Translating Erotic Literature: Making Foreign Language Stories Sexy

Author: London Review Bookshop
Published: Tuesday 28th July 2020 - Updated: Wednesday 28th July 2021
Summary: Translating Sex will see two award-winning translators go head to head with their versions of a specially commissioned saucy short story by the French writer Emma Becker.


Organized by the London Review Bookshop in partnership with the British Centre for Literary Translation (BCLT) at the University of East Anglia, Translating Sex will see two award-winning translators go head to head with their versions of a specially commissioned saucy short story by the French writer Emma Becker.

It comes at a time when erotic fiction is enjoying a revival and boom in sales, prompted largely by the worldwide success of E L James's Fifty Shades of Grey and its sequels. The first book in the trilogy has been translated into more than 30 languages.

Chaired by fellow translator Sarah Ardizzone, the event will see Adriana Hunter and Polly McLean offer their versions of Becker's story to the public, with the author present. They will explore the particular challenges of translating erotic fiction, discussing the decisions they have made about voice and vocabulary, and explaining how they have made a French erotic short story sound just as sexy in English.

Kate Griffin, international programme director for BCLT, said:

"There are so many ways you can interpret a word, phrase or action, and translating sex has its own challenges. For example, how do you capture the atmosphere? What kind of vocabulary is used in erotica and what is it that draws people in?"

"One of the effects of books like Fifty Shades of Grey is that people are not shy of talking about sex. It's opened up a whole debate, we're not using euphemisms anymore and so it seems a good time to explore this genre. The language is quite explicit; making a sexy passage in French sound equally sexy in English is a challenge in itself."

Becker's debut novel Monsieur, published in 2012 and translated into English by Maxim Jakubowski, is a reverse Lolita story, about the brief but intense relationship between a younger woman attracted to an older man. Le Figaro described the novel as "Colette meets Catherine Millet".

The event is part of the London Review Bookshop's World Literature Series 2012-13, which explores contemporary literature from around the world with writers and translators. It will be followed by two half-day translation masterclasses with Emma Becker, Adriana Hunter and Polly McLean.

Ms Griffin added:

"People like talking about language and grammar; these events give an insight into the nuances, variations and the very inner workings of the translation process, and in this case how we use the English language for erotica. The masterclasses will give people an opportunity to meet these challenges of translation themselves."

The World Literature Series is run by the London Review Bookshop and supported by BCLT, Arts Council England and the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation. Live Translation - Translating Sex with Adriana Hunter and Polly McLean, is also supported by the Institut Fran├žais.


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