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Virginia Woolf and Her Work:
Proceedings of the Fifth METU British Novelists Seminar
13-14 March 1997: 41-51.
Translating Virginia Woolf's Stories into Turkish
Alev Bulut
Istanbul University
  1. Introduction
  2. Linguistic Level
  3. Semantic Level
  4. References


A Haunted House and Other Short Stories is a collection of short stories compiled after Virginia Woolf's death with eighteen of the. author's stories. Although A Haunted House was the source text used in my translation, the publisher and I agreed to submit to the title of the original collection of Woolf's short stories compiled by the author's husband Leonard Woolf while the author was alive under the title Monday or Tuesday.

Virginia Woolf completed 25 stories (sketches along with novels, essays and book reviews) between 1917 and 1927. Her short fiction was her experimentation with narrative techniques that she later used in her longer fiction. Eighteen stories in this edition were made up of five stories that not been published before, six stories from Monday or Tuesday, seven stories published earlier in several periodicals. Monday or Tuesday was one of the first books of the newly established Hogarth Press. Leonard Woolf called it one of the worst printed books ever published because of the typographical mistakes in it. A few of the misprints of Monday or Tuesday, some of the typographical errors persisted in A Haunted House and Other Short Stories and most of these were corrected silently in the American edition. Apart from typography there has even been changes in the endings of certain stories.

"Moments of Being", which was a side story that sprouted, as Woolf called it, as she was completing To The Lighthouse, and which grew out of actual scenes and anecdotes.  Originally it had two different endings. In the one I used for translation (Haunted House version) the end is as follows:

"Julia blazed. Julia kindled. Out of the night she burnt like a dead white star.
Julia opened her arms, Julia kissed her (Fanny) on the lips. Julia possessed it..."

(Julia alevlenmişti, Julia tutuşmuştu. Gecenin içinde sönmüş beyaz bir yildiz gibi yaniyordu. Julia kollarını açtı; geldi onu dudaklarlından öpüverdi. Julia sonunda elde etimişti onu.. p.113)

In the revised text published in the Forum edition the same sentences became

"She saw Julia open her arms; saw her blaze; saw her kindle. Out of the night she burnt like a dead white star.
Julia kissed her. Julia possessed her...

(Julia'nın  kollarını  açtiğını  gördü -  alevlendiğini, tutuştuğunu gördü. Gecenin içinde sönmüş beyaz bir yıldız gibi parlıordu. Julia öptü onu (Fanny), Julia ona sahip oldu...p.122)

Translating Woolf as a writer who employed the stream of consciousness technique for the most important part of her fiction was a thrilling experience in the sense that it gave me the chance to think about my own moments of being. It was difficult in another sense because you are following a writer who is busy following the stream of her own consciousness. The moments you identify yourself with the narration are those points in the translation that create the least difficulty - seeing the world through the same looking glass with Isabella in "The Lady in the Looking-Glass", seeing the solid objects John collects and watching him go mad slowly in the "Solid Objects", reading the unwritten novels of our lives through the eyes of Minnie of "The Unwritten Novel" was a pleasure. Woolf is so close to you in her appreciation of everyday joys and agonies. A personality so keen or the details of human experience need to be judged as a genuine artist with unusual inspirations rather than the "invalid, insane Lady of Bloomsbury" as a lot of critics unjustly did (E.M. Forster Sprague edn., 1971).

In the process of translating Woolf's short stories I have come up with certain categories of difficulties. If I may apply these categories to specific levels of equivalence the result is going to be the linguistic and semantic levels. Before going on to give specific examples for each level I have to say that Woolf's introduction to the short story tradition was the inconclusive "scenes and sketches" derived from Chekhov most probably.

Linguistic Level

In this level I will cover two different linguistic formats - one is the regular story narration format which makes "The Legacy", "Lappin and Lapinova", "The Duchess and the Jeweller" look less influenced by the stream of consciousness; the other is the linguistic format shaped up with the linguistic representation of the stream of consciousness as a narrative mode which finds its examples in "The Mark on the Wall" (which has been produced "all in a flash, as if flaying after being kept stone breaking for months"), "Mrs Dalloway in Bond Street", (which served as a sketch for the novel Mrs Dalloway), "Lady in the Looking Glass", "Moments of Being", "A Haunted House", "Kew Gardens", "Monday or Tuesday", "An Unwritten Novel" and "The String Quartet". The linguistic form of most of the stories in the second category is an example of free association where there is no regular logic and chronology of events that can be imposed.

A. In most of the stories there is a cyclic pattern, symmetries in linguistic (lexical and grammatical) choice in the sense that the first and the last sentences serve as identical linguistic elements, same sentences with exactly the same wording in most cases that open up and close down the circle of narration. Thus the stream of consciousness, the story of a moment is realised, the reader is brought back to the point in time the narration set out. Here are examples of this pattern:

I. "The Lady in the Looking Glass: A Reflection"

"People should not leave looking-glasses hanging in their rooms any more than they should leave open cheque books or letters confessing some hideous crime..." (p. 221)

("İnsanların nasıl çek defterlerini ya da korkunç suçların itiraf edildiği mektuplarını ortada bırakmamaları gerekiyorsa, odalarında da ayna bulundurmamaları gerekir" p.95)

"People should not leave looking-glasses hanging in their rooms"   (p. 225)
("İnsanlar odalarında ayna bulundurmamalıdırlar".(p.102)


2. "Moments of Being: Slater's Pins Have No Points"

"'Slater's pins have no points- Don't you always find that?", said Miss Craye …"
("Slater'in iğnelerının başı yok - Hic dikkatini. çekti mi?", dedi Miss Craye p. 137)

"Slater's pins have no points", said Miss Craye   (p. 221)
("Slater'in iğnelerının başı yok", dedi Miss Craye...p. 122)

3. "A Haunted House"

"Whatever hour you woke there was a door shutting"  (p.122)
(Ne zaman uyansanız kapanan bir kapı duyardınız...) (p.7)

"Waking, I cry" (p. 123)
(Haykırarak uyaniyorum".. (p.9)

4. "Monday or Tuesday"

"Lazy and indifferent …the heron passes over the church beneath the sky"  (p.137)
("Balıçıl miskin, kayıtsız aşağilarda uzanan kilisenin üzerinden geçiyor" p.10)

"Lazy and indifferent, the heron returns" (p.137)
("Balıkçıl miskin, kayıtsız geri dönüyor" (p.11)

5. "An Unwritten Novel"

"Life is what you see in people's eyes; life is what they learn..." (p. 112)
("Hayat insanların gözlerinde gördüklerimizdir; hayat onların görüp geçirdikleridir"...p.12)

"'s you unknown figures, you I adore; if I open my arms, it's you I embrace..." (p.122)
("...hayranım size, siz tanımadığım insanlar, kollarımı bir açsam hepinizi kucaklarım" p.27)

6. "The Mark on the Wall"

"Perhaps it was the middle of January in the present year that I first looked up and saw the mark on the wall..." (p.83)
("Duvardaki lekeyi galiba ilk defa bu yılın Ocak ayı ortalarında farkettim..." p.43)

"Ah, the mark on the wall. It was a snail!" (p.89)
("Tabii ya, duvardaki leke! Salyangozmuş!" p.52)

In some stories the first and the last sentences imply only the beginning and the closing of the narration in the traditional sense with identical structures:

1. "The Shooting Party"

"She got in and put her suitcase in the rack..." (p.254)
("İçeri girip valizini rafa koydu"...p.64)

"She reached for her suitcase, rose..." (p.260)
("Kalktı, valizine uzandı..." p.74)

2. "Lappin and Lapinova"

"They were married"  (p. 261)
("Artık evliydiler" p.75)

"So that was the end of that marriage." (p.268)
("İşte evlilikleri böylece bitti" p.86)


The linguistic category worked better in the translation of those stories which were narratives in the traditional sense with firm story lines, sharply drawn characters such as "Solid Objects" and "The Legacy". And some apart from having been written with the stream of consciousness technique present another linguistic difficulty with their shifts of perspective and prose like certain autobiographical essays of some 19th century writers. "The Mark on the Wall" and "An Unwritten Novel" are fictional reveries in this sense. The diary entries of Woolf show that she practised the interior monologue technique she used in The Waves in the two stories mentioned above.

Within the linguistic category a lexical category including certain references such as Queen Boadicea of British history, Whitaker's Almanac and table of Precedencies (reminding one of Woolf's father. Leslie Stephen, who was a dictionary writer and a famous man of letters of his time) required footnotes in the shape of Translator's Notes. Another lexical category worth mentioning in terms of difficulty of translation would be certain references as proper names such as Miss Thingummy in "Monday or Tuesday" for which Bayan Fasa Fiso or Falanca/Fuzuli can be equivalent choices.

Lappin and Lapinova, the names of the characters in "Lappin and Lapinova" could well be mentioned for the difficulty they created for the translator. Although "Bay ve Bayan Tavşan" seems to be a solution, the cultural reference, the French word lappin (rabbit) and the Slavic king and Queen reference/Mr. and Mrs. association latent in Lappin and Lapinova would be lost in this lexical choice of equivalence. The reference to actual rabbits/hares in the story became more meaningful and differentiating by leaving these proper names as they were, which was a gain compensating for the earlier difficulty of choice and loss.

The "chk, chk's"  (ççk, ççk) of Antonia in "An Unwritten Novel" gained value in the Turkish translation since our culture accepts this use as a different non-verbal communication sign, one of amazement and disapproval.

Semantic Level

On this level the referential quality of the linguistic expressions, associational details of meaning, specific difficulties related with Woolf's narrative technique can be covered. At this level knowledge about the writer's life, her letters and diaries and her fits of mental disturbance as part of her creative process can be very helpful. Leonard Woolf in his autobiography titled Downhill All the Way talks about a "perpetual struggle" to find the precarious balance of health for her among the strains and stresses of writing and society.

Throughout the 18 stories collected in Monday or Tuesday one can follow this continuous switch from isolation to society or vice versa. "A Haunted House", "Monday or Tuesday", "The Mark on the Wall", "The Lady in the Looking Glass" are the specific narrations that begin and end in a mood of isolation while the rest of the collection, including "The String Quartet", "Kew Gardens", "The New Dress", "The Shooting Party", "Moments of Being" take place in the company of others, in society with a strong sense of isolation reflected through the streams of the character's consciousness.

In the semantic level I want to discuss images through categories such as the mirror image, social gathering image, isolation image, nature image etc.

A. The mirror image has been displayed in "Lady in the Looking Glass" and "The New Dress" in the following ways. In Woolf's life the effect of an incestuous experience in adolescence which took place in front of a mirror caused the young girl to come across with the reflection of her own eyes, while the look of terror and humiliation in them served as a source for the translation of the following passages with mirror images:

1. "The Lady in the Looking-Glass: A Reflection"

"People should not leave looking-glasses hanging in their rooms." (p 221)
("Insanlar odalarında ayna bulundurmamalıdyrlar" p. 102)

"Suddenly these reflections were ended violently. ..A large black form loomed into the looking-glass"  (p. 223)
("Aniden bütün yansımalar sessiz sedasız kesiliverdi. Aynada büyük kara bir şekil belirdi" p.98)

2. "The New Dress"

"She (Mabel) faced herself straight in the glass..." (p.172)
("Mabel aynada kendisiyle yüz yüze geldi" p.57)

"She looked foolish and self-conscious and simpered like a school girl..." (p. 172)
("Aptal ve utangaç küçük bir kız gibi boş boş sırıtıyordu..." p.57)

"She dared not look in the glass" (p. 171)
("Aynaya bakmaya cesarat edeinedi".p.54)

B. Another image is the party image/elite social gathering which prevails in a variety of Woolf stories from "Mrs. Dalloway in Bond Street" (Clarissa Dalloway) to "The Man Who Loved His Kind" (Richard Dalloway as the host), "The New Dress" (the Dalloway house), "Together and Apart" (Clarissa Dalloway) and "Summing up" (Clarissa Dalloway's party). This image seems to make all the stories take place in parts of the same whole, as if all of them serve as sketches for the novel Mrs. Dalloway.

C. The third uniting image can be the moments of being which has been displayed in "The Mark on the Wall" (a second's experience of looking at an object on the wall), in "Slater's Pins Have No Points: Moments of Being" (a second's experience of picking up a pin from the floor), in "An Unwritten Novel" (a train trip with flashes back and forth in time), in "Haunted House" (a moment in sleep that is worth the whole story of a house and its inhabitants) and in "The Shooting Party" (an ambiguous period of time in the past and the present).

D.  A last category can be made fl)r the archaeology and the archaeologists in "The Mark on the Wall" and "Slater's Pins have No Points" (Julia's brother Julius is an archaeologist)

Virginia Woolf's mode of narration is mostly marked by the use of stream of consciousness, which can be defined as a test of the amount of experience one can load into the duration of a tiny second or a moment. Our realisation of our moments of being in real life, sometimes in the form of sudden revelations, sometimes through seeing the unusual aspects of familiar objects and concepts, has been very successfully simulated in the stories of Virginia Woolf. This quality of her short fiction makes it a valuable experience for anyone who reads and translates them.

To conclude, although I would never reduce the worth of Woolf's fiction to a total of the associations gathered from earlier pleasant or unpleasant experiences, I have to point out that in the narrative technique favoured by Woolf, the translator cannot help looking for side-meanings, associational details that can be referred to as biographical knowledge - letters and diaries for the most part. If a literary translator remains conscious of his/her task of being at the author's service the biographical information and details concerning the author's life can prove helpful in the translation process. The translator can use all means to reach the meanings hidden deep in the text but he/she should refrain from being so free and easy in the process of translation which would render the translated text an interpretive version of the translator.


Bell, Q. 1969. Virginia Woolf:- A Biography, N.Y.: Harcourt.

Dick, S. (ed.) 1989. Complete Shorter Fiction of Virginia Woolf, N.Y.: Harcourt.

Sprague, C. (ed.) 1971 V. W.: A Collection of Critical Essays. N.Y.:Prentice Hall.

Woolf L. 1967. Downhill All the Way: Leonard Woolf,' Biography 1919-1939, N.Y.: Harcourt.

Woolf, V. 1992. Pazartesi ya da Salı (Trans. Alev Bulut), Ankara: İmge.