‘We’ve called her Stephen’: Czech translations of The Well of Loneliness and their transgender readings

Eva Spišiaková

This article aims to contribute to the still largely unexplored intersection of translation and non-cisgender identities through a comparison of three reeditions of Radclyffe Hall’s The Well of Loneliness (1928) in Czech translation. While the novel is considered by many to be the most famous lesbian story published in the 20th century, it can also be read as a narrative with a transgender protagonist. This is in part supported by the fact that the hero of the story is born with a female body but is named Stephen, creating a sense of gendered dissonance throughout the novel. This article asks what happens when this masculine name changes into a feminine one in translation, and explores the sociopolitical circumstances and publishing norms that have motivated this change.

Publication history
Table of contents

Despite the linguistic similarity between the terms translation and transgender that Douglas Robinson notes in his monograph Transgender, Translation, Translingual Address (2019, 12), the field of Translation Studies has only started exploring possible intersections with non-cisgender identities in the past decade. After several individual studies (Asimakoulas 2012; Casagranda 2011, 2013), the special issue of the journal Transgender Studies Quarterly dedicated to translation (Gramling and Dutta 2016) became the first extended work on the subject. It was recently joined by a number of chapters exploring transgender and non-binary identities in two collected volumes on queerness in translation (Baer and Kaindl 2017; Epstein and Gillett 2017), as well as the aforementioned monograph from Robinson (2019). While still a relatively new field, this research has explored a variety of areas in which linguistic transfer and transgender identities intersect; from parallels between sex reassignment surgeries and translation into target languages that require grammatical gender (Casagranda 2013), through experimental methods of queering translation in order to preserve transgender identities (Rose 2016, 2017), to the narrative framing of gender non-conforming characters in translated memoirs (Baer 2016). Although these works frequently touch upon the subject of translation from and into grammatically gendered languages, the role of the given names of transgender characters has thus far been mentioned only very briefly, notably in an article describing Icelandic gendered naming traditions (Josephson and Einarsdóttir 2016). This paper contributes to the subject with an exploration of how the translation of given names can impact transgender readings of a narrative, using Radclyffe Hall’s 1928 novel The Well of Loneliness.

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