Virginia Woolf and Her Work:
Proceedings of the Fifth METU British Novelists Seminar
13-14 March 1997: 35-39.
Naciye Öncül

For years I have been asked by several people how and why I came to translate a novel by Virginia Woolf in 1945, the first book by Virginia Woolf to be translated into Turkish.  My answer to this question has always been that it was just a piece of good luck.

I graduated from the University of Ankara, or rather the Faculty of Letters, History and Geography as it was called in 1941. We were five students, all girls, and our teachers, Orhan Burian, Saffet Korkut, Hamit Dereli and Irfan Şahinbaş were all very young, fresh from Oxford and Cambridge Universities, and in their first or second year of teaching. I mention their names here because they all played a very important part as founders of the very famous Translation Bureau, connected with the Turkish Ministry of Education and under the patronage or direction of Hasan Ali Yücel, then the Minister of Education.
These members of the Bureau prepared a list of works to be translated into Turkish, set themselves to translating some of these, besides shouldering the heavy work of correcting or editing the translations submitted to the Bureau. So I was very lucky to be the student of these, besides shouldering the heavy load of correcting or editing the translations submitted to the Bureau.

As to my translating Virginia Woolf's novel To the Lighthouse - I must have heard the name of Virginia Woolf in my last year at the university. In 1942 I saw a book by Virginia Woolf in the window of a bookshop in Ankara. I bought the book, It was Between the Acts, the very last novel of Woolf, written just before her death. And by pure coincidence, this opened the way to my translating To the Lighthouse.  Orhan Burian, now mostly known by his translations from Shakespeare, had started to translate To the Lighthouse for the Translation Bureau, but at the same time he wanted to do something from Shakespeare. so he transferred the translation of To the Lighthouse to me. I submitted thirty typed pages of my translation to the Bureau, and upon its approval I was told to go on. I ordered almost all her books, including the two volumes of The Common Reader. The essays in those two volumes were of great help to me in understanding Virginia Woolf.

As to the Lighthouse, for me, it was love at first sight or rather at first reading. To translate a book I first read it from the beginning to the end. Then I started writing each sentence by hand. When I finished the whole book I read my translation from the beginning to the end, checking it with the original, and making corrections. Then I typed it, and read the typed copy making changes again. All in all it made five readings.

I started translating the novel in 1943 and submitted it to the Bureau in 1944. It was published in 1945, as Deniz Feneri, under the general title of "New English Literature" in the series called "Translations from World Literature" known as the "Classical Series" now.

So, the first book by Virginia Woolf in Turkish appeared in 1945, and it was To the Lighthouse. This was eighteen years after its publication in England in 1927. To me the book itself was pure poetry; I read it as if in a dream. Not trying to dive very deeply into it, not wanting to loose myself in nuances, I sort of swam on it or over it. Now, years later, I swim in it. Even after so many years, in each reading I become conscious of new layers of which I haven't been aware before. It keeps pace with my experiences in life as years go by, and each reading is a new reading for me.

In 1982 and again in 1989 I revised it for two new editions by Can Yayınları and I again did it sentence by sentence checking it with the original. In those years I had thought it was necessary to revise my translations every ten years, but now I think I must do it every three or four years. In a country like Turkey, where we work very hard to clear our language from old and new foreign words, we should try to be up to date as to the words we are using, and of the same importance are the studies being made on the methods or techniques of translation, and new movements, new approaches in translation.

While translating,. I usually have both the writer and the reader in mind. Virginia Woolf, though not much difficult as to the words she uses in her books, her style, the technique of stream of consciousness, especially in the novels she wrote after 1920, was new for most of the readers then. Because of interior monologues this technique required it sometimes became difficult to follow her. But she is very careful and strict with punctuation - she uses punctuation as signposts for herself, for the reader, and for her translators it is a great help. I tried to keep the original punctuation in my translated version of the book, but I added some extra semicolons.

She usually makes use of very short sentences, followed by rather long ones. I remember sentences of more than ten lines which were not easy for me to translate as they were. And in Turkish our having only one word, the word "O", for "he", "she", "it", in English, made me repeat the names of the characters oftener than Woolf did. And I changed some long indirect sentences in the original into direct sentences in my translation, thinking it would make an easier reading in Turkish. Furthermore as Virginia Woolf's novel belonged to a different society and culture, namely to a Christian society and culture, there were cultural differences, gaps at different levels. Words like "Allah", "Maşallah", "inşallah" came to the translator's help in the 1940's, 50's, even in the 60's. But these words are special to Islam and Islamic culture. Now we don't use them while translating from a non-Islamic culture. In the revised versions "Allah" became "Tanrı", which is a more universal word for "God". But the word "Tanrı" didn't go well with some sentences, especially with curses, For us "Allah kahretsin"  didn't seem appropriate in Turkish, but "Tanrı kahretsin" did. And wherever we saw the words "I hope" we used to translate them as "inşallah". And now we are still at a loss as to what to put in its place. "Umarım" used at the beginning of a sentence is not Turkish. And the word "atheist" was "dinsiz" for us. Now we know it is "tanrıtanımaz".

As far as I know there are two approaches in translation. One is to. be loyal to the culture you are translating from and transfer the idioms, proverbs and expressions as closely as possible and try to give the reader the taste and smell or that foreign culture. The other approach in translation is to think in terms of the culture and language we're translating into, in our case, Turkish. So we use Turkish idioms, proverbs, expressions and try to give the reader a translation without a foreign smell. The reader usually enjoys this kind of translation more and may prefer it. Now, I am divided between these two approaches, whereas in the 1940's we rather followed the second one without any scruple. We tried to write almost a Turkish version of the book we were translating.

I wrote a long preface to my translation of the novel To the Lighthouse to help the reader, explaining the technique of
stream of consciousness and the modern novel.

When translating I make use of all kinds of dictionaries - dictionaries from English to Turkish, from English to English, from Turkish to Turkish. Today I am still thinking how to translate "...lean as a knife, narrow as the blade of one...'1. This is Mr. Ramsay, the professor. In the 1940's I was very brave, this seemed very easy to translate - today I don't think so. Again, for "Young men who were poor as church mice." I said, "O on parasız gençler", instead of "Kilise fareleri kadar yoksul gençler," which gives the atmosphere of that culture - for "Pray Heaven!" "Şükür Allaha ki!"; now it is "Şükür Tanrıya ki!"

A difficult English word for me is the word "vision". In To The Lighthouse, the artist Lily Briscoe is trying to finish the picture she has been drawing for some time and the novel ends with the following sentences: "With a sudden intensity, as if she saw it clear for a second, she drew a line there, in the centre. It was done - it was finished. Yes, she thought, laying down her brush in extreme fatigue, I have had my vision." And I am still thinking about how to translate this very pertinent remark into Turkish.

Further copies of the proceedings are available from Middle East Technical University, Faculty of Foreign Language Education