Constructing identities in the act of translation

Choosing an identity

“Human books (...) imbued with the sentiments of today” [Livros tao humanos... tao impregnados dos sentimentos de hoje”], like the Brigitte series, constituted “interesting reading” [“leitura cheia de interesse”] (Boletim da M.P.F.,no. 60, April 1944); that is to say, they were considered to be “good” reading material in terms of the ethical standards demanded by the Mocidade Portuguesa Feminina. Thus, for the Portuguese girl, choosing an identity in this context meant choosing “a good book”, and also a “good translation”. This process implies the imposition of authority - authority over reading, writing, rewriting - as is immediately visible in certain sections of the Movement’s two magazines that were written by members for members and bore titles like “Reading”, “Holiday Reading”, “Reading and Writing”, “Good Books, Bad Reading”, “We read for you”. These titles are revealing. They indicate a subjective hermeneutic which is subtly transformed into a form of self-censorship or “domestic” censorship, a censorship constructed in the ambit of a supervised cultural education. Thus, the arguments for choosing certain books over others tend to focus on what should be avoided, what should not be read, works that each girl is expected to voluntarily reject from her own world:

First you should know what not to read. You shouldn’t read (whether or not they are forbidden) books that attack religion or good habits; books that teach or recommend spiritism or any kind of superstition; books that approve of suicide or divorce; books that deal with obscene topics.

[Primeiro e bom que saibas o que nao deves ler. Nao deves ler, quer estejam ou nao proibidos, os livros que atacam a religiao ou os bons costumes; os livros que ensinam ou recomendam o espiritismo ou qualquer genero de supersti^ao; os livros que aprovam o suicidio ou o divorcio; os livros que tratam de materias obscenas (...).] (Menina e Moga, no. 119, July/August, 1957)

In addition to this ethically elitist argument, according to which reading moulds minds and guarantees the purity of the soul, the Boletim and Menina e Moga also recommend specific works covering selected genres in accordance with a criterion of “truth”, written in Portuguese or in translation. As an extension of this, the catalogue Ler para Crescer [Reading to Grow] (April 1969)[1] provides a list of Portuguese authors and foreign authors in translation, divided by age (“schoolchildren”, “pre-teens”, “teens”) and genre (“short stories and novels”, “adventure”, “history”, “nature” “biography”, “religious literature, “theatre”, “poetry”). As such, it constitutes a censored index to which the Menina e Moga constantly returns. The Brigitte series is recommended for the “pre-teen” age group, along with Cervantes, Ester de Lemos and Jules Verne.

Thus, the education of the “modern girl” (Portuguese or French) required certain books to be excluded, those which “are surely vials of poison branded with a skull and crossbones: in them is danger of death! [...] we must learn to choose our reading material” [“[...] alguns [livros] sao certos frascos de veneno marcados com uma caveira: existe neles perigo de morte! [.] devemos aprender a escolher as nossas leituras. Para que se le um livro? Para adquirirmos conhecimentos, para formarmos a nossa alma ou para nos distrairmos”] (Boletim da M.P.F., no. 57, January 1944). The violence of the metaphor allows us to glimpse a form of censorship that presents itself euphemistically through morality. And it is not only authors and books that are selected. The section “Lemos para ti” [“We read for you”] also chooses certain excerpts, thus making a double selection that restricts the field of reading and writing even more.

In fact, “Lemos para ti” basically means “let us choose what the modern Portuguese girl should read”, disguising the imposition of a reading model as a maternal gesture of protection, as if the meaning associated to a particular literary text or translation were being held hostage in a process of ethical surveillance. In this way, the act of selecting “truly good books”, those which “elevate the spirit”, “guide the intelligence”, “refine the literary taste” [“A missao desta sec^ao de leituras nao e, em especial, dar conta dos livros que vao aparecendo, pois eles podem nao servir o nosso fim principal: indicar as nossas leitoras os livros verdadeiramente bons, quer dizer, aqueles que reunem um conjunto de condi^oes que devem elevar o espirito, orientar a inteligencia, apurar o gosto literario.”] (Menina eMoga, no 25, May 1949) (and which explicitly include Berthe Bernage’s Brigitte series, recommended in the November 1947 issue of Menina e Moga), presupposes a set of hermeneutic choices. It is this that results in the decision to rewrite these works literally, forcibly merging the world of the French “jeune fille” with that of the Portuguese “rapariga”. There is, then, an ideologically motivated extension of identities, as we can see when we compare the recommendations given in these magazines with the advice that Brigitte gives her brother Denis about what he should read:

Listen, Dennis. I forbid you to read anything in these books. There are things that are not appropriate for you. Of course I love reading. But when mummy says: “That book is not suitable for you, Brigitte”, I wouldn’t touch it for anything. Even with books that I’m allowed to read - if I come across a page that disturbs me, upsets me morally, I stop reading it.

[Ecoute Denis. Je te defends de tout lire dans les livres que je te donne. Il y a des choses qui ne sont pas faites pour toi. (...) / Il baisse le nez: / - Tu ne lis rien en cachette, Brigitte? /

Me voila indignee : «Jamais ! Certes, j’aime a lire ; mais quand maman dit. «Brigitte, ce livre-la ne te convient pas», j e n’y toucherais pour rien au monde. Et quand une page de tel livre permis me cause un malaise moral, une inquietude, je m’arrete.] (Bernage 1947: 31)

[Ouve Dinis. Profbo-te que leias tudo quanto vem nos livros que te indico. Ha coisas que nao sao proprias para ti. / Ble baixa a cabe^a. / - E tu nao les nada as escondidas, Brigitte? / Sinto-me indignada: / - Nunca! E verdade que gosto de ler; mas quando a mama disser: «Bsse livro nao e proprio para ti, Brigitte», eu nem sou capaz de lhe tocar, por nada deste mundo. E mesmo quando a pagina dum certo livro permitido me causa uma inquieta^ao, um mal-estar moral, suspendo a leitura.] (Bernage 2009: 39)

In this context, the translation effectively reinforces the process of identity imposition, and as such functions as a particular kind of self-censorship, doubly integrated into the process of “choosing” books. Brigitte is one of the books selected by the magazine and catalogue, and at the same time approves the ontological criteria of selection in its fictional world.

  • [1] Ler para crescer: lista dos livros seleccionados, Abril 1969. Lisboa, Mocidade PortuguesaFeminina, 1969.
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