however, all share the tendency to abandon a political interpretation for a more general interpretation, choosing instead to link Hébert’s poetic vision to larger poetic traditions. One of the more common approaches to Hébert’s poetry is structuralist analysis—for instance, that of Jean-Louis Major13 and Delbert W. Russell.14 Other methodologies include those linking her to the modernist tradition (Philippe Haeck,15 Marilyn Gaddis Rose,16 Robert Harvey17) or the symbolist tradition (France Nazaire Garant,18 Guy Robert,19 Évelyne Voldeng,20 Janis Pallister,21 Lucille Roy22). These critics have all chosen a primarily apolitical approach to Hébert’s poems.

These two broadly defined critical foci dominated until the 1980s, when Patricia Smart, one of the first critics to offer a new feminine/feminist reading of Hébert’s poems, published an article entitled “La poésie d’Anne Hébert: une perspective féministe.” Studying Hébert’s first three collections, Smart attempts to give

une nouvelle cohérence et une portée autrement lorsque [l’œuvre poétique d’Anne Hébert] est regardée selon une perspective féminine. Les traits spécifiques de la féminité tels que définis par Clément, Cixous et d’autres—monde renversé porteur d’un nouvel ordre, subversion instaurée par le regard d’une enfant sauvage, affirmation de la puissance d’Éros contre le pouvoir répressif du Logos—sont en effet les clefs de voûte de l’univers hébertien. (178; a new cohesiveness and a different perspective emerge when looking at Hébert’s poetic œuvre from a feminine perspective. The specific feminine traits as defined by Clément, Cixous, and others—a world reversed giving rise to a new order, a subversive perspective as seen through the eyes of a wild child, an affirmation of the strength of Eros against the repressive power of Logos—are in effect keys to the hebertian universe.)

Specifically, in dealing with Le Tombeau des rois, Smart points out how Hébert uses the image of the house as not just a “symbole abstrait de l’isolement et de l’enfermement” but instead as “l’habitation d’une femme onirique, sorte de Rapunzel liée à son sort par un décret de fidélité antérieur de sa volonté” (181; an abstract symbol of isolation and confinement […] the dwelling of a fairy-tale woman, a kind of Rapunzel tied to her fate by an oath of loyalty that supersedes her will). Smart continues her analysis of Hébert’s poetry in her book Writing in the Father’s House: The Emergence of the Feminine in the Quebec Literary Tradition, comparing the poet’s style with that of another Québécois poet, Hébert’s cousin, Hector Saint-Denys Garneau, in order to identify the “feminine” in Hébert’s style. This feminist approach was also taken up by critics such as Maurice Émond,23 Nicole Bourbonnais,24 Joanne Collie,25 Lorraine Weir,26 Kathleen Kells,27 and Liliane Lacoste.28 In fact, the majority of new studies devoted to Hébert’s poetry are from a feminist perspective that is no less political than the early nationalist readings, but instead focuses on issues of gender and power rather than nation and power.

As the focal point of Hébert’s poetry moved through various interpretive lenses, so too did the translations. As Lawrence Venuti says about the process of translation, “Every stage in the production, circulation and reception of a translation is profoundly marked by its historical moment, tracing a history that is distinct from the history of foreign text” (“Translation” 3), almost all of Hébert’s early translators identified politics as being one of the chief motivating factors behind their choices to translate her poems. For example, F. R. Scott, her most important translator in English, was, among other things, an active social democrat who believed in a bilingual and bicultural Canada. Translating poetry and attempting to promote understanding of the “other” was important to him, as described by D. G. Jones: “[The translations] may serve, not only to open a window on another culture or country, as Scott makes explicit in his introduction to his Poems of French Canada, but to open windows on the unknown country as ourselves as English Canadians” (“F. R. Scott” 163). In Scott’s case, the politician was never very far from the translator. Hébert’s poems (or at least the political interpretation of the poems) reflected Scott’s own views on the political situation in Quebec leading up to the Quiet Revolution, a period of profound cultural, political, and social change in the province. As Jones noted: “There has been no love lost between F. R. Scott and the Quebec of Maurice Duplessis” (160). As expanded by Sandra Djwa in her biography of Scott, “Not only did ‘Le Tombeau des rois’ express the same metaphysical concerns that had so often preoccupied Scott…but Hébert saw Quebec society as he did” (380).

The anthologies that contain a significant number of Hébert’s poems tend also to approach her poetry from a political perspective, seeing as they appeared during a time of great political upheaval in Quebec, but also during a time of national identity-building in English Canada. Glassco states in his introduction to The Poetry of French Canada in Translation that “It will be seen that the poetry of French Canada is a poetry of exile—from France and North America alike—and that the note of desertion, of nostalgia, of the dépaysé, recurs constantly, forming a kind of ground-bass to themes of avoidance, retreat and escape” (xvii–xviii). G. R. Roy, although not commenting on the poems themselves, echoes the sentiments of Miller, Scott, and Poulin:

Canada, one of the few countries which officially recognizes more than one language, has a duty to make each race known to the other. This cannot be accomplished on the floor of a bilingual Parliament; it can be accomplished in the home of the private citizen. For this reason it was felt that a sampling of modern French-Canadian verse in translation would help fill a cultural need. (v)

The act of translating and anthologizing Hébert was a political endeavour for many.

While it was the 1980s before the critics began to consider Hébert from a feminist perspective, translators themselves were identifying with her as a “woman poet” as early as the 1970s. The Other Voice: Twentieth Century Women’s Poetry in Translation (1976), The Penguin Book of Women Poets (1979), and A Book of Women Poets from Antiquity to Now (1980) obviously identified with the female voice in Hébert’s poetry. As stated by the editors (one of whom translated Hébert’s poetry) in the preface to The Penguin Book of Women Poets, “There are several contexts that condition the work of every writer: national history, cultural milieu, individual experience. We have tried to illuminate the additional context of sexual identity as it may affect the poetry of women across the lines of time and culture” (Cosman et al. 33). This sentiment is echoed in the introductions to two other anthologies as well.

From a more apolitical perspective, Graham Martin, in his Anthology of Contemporary French Poetry (1972), places Hébert in the French surrealist movement though his inclusion and framing (see Chapter 4). In the anthology, he makes the following comment concerning the non-Parisian poets he chose: “I have included two coloured and two French Canadian poets, but practically none of their poems given here could be said to involve a possible political theme” (11). Although he acknowledges that poets from French Canada have been included, nowhere are they identified as such. D. G. Jones also seems to de-emphasize the political for simply the geographical in his introduction to the anthology Esprit de Corps: Québec Poetry of the Late Twentieth Century in Translation (1997, edited by Louise Blouin, Bernard Pozier, and Jones): “Clearly this collection of poems is not that of the Bloc [Québécois], of some single national voice…We may recall the nationalism of the sixties when Miron, in a foreign country, feels the memory of his own land rise like a lump in his throat, but we may find his remarks that his life is a black hole more unexpected, more striking” (9). While Gwladys Downes’ translations of Hébert appeared in John Glassco’s anthology, she also included them in her own book of original poetry, Out of the Violent Dark. Janis Pallister’s translations appeared in The Age of Koestler, a book of poetry and translations in honour of Arthur Koestler. Here we see a very definite shift in how Hébert’s poetry is understood and translated, away from either a feminist or nationalist position and toward the larger world literary canon.29


According to Judith Woodsworth, “little attention has been paid to the influence of the writer of the original text” (47) on the translator and the translation process. I suggest this lack of attention to the author and the role that he or she may play in translations is traceable to recent theories of translation that deal with translations done “from a distance.” These theories also work to reclaim (or condemn) the power of the translator. By translations “from a distance,” I mean that the translational situations studied are either historically or culturally distant. One sees situations where the translator is translating a text where the author and culture of origin are both long dead, or at situations where the author and culture of origin are geographically and linguistically distant. Either way, because of limits in time, geography, or linguistic aptitude, translators often work alone with the text in question.30

These same theories place the translator as the central figure responsible for producing the translated text in their role as a metapoet. Whether it is to celebrate this power (e.g., Venuti) or to question it (e.g., Lefevere, and Hewson and Martin), theorists place most, if not all, of the power in the hands of the translator. When more general literary theory puts forward the argument that the author is “dead” and calls for “the birth of the reader” (Barthes 150), it is not terribly surprising that the focus moves from the author to the reader/translator and the forces that act upon him/her. This is not to say that it is impossible to incorporate the possible influence of the author on the translator; in fact, the polysystem approach leaves open the possibility of all influences acting on the translator. As put by Alexandra Lianeri—

Described in Evan-Zohar’s terms, a “polysystem” is inherently multidimensional. It is able to accommodate taxonomies established in the realm of literature (the division between high and low literature), translation (the division between translation and non translation), and other modes of cultural production, as well as the realm of social relations (the division between dominant and dominated social groups). The need to account for the relations between these two realms, to describe translation not as a phenomenon existing in isolation, but as an integral part of a sociocultural totality, leads polysystem model to the supposition of norms and laws of translation production. (4)

All that is required is to examine those instances where the author becomes involved in the translation, incorporating them into the larger polysystem. The polysystem approach allows for paratextual materials to be incorporated in our study and in our understanding of the translation, which includes paratextual traces left to us by the author herself, in her relationships with her translators.

Points of contact between author and translator do, indeed, exist. Myriam Diaz-Diocaretz, in her book Translating Poetic Discourse, analyzes her relationship to and with the author she is translating. Diaz-Diocaretz analyzes her translations of Adrienne Rich’s poetry, and the translation of poetry in general, and observes, “a poetic text integrates a composite known as the poet’s personality” (9). Understanding this personality is of central importance in order to ensure proper translation. In translating Rich, Diaz-Diocaretz “found it necessary to understand the poet’s tradition, her ‘voice’ and the different perceptions reflected in her own world vision” (40). The process involved “extra-textual” materials in order to get to know the author and her world. While direct contact with the author is not addressed, it does not preclude author-translator interactions as part of the extra-textual resources examined by the translator. This complex relationship between author and translator, as well as the translators’ interaction with extra-textual materials, is highlighted below, in Hébert’s case, and is explored in the chapters that follow, in an attempt to understand the process of making the text and in exploring the question of who made the particular versions of the text in English.

One of the more interesting aspects in the case of Hébert and her translators is that most of her translators were poets and critics in their own right. This would seem to have an effect on the relationship both between Hébert and her translators, and between the translators and their translations. There have always been questions of authorship in regards to translated works, and the spectre of a “name” author as the translator (as well as the circumstances of the publication of said translations) can further confuse an already murky understanding of authorship. Further, the identity of the poet/translator would necessarily come into conflict with the identity of the poet to be translated, creating tensions that might not be present otherwise. As critics, the general critical approach of the translator may taint the reception of his/her translation; in other words, the attitude of the critic overshadows the poetry. At the same time, it should not be terribly surprising that Hébert was translated by other poet/critics. How these poet-critic translators, or metapoets, and Hébert herself navigate these complexities is an issue explored in the chapters that follow, linking the authors, translators, editors, and publishers in the larger process of the socialization of Hébert’s poetry into English.


In the Canadian context of translation, the author has at least been acknowledged as being present within the system. Canada is unique in that there is an expectation, albeit erroneous, that because it is a bilingual country both author and translator will be familiar with both official languages. The bicultural situation also increases opportunities for points of contact between cultures, and between author and translator. Of course, in the case of Hébert the most obvious example is Dialogue sur la traduction, between the author and F. R. Scott, her noted early translator. The scholar Northrop Frye calls this exchange “fascinating,” and observes in his introduction to Dialogue that

it is clear that without the stimulus of the other language, Mlle Hébert would never have discovered so much about her own meaning. Translation here becomes a creative achievement in communication, not merely a necessary evil or a removal of barriers. One can hardly learn more in less compass about the kind of craftsmanship that goes into the making of poetry than is given in these few pages. (15)

In her own introduction to the book, Jeanne Lapointe calls Dialogue a “rencontre privilégiée entre Anne Hébert et Frank Scott que les lecteurs des pages qui suivent sont aussi conviés” (27). Hébert herself described the experience as “une sorte de prise de conscience” (Smith, L’écrivain 45). What is so interesting about this situation is that although seemingly generating interest and excitement (including a re-issue of the book by Bibliothèque québécoise in 2000), no other work such as this has been published, nor has there been much critical interest in the book itself.31

This is not to say that there do not exist other situations similar to that of Hébert and Scott. In Mapping Literature: The Art and Politics of Translation, edited by David Homel and Sherry Simon, writers Joyce Marshall and Robert Melançon describe the intimate collaboration they maintained with either the authors they translated or their own translators. Marshall, however, illustrates through her own experience why these collaborations rarely happen: “Gabrielle [Roy] knew a lot of English, and her knowledge of what English words meant was almost perfect, but her knowledge of English grammar and English usage was nil, and our discussions would end with my screaming, No, no, no!” (18). The author may not be proficient enough in the target language to maintain a meaningful dialogue with the translator. Nonetheless, Melançon shows us how useful the collaboration can be for the author: “when Philip Stratford started to translate [Peinture aveugle], the inadequacies just leapt off the page…His translation showed me so much that I was able to do the revisions that I have long known were necessary. The translator is the ideal reader, the one who truly reads the whole work and can show it in its entirety to the author—the translator can become what Plato called a ‘diamon,’ whispering verses to the poet” (23). Iren Kiss goes so far as to suggest that “translators consult the original author when they have to make difficult choices, and share the responsibility for those choices” (26). Obviously, the impact of the author on the translator, and vice versa, cannot simply be ignored, given the complexity and possible benefits of such collaboration.

The academic Judith Woodsworth analyses the influence that Mavis Gallant had on the translation of her stories into French, often blocking their publication because she was dissatisfied with the end translations. In her essay “Writers and their Translators: the Case of Mavis Gallant,” Woodsworth highlights the long, drawn-out process of translating into French and then the non-publication of Gallant’s short-story collection Home Truths,32 largely because of the tension between Québécois French and Parisian French, as Gallant, from Montreal, was living and writing in Paris, where she spent much of her life. In a similar situation as the one described above between Marshall and Roy, Gallant would appear to overestimate her expertise in French (51), thus imposing changes to the text that were inappropriate. But Gallant also held deep-seated negative attitudes toward translation, telling Woodsworth, “There is no precise equivalent for much of anything between English and French, and that is why translations almost inevitably fall short” (53). Because Gallant grew up in French as much as in English, her choice to write in English was a deeply personal one, making it even more difficult to see her work translated. The relationship between author and translator, in this case, is ultimately a destructive one.

More recently, Jane Everett edited In Translation: The Gabrielle Roy-Joyce Marshall Correspondence (2005). The collection contains 208 letters written over twenty-one years and traces the relationship between the writer (Roy) and the translator (Marshall), who was also a writer in her own right. Curiously, Everett offers little critical or analytical framework for approaching the letters: “In papers presented at conferences, I have made some attempts at analysing this correspondence; I have not done so here, partly because I am reluctant to suggest ways of reading the text when my own interpretations of the letters is still evolving, but also because any conclusions arrived at would risk being partial and subject to revision” (xxi). She goes on to explain the shortcomings of such a collection, but concludes that the interest in these letters far outweighs their faults: “although this correspondence cannot provide a complete portrait of Joyce Marshall’s and Gabrielle Roy’s personal and professional relationship, the letters do offer thought-provoking glimpses of this partnership, as well as the creative process and of the writerly life more generally…all of which invite reflection, if not, for the moment, interpretation” (xxi–xxii). This same incompleteness exists in the case of Hébert and her translators, but nonetheless still “invites reflection” and some degree of interpretation.

Ultimately, Everett avoids answering the question “who made these texts,” and so this study seeks to expand on that point, taking it a step further with Hébert. Outside of the little work that has been done on Dialogue sur la traduction, we are still left grappling with these questions in the case of Hébert in English. Hébert also did not leave the same wealth of archival materials of drafts and correspondences as Gabrielle Roy, making the task of the researcher trying to answer this question even more difficult. But piecing together the multiple archives and other paratextual materials gathered for this book allows us to reflect on the highly mediated process that is translation and publication, completing the interrogation, reflection, and interpretation that Everett invites.

There are a number of similarities between the situation of Roy and Hébert with respect to their translators. Both had numerous translators with whom they interacted with varying degrees of success over the course of their careers. While Everett focuses on the Roy-Marshall relationship, Darlene Kelly chooses to look at Roy’s relationship with translator Harry Lorin Binsse. Kelly is specifically concerned with, as the subtitle of her article suggests, “How Their Disputes Shaped the Text.” Using a variety of archival resources, including the Roy-Marshall papers, she reconstructs the complex interaction between author and translator, ultimately leading to Roy’s “firing” of Binsse in 1962 (87). The use of archival resources is essential to her study, and Kelly concludes that

When reading a fluently translated work, most people rarely wonder about how well it preserves the original, the translator’s voice being indistinguishable in their minds from the author’s own. A similar equation of Binsse with Roy might have occurred, had not long-overlooked archival documents, like a lost piece of film footage, exposed their old quarrels, in the process of both illuminating both the texts and Roy herself… Archival data also permits us to attribute a more complex motive to Roy’s dismissal of Binsse than was suggested by her vague complaint about “tiraillements.” (101)

Here we see the potential of archival research to move us far beyond reflection and into the realm of interpretation and insight in the field of translation studies, bringing into the field elements of textual analysis, asking and answering more explicitly, who made these texts?

Yet, despite these and many other examples (David Homel and Dany Laferrière’s long-time collaboration, as well the interactions between English and French Canadian feminists immediately come to mind), there exists very little theoretical work regarding these relationships. Sherry Simon perhaps comes closest to offering a reading of the Canadian phenomenon of collaboration between author and translator when she asks the question in the introduction to Culture in Transit: “how does the dialogue between communities (political, linguistic, cultural, literary) influence the dynamics of translation?” and offers the answer: “the translator’s mandate is grounded in a commitment to both the author and the social movements which give energy to his or her work” (9). Simon is also one of the few scholars who consistently identify these points of contact and collaboration within the Canadian context. I would contend, however, that Simon is not going far enough in her analysis of the situations where the author is involved somehow in the translation of his/her work. Using a modified polysystem approach, I will put forward a theory that takes into consideration the author’s possible influence that also relies on available archival information.


Although Godard, in the quote at the beginning of our introduction, refers to them as “paritextual,” Gerard Genette names the materials that surround and inform a given piece of literature “the paratext,” defining it as such:

A paratextual element, at least if it consists of a message that has taken on material form, necessarily has a location that can be situated in relation to the location of the text itself: around the text and either within the same volume or at a more respectful (or more prudent) distance. Within the same volume are such elements as the title or the preface and sometimes elements inserted in to the interstices of the text, such as chapter titles or certain notes. I will give the name peritext to this first spatial category—certainly the more typical one… The distanced elements are all those messages that, at least originally, are located outside the book, generally with the help of the media (interviews, conversations) or under cover of private communications (letters, diaries, and others). This second category is what, for lack of a better word, I call epitext… As must henceforth go without saying, peritext and epitext completely and entirely share the spatial field of the paratext. In other words, for those who are keep on formulae, paratext=peritext+epitext. (5)

Particularly in the case of translations (and anthologies of translations), the peritextual materials (title, preface, notes, etc.) become important framing elements, in particular because of the “foreigness” of the text the reader is about to access; if the reader spoke the original language, translation would be unnecessary. As well, it reinforces translation as critical act, but also imposes the presence of the translator on the final work. As put by Sherry Simon, “Dans le cas des traductions, la préface à une autre function spécifique. C’est de mettre en valeur le nom du traducteur, de donner au traducteur ou à la traductrice un lieu de parole” (“Volontés” 98; In the case of translations, the preface has another specific function, and that is to emphasize the role of the translator, to give the translator a place to speak).

Simon continues on the importance of the translator’s preface, outlining two other critically relevant pieces of information they provide: They “renvoient aux mechanisms politiques et commerciaux qui soutinennent et contrôlent la production et la diffusion de l’écriture” (102; highlight the political and commercial mechanisms that support and control the production and distribution of the work); a preface also “établit des valeurs qui nous permettent d’historiciser les subjets de l’écriture” (103; establishes the values that allow us to historicize the subjects of the work). The question of economics is not a minor consideration; in many cases, the issue of money became more central to the ability to publish (or include) Hébert’s poetry in English translation. Also, how Hébert was not only translated but also contextualized and framed is important in understanding her evolution as an author in English.

Another dynamic paratextual influence on her image is how the English publications, the translations, were received by the critical and general community, both in terms of sales and reviews. Douglas Babour outlines the challenges presented to us in the study of reviews, particularly poetry reviews.

One major question, then, is: Do reviews really have any noticeable effect upon a poet’s popularity or sales? The evidence is not all that clear… Did these articles, which appeared only in the Canadian edition, serve to increase the popularity of the poets they covered, or did they simply signal to the general populace that those writers had already achieved sufficient fame to merit Time’s attention? Even if we accept the latter conclusion, does it not seem likely that a story in Time (or later in Maclean’s) would do more to promote a poet’s popularity than any number of favorable reviews in small literary journals? (“Re: Viewing” 53)

He posits further on in the essay, “Is it possible that much of the making of canons occurred in the review columns of our literary magazines? If so, it is almost impossible to map the whole process” (59). Nevertheless, while imperfect (and sometimes unavailable), reviews and sales figures aid a larger understanding of the historical moment and values of that time, to paraphrase Simon. Also, one cannot underestimate the cultural capital to be found in a literary review. As put more recently by poet Lori Nelson Glenn, addressing the imbalance of women writers and poets being reviewed in Canada:

The world of reviewing is a microcosm of the larger story of women and language. Women write and publish as frequently as men in Canada, and yet women’s books are less frequently reviewed, and women reviewers are less frequently published. A casual glance at contemporary reviews shows differences in tone and approach by gender. The pie charts and counts you see on this website tell us that when social and political forces gain momentum, they keep it. To paraphrase the homily: all it takes to perpetuate inequity is to do nothing. Some of us believe that the onus is on women and gender/queer communities to interrupt the conversation, take the editorial reins, insert themselves into the discourse (“you could have asked”); some of us believe that the gatekeepers need to take a close look at their gates, how they’ve built them, and rebuild them (“you could have noticed”). Many of us fall somewhere between those stances. What is clear is that doing nothing is no longer an option.

Reviews are indeed a complex, but no less important, paratextual resource for the study of translation more generally and of Anne Hébert’s evolution in English.


E. D. Blodgett is one of the few theorists to use Dialogue sur la traduction for a larger inquiry into the process of translation.33 In his “Towards a Model of Literary Translation in Canada,” Blodgett looks more broadly at a number of translational situations in the country, but begins his process with Dialogue. Applying Kristeva’s theories of geno-text and pheno-text to translation, Blodgett shows how Canadian translators put varying degrees of emphasis on the source text (pheno-text 1), the author (geno-text 1), the translator ...

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