Sunshine Abroad

The trials and rewards of French translation and beyond


As everyone can probably intuit from my lengthy silence, I'd been working on my thesis translation full-time for the last few months. It went well, but it put me into a little bit of a hermit-bubble. I guess I did get to go to my brother's graduation in NC in May, and I made time to go out swing dancing every so often . . . but on the other hand, at least twelve weeks' worth of PW, Weekend Reads, and publishers' updates went straight into my trash. And this blog didn't fare much better, either. Sorry about that.

But I come up from the murky depths of translation hermitage with a new story to share: as part of my research, I learned how to use a microform machine! It's been over a decade since I first saw one of those ancient machines sitting in the musty, dimly lit, extremely stereotypical newspaper reading room of my childhood library, and I hadn't had any valid research reason to try it out until now.

Guys. Gals. People. It's SO COOL.

I go nuts over organization. I also love things that work. Old, simple machines that are very good at what they do. Microfilm and microfiche should be completely obsolete forms of information storage by now, but they're not. Yes, the Internet and electronic databases are usurping many of the microform machine's uses (e.g. newspapers' archives are all held online now), but that doesn't mean that microfilm is dying. Oh no. Instead of just being an obsolete form of research, which some university libraries keep around only for that one tenured professor that won't leave, microfilm is actually acting as a hard-copy backup to many of the online journals we know and love! Useful AND fascinating!

Seriously. Fascinating. I mean, look at this thing:


And it plays this thing:

Tiny, man.

AND this!

(All images from Wikimedia Commons.)

I'll leave it to you to figure out which one is microfilm and which is microfiche. (Hint: fiche is French for something . . . )

I'm getting a little smitten, I think. It's actually gotten to the point where I'm trying to make up specific enough research questions that it would warrant a trip to the microform machine. It's fine, though. I can stop anytime I want. Really, officer.

It's coming...

Yes, folks, the major event we've all been waiting for. Okay, maybe just me.

The Last Love of George Sand gets published on February 6. I translated this biography of the famous French writer from Evelyne Bloch-Dano's rich French text. Thus, I'm nearly buzzing with excitement.

But you should also be excited about it! Why, you ask?

Look. George Sand was a lion of a woman. Facts:

  1. She was a proto-feminist in the mid-1800s, dressing in men’s clothing, smoking cigars, and managing her own finances and philanthropic work. She took a male name for her pseudonym, even spelling it in an English fashion, instead of the French "Georges." (That's why her name looks so familiar to English speakers.)
  2. Like most other artists and cultural creators at the time, she was a staunch supporter of democracy. But she was also friends with Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte, who later became Napoleon III, Emperor of France. During a series of audiences with him after his coup d'etat, she convinced him to grant amnesty to her friends, whom this self-same emperor had exiled to Algeria or sentenced to death for political crimes.
  3. Divorce was illegal in France during her adult life. So, at the age of 26, she just negotiated with her husband to spend half of each year in Paris with her lover.
  4. Then, she continued on to have some of the steamiest and gossip-worthy affairs of all time – five years with the libertine poet, Alfred de Musset; nine years with the genius composer, Frederic Chopin, until his untimely death from tuberculosis; the list goes on and on, and on and on and on.
  5. Oh, right, and she was a writer. One of the most admired and prolific artists of her era, in fact. The list of her completed works runs as long as my arm. She was one of those rare authors who managed to earn a nice living from her work, gained fame and acclaim for her writing during her lifetime, and whose works continue to be taught in French literature classes around the world (especially in high school classes in France).

So of course, there have been many biographies of this amazing woman written over the years, in both French and English. But not all of her life has been told yet.

See, at Christmastime in 1849, she met a young engraver from the working class, thirteen years her junior. His name was Alexandre Manceau. He was a modestly successful artist in his own right, but not one whom history would ever remember. They fell in love. He became her companion for the next fifteen years -- the rest of his life -- and George would never take another lover.

But there was one problem. (There always is.) Alexandre Manceau was one of Maurice's best friends. Maurice Sand. George's son. George only met Alexandre through Maurice's introduction, and then "stole" her son's best friend away from him. Naturally, Maurice resented his mother for this. Quite a bit.

After George's death, Maurice did everything in his power to suppress any records of Alexandre Manceau. Burned letters, forbade anyone from talking about the engraver, refused to allow publication of any posthumous works by his mother that mentioned Manceau. It took years after Maurice eventually died in 1889 for those works to be legally published.

So for decades, even upwards of a century, there were no primary sources that mentioned Manceau. Everyone assumed he must not be very important, so he's only awarded a few lines in any biography of George Sand. If he's mentioned at all.

But guess what? That's all about to change.

This book is entitled The Last Love of George Sand. Guess who this "last love" is?

Yep, right in one: Alexandre Manceau.

Now do you see why I'm so excited about this book???