Barbara Wright (translator)

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Barbara Wright
Born (1915-10-13)October 13, 1915
Worthing, West Sussex
Died March 3, 2009(2009-03-03)
Nationality English

Barbara Winifred Wright (13 October 1915 – March 3, 2009) was an English translator of modern French literature.


Wright was born on October 13, 1915 in Worthing, West Sussex. After attending Godolphin School in Salisbury, she studied to be a pianist at the Royal College of Music in London and trained with Alfred Cortot in Paris. Wright taught at Dora Russell's Beacon Hill School from 1936-1937. In 1938 she married Walter Hubbard - the couple had a daughter in 1944, before separating in 1957. Though she never formally studied as a translator, Wright believed that her work as an accompanist helped her capture the rhythm of text. Her first major translation was Alfred Jarry's Ubu Roi, released in 1951 by Gaberbocchus Press.[1][2][3]

Wright specialised in the translation of poetic prose and drama with a focus on French surrealist and existential writing.[4] While working on a translation, she immersed herself in the world of the author. Reading other texts by the writer, conferring with Francophones about French idioms and, where possible, forging relationships with the authors were all aspects of her process. Over the course of her career Wright worked closely with, and befriended, Raymond Queneau, Robert Pinget and Nathalie Sarraute.[2][1] In addition to her translations, Wright authored literary criticism and was a regular contributor to the Times Literary Supplement as a reviewer.[3]

After completing translations of two short stories by Queneau, the author proposed that Wright translate his Exercices de style. The work had been deemed 'untranslatable' due to Queneau's reliance on unique French writing styles and language. Trusting her skill, Queneau encouraged and endorsed Wright's improvised English equivalents of French turns of phrase. The result was a resounding success with her text becoming the basis for translations of the work in other languages.[2][1] In 2008 it was recognized as one of the best translations during a 50 year period by the Society of Authors.[5][6]

In 1953 Wright was made a member of the College of Pataphysics, as Régente de Zozologie Shakespearienne. She was elevated to Satrape in 2001, a position she held alongside Umberto Eco and Jean Baudrillard. In 1986 Wright was made a Commandeur in L'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres. She was also a two time recipient of the Scott Moncrieff Prize. Wright was recognized in 1987 for her translation of Pierre Albert-Birot's Grabinoulor and again in 1992 for Michel Tournier's The Midnight Love Feast.[2]

Wright died on March 3, 2009.[3] Her literary translation papers are held by the Lilly Library at Indiana University (Bloomington).[5] The authors she translated who are represented in the collection include Jean Hamburger, Eugène Ionesco, Alfred Jarry, Pierre Lauer, Robert Pinget, Raymond Queneau, Nathalie Sarraute and Stefan Themerson. Correspondence from publishers of Wright's works, including Gaberbocchus Press, John Calder, Doubleday, Faber & Faber, New Directions, the Atlas Press and Red Dust, are also present. [4]


from Renouard & Kelly below.

  • Stefan Themerson & Franciszka Themerson: (translated from Polish with Stefan Themerson) Mr Rouse Builds His House. 1950
  • Alfred Jarry: Ubu Roi (illustrated by Franciszka Themerson). 1951.
  • Raymond Queneau: The Trojan Horse; At the Edge of the forest. 1954.
  • Christian Dietrich Grabbe: Comedy, Satire. Irony and Deeper Meaning (translation from German, illustrated by Franciszka Themerson). 1955.
  • Pol-Dives: The Song of Bright Misery. 1955.
  • Raymond Queneau: Exercises in Style. 1958.
  • Raymond Queneau: Zazie in the Metro. 1960.
  • Monique Lange: The Catfish in New Writers 1. 1960.
  • Fernando Arrabal: Orison; The Two Executioners; Fernando and Lis; The Car Cemetery in Plays. vol. 1 1962.
  • Andrée Martinerie: Second Spring. 1962.
  • Alain Robbe-Grillet: Snapshots and Towards a New Novel. 1965.
  • Marguerite Duras: The Long Absence. 1966.
  • Raymond Queneau: Between Blue and Blue. 1967.
  • Fernando Arrabal: Guernica; The Labyrinth; The Tricycle; Picnic on the Battlefield; The Condemned Man's Tricycle in Plays. vol. 2. 1967.
  • Raymond Queneau: A Blue Funk and Dino in French Writing Today. 1968.
  • Alain Robbe-Grillet: In the Corridors of the Underground in French Writing Today. 1968.
  • Raymond Queneau: The Bark Tree. 1968.
  • Alain Robbe-Grillet: The Secret Room in The Penguin Book of French Short Stories. 1968.
  • André Couteaux: Portrait of the Boy as a Young Wolf/My Father's Keeper. 1968.
  • Alfred Jarry: The Supermale. 1968.
  • Roland Dubillard: The Swallows. 1969
  • Roland Dubillard: The House of Bones. 1971.
  • Jean Genet: The Balcony. 1971.
  • Pierre Lauer: The Suns of Badarane. 1971.
  • Robert Pinget: The Libera Me Domine. 1972
  • Raymond Queneau: The Flight of Icarus. 1973.
  • Yves Klein: Selected Writings. (in part). 1974
  • Robert Pinget: Recurrent Melody. 1975.
  • Ludovic Janvier: The Bathing Girl (revision of translation by John Matthew). 1976
  • Raymond Queneau: The Sunday of Life. 1976.
  • Sylvia Bourdon: Love is a Feast. 1977.
  • Tristan Tzara: Seven Dada Manifestoes and Lampisteries. 1977.
  • Robert Pinget: Passacaglia. 1978.
  • Roland Topor: Leonardo Was Right. 1978
  • Herbert Le Porrier: The Doctor From Cordoba. 1979.
  • Simone Benmussa: The Singular Life of Albert Nobbs. 1979
  • Robert Pinget: Fable. 1980.
  • Nathalie Sarraute: It is There and other plays. 1980
  • Simone Benmussa: 'Appearances' in Gambit No. 35. 1980
  • Muriel Cerf: 'Blitz-Fortune' in Real Life - Writers from Nine Countries Illuminate the Life of the Modern Woman. 1981
  • Raymond Queneau: We Always Treat Women Too Well. 1981
  • Robert Pinget: Between Fantoine and Agapa. 1982.
  • Robert Pinget: That Voice. 1982.
  • Nathalie Sarraute: The Use of Speech. 1982
  • Nathalie Sarraute: Childhood. 1983
  • Romain Gary: King Solomon. 1983
  • Michel Tournier: The Fetishist and Other Stories. 1983
  • Robert Pinget: Someone. 1984.
  • Henri Guigonnat: Daemon in Lithuania. 1985
  • Eugène Ionesco: Journeys Among the Dead. 1985
  • René de Obaldia: Monsieur Klebs and Rosalie in Plays Vol. 4. 1985
  • Michel Tournier: A Garden at Hammamet. 1986
  • Robert Pinget: The Apocrypha. 1986.
  • Pierre Albert-Birot: The First Book of Grabinoulor.1986
  • Robert Pinget: Abel and Bela.. 1987.
  • Michel Tournier: 'The Golden Droplet. 1987
  • Raymond Queneau: Pierrot Mon Ami. 1987.
  • Robert Pinget: Monsieur Songe with The Harness, Plough. 1988.
  • Robert Pinget: A Bizarre Will. 1989.
  • Elisabeth Badinter: The Unopposite Sex [Man/Woman: The One is the Other]. 1989
  • Raymond Queneau: The Last Days. 1990.
  • Raymond Queneau: Alfred in Journal of Literary Translation. vol. XXIII. 1990
  • Liliane Siegel: In the Shadow of Sartre. 1990
  • Nathalie Sarraute: You Don't Love Yourself. 1990
  • Robert Pinget: The Enemy. 1991.
  • Michel Tournier: Totems. 1991
  • Michel Tournier: The Midnight Love Feast. 1991
  • Pascal Quignard: Georges de La Tour. 1991
  • Jean Genet: The Balcony. 1991
  • Patrick Modiano: Honeymoon. 1992
  • Jean Hamburger: The Diary of William Harvey. 1992
  • Robert Pinget: Be Brave. 1994.
  • Robert Pinget: Theo, or The New Era. 1994.
  • Alberto Giacometti: The Dream, The Sphinx and The Death of T. in Grand Street in Space No. 54. 1995
  • Coline Serrau: Lapin, Lapin. 1995
  • Samuel Beckett: Eleutheria. 1996
  • Jean Rouaud: Of Illustrious Men. 1996
  • Nathalie Sarraute: Here. 1997
  • Jean Rouaud: The World, More or Less. 1997
  • Stefan Themerson: Fragments From Darkness. 1998
  • Robert Pinget: Traces of Ink. 1998.
  • Aude Yung-de Prévaud: Jacques & Lotha. 2000
  • Simone Benmussa: Three Plays. (The Singular Life of Albert Nobbs, Appearance and The Death of Ivan Illich) in collaboration with Donald Watson 2000
  • Raymond Queneau: Five Stories: Panic; Dino; At the Edge of the Forest; A Blue Funk; The Trojan Horse. 2000.
  • Pierre Albert-Birot: 31 Pocket Poems. 2003
  • Raymond Queneau: Introduction and comments with extracts from Zazie, Pierrot, and The Flight of Icarus, in "Tolling Elves 5" February 2003 to celebrate Queneau's centenary.
  • Robert Pinget: Trio (Between Fatoine and Agapa, That Voice, Passacaglia). 2005.
  • publication of script for radio adaptation of Exercises in Style broadcast on 25 December 1959 by the B.B.C. with introduction by Barbara Wright. 2006.
  • Robert Pinget: Film script: 15 Rue des Lilas. in Renouard & Kelly. 2013

Also various plays, libretti (three by Mozart), artists' manifestos, composers' programme notes, introductions, forewords and postscripts.


  1. ^ a b c Debra Kelly; Madeleine Renouard (1 August 2013). Barbara Wright: Translation as Art. Dalkey Archive Press. pp. 5–. ISBN 978-1-56478-986-0. 
  2. ^ a b c d "Barbara Wright" (69582). London: Times Digital Archive. Times. 13 March 1999. p. 72. Retrieved 9 June 2016. 
  3. ^ a b c "Barbara Wright Leading light in the translation of modern French literature". The Guardian, John Calder, 7 May 2009
  4. ^ a b Higgins, Valerie. "Wright, B. mss.". Lilly Library Manuscript Collections. Retrieved 16 August 2016. 
  5. ^ a b Renouard, Madeleine; Kelly, Debra; Fell, Jill (23 April 2009). "Barbara Wright: Translator of French literature who adapted Ionesco,". Independent. Retrieved 16 August 2016. 
  6. ^ "50 Outstanding Translations". Society of Authors. Retrieved 16 August 2016. 

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