indexAt the occasion of Cardiff University’s Distinguished Lectures series, the School of European Languages, Translation and Politics had organised and hosted on Thursday the 7th of February the visit of Mr Adam Thorpe, one of the major voices in contemporary British novel and author of the last translation into English of Flaubert’s Madame Bovary (published by Vintage Classics). His evening lecture was but the conclusion to a long day of activities.

It started at 11AM at Cardiff University Arts and Social Studies Library with an introduction to the Rare Books and Music collection.  The head of special collections and archives at Cardiff library, Peter Keelan, had also selected about twenty books, from the 16th century to the 19th century, related to travels or to translation, a feast for the eye and the mind.

From 12AM to 1 PM, Mr Thorpe met students from the MA Translation Studies and some PhD students in Translation Studies. What does it take to become a translator? Which translation strategies to choose? Is he still a novelist when he is translating? Those were some of the questions which popped up in a lively discussion about the tricks and pleasures of literary translation

At 3PM a round table entitled ‘Why do we need a 20th translation of Madame Bovary?’ gathered around Mr Thorpe a panel of academics from Bristol University, City London University and Cardiff University who gave their comments and analyses from sociological, historical or formal perspectives. A 19th century Paris salon – like the ones Emma Bovary was dreaming of – would not have assembled more enlightened and sensitive minds.

After a wine reception, Mr Thorpe gave at 7PM the 2013 Humanities Distinguished Lecture, entitled ‘My nights with Emma B’. For almost one hour, he discussed ‘the translator’s art and its perils, pains and peculiar satisfactions’, balancing anecdotes and precise textual examples taken from his three years experience on Flaubert’s masterpiece with more general considerations about literature, translation, language and art. With humour, passion and gentleness, he opened to his audience the door of his studio and convinced everybody attending that a translator’s claims as a creator are as legitimate as the original writer. “Madame Bovary, c’est moi [it’s me]”, Flaubert used to say. “Flaubert, c’est moi”, Adam Thorpe could now as rightfully say.

Click here to see a video of the lecture.

(see also Prof Richard Gwyn’s blog (10 February 10) at http://richardgwyn.wordpress.com).

Alexis Nuselovici