Women, feminism and prostitution in the trilogy of Neel Doff (1858-1942), study of the original texts and the Dutch and German translations Translating difference: The Other in Other Words

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Marie Fortunati


The Belgian writer Neel Doff wrote her entire work in French, although it was not her mother tongue. Her autobiographical trilogy is built around her past as a prostitute, placing the ‘other’ at the heart of her work, recalling the existence of several cleavages: what is the life of this ‘other’, the prostitute, seen as an object by men? What is the life of this ‘other’, as an extremely poor girl (third of a large family weakened by the ‘symphony of hunger’), rejected by society? And what is the perception of the ‘other’, the translator (male or female), who must translate this story?

One of the objectives is to determine, by comparing Doff’s work with her Dutch and German translations, whether the feminist point of view show through in the texts in the three languages and if so, if it appears in the same way. I’ll also analyse how the experience of Keetje, the writer’s alter ego, as a woman and prostitute (universal and local subject at the same time) is expressed in the translation.

The question arises whether different translational strategies depending on the gender of the translator can be observed. To answer these questions, a portrait of each translator will be drawn. I shall argue that the choices made by the translator can only be understood if we know the person who translates a given text. Then, the extracts dealing with prostitution will be analysed according to Venuti’s concept of foreignization (making the other, the foreign, visible) and domestication, as well as Berman’s theories of retranslation. Those extracts will also be studied in the light of the feminist translation theories of de Lotbinière-Harwood and von Flotow: feminist translation and feminist writing are closely related since they both intend to, among other things; redistribute women’s roles in language.

Published: Nov 14, 2022

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Translating Difference The other in Other Words