Thursday, March 8, 2018

International Women's Day, 2018

(This post has now been combined with another one to form a short paper on my site in Its title is "Marx's Earliest English Translators". To read it, click [here] or go to

Today, 8 March, is, as you're no doubt aware, International Women's Day. Here in Spain there's a Women's Strike (la Huelga feminista) against mistreatment and discrimination. The serious newspapers like El Pais are running stories of women whose contribution to scence, literature and the arts has been downplayed, often to the benefit of their husbands.

In my own experience of Expert Translation, it's been an 'equal opportunity' profession. I worked with more women conference interpreters than men, and at the University of Ottawa I had a majority of female colleagues; and we were all paid on the same fee or wage scales. Lkewise I constantly had a majority of women students. But elsewhere it's not always been so equal.

There have been great women translators. A few, like Constance Garnett, the early English translator of Tolstoy and many other Russian authors, have been amply lauded by their peers and recognised by publishers. (There's a Wikipedia article on her.)  Others less so. Back in 2010 there was a post on this blog in recognition of one of the latter, Eleanor Marx Aveling. Here, as a contribution to the Day, is a repetition of that post.

Marx and Daughter

Today, May 5, is the birthday of Karl Marx. So what better day for me to take up from where I left off last weekend, which was with the English translations of his classic Communist Manifesto and Capital?

The first volume of Das Kapital was published in German in 1867. He and his alter ego Friedrich Engels had difficulty finding a translator, and it was already in its third German edition before the English translation appeared 20 years later. Engels himself says, in his Preface to the translation:
[A]n explanation might be expected why this English version has been delayed until now, seeing that for some years past the theories advocated in this book have been constantly referred to, attacked and defended, interpreted and misinterpreted, in the periodical press and the current literature of both England and America.
At his death in 1883, Marx had left – Engels continues –
a set of MS. instructions for an English translation that was planned, about ten years ago, in America, but abandoned chiefly for want of a fit and proper translator.
So Engels then turned to the same socialist lawyer-judge who translated the Manifesto: Samuel Moore of Manchester. Moore embarked on the work, but he wasn’t a Professional Translator:
[B]y and by, it was found that Mr. Moore's professional occupations prevented him from finishing the translation as quickly as we all desired.
Therefore a second translator had to be sought. Engels found him right on his doorstep, as it were. He was Edward Aveling, the common-law husband of Marx’s youngest daughter Eleanor (see photo). Aveling too wasn’t a Professional Translator. He was, “a prominent English biology instructor and popular spokesman for Darwinian evolution and atheism.” Engels coordinated and revised the work of the two translators and he details in his Preface the contributions of each.

But there was another translator involved. She’s not credited on any of the bibliographic records; however, tucked away in the Preface is an acknowledgement from Engels:
Mrs. Aveling, Marx's youngest daughter, offered to check the quotations and to restore the original text of the numerous passages taken from English authors and Blue books and translated by Marx into German.
She played the role, on that occasion, of what today might be called a Translation Assistant. But she was more important than that. Of all the translators I’ve mentioned, she was the only Professional Translator. Let’s turn to her.

Eleanor ‘Tussy’ Marx (1855-1898) was an early bilingual. She was born and brought up in London, but in a German and Yiddish-speaking household. She also learnt French, perhaps from her father. She became, quite naturally, a militant socialist. She was also an occasional actress. That she was unconventional is shown not only by her personal ‘relationship’ with Aveling but also by her professional work for the avant-garde publisher Henry Vizetelly. She translated Madame Bovary for him, a brave thing to do in prudish Victorian England. She said about it herself,
Certainly no critic can be more painfully aware than I am of the weaknesses...; but at least the translation is faithful. I have neither suppressed nor added a line, a word.
She also translated another socially avant-garde writer, Ibsen.

Professional life wasn’t easy for Eleanor. She wrote to Havelock Ellis in 1874, "I need much work, and find it very difficult to get. ‘Respectable' people won't employ me." Vizetelly went to prison for publishing English translations of Zola and Maupassant, and it broke his health. Seems incredible today.

Eleanor had one other important pioneer distinction in the realm of translation. She was an accomplished Native Interpreter of English, French, German and Yiddish, As such, she interpreted for delegates to the International Socialist Workers Congress in Paris in 1889. That makes her an early modern Conference Interpreter. (Large international conferences had only recently been made feasible by the extending network of railway and steamship lines.) Certainly, to my knowledge, she was the first woman Conference Interpreter.

Karl Marx. Capital: A Critical Analysis of Capitalist Production.
Volume 1. Edited with a Preface by Frederick [sic] Engels. Translated from the third German edition by Samuel Moore and Edward Bibbins Aveling. London, 1887.

Edward Bibbins Aveling.

Jonathan Kaplansky. Eleanor Marx: translator, interpreter and unconventional Victorian woman. Circuit (Montreal) 66.29-30., 1999. There are other biographies of her in print and on the web

Gustave Flaubert. Madame Bovary. Provincial Manners. Translated from the French édition définitive by E. Marx-Aveling. London: Vizetelly, 1886. 

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