The Chinese translation of the first volume of The Letters of Samuel Beckett has been published in two volumes in Dec. 2021 by Hunan Literature and Art Publishing House (HLAPH), Changsha City, the People’s Republic of China. The Chinese translation is the first version rendered outside of Western Europe.
The translator Bo Cao, a professor of English literature at Hunan Normal University in Changsha, began his work in 2015. As a visiting scholar at Emory University in 2019, sponsored by China Scholarship Council, he refined his translation under the guidance of the Director of The Letters of Samuel Beckett Project at Emory, Dr. Lois More Overbeck, one of the editors of the original edition of The Letters of Samuel Beckett published in four volumes by Cambridge University Press (2009-2016).
Volume I, 1929-1940, presents Beckett as a young writer who is growing in “sound and fury.” His letters are replete with colloquial phrases, local references, foreign languages, and even neologisms and word games. Translation also included the editorial prefaces and rigorous notes, which the editors strove to make value neutral and approachable for a world-wide readership. As a veteran translator, Bo Cao is both faithful to Samuel Beckett’s many voices in the letters and to the editorial contexts, while also considering how to make the letters accessible to Chinese readers – a task that is both linguistic and cultural. Since 2005, Cao has been writing about Beckett and translating his works, including Murphy (2012), Watt (2012), More Pricks Than Kicks (2016) as well as an edition of occasional pieces, Disjecta (2016). To be better prepared, he went to Trinity College Dublin in 2011 to further his studies under the supervision of Prof. Ian Ross. He was interested in the teaching of Irish Studies in United States and spent some time consulting with Dr. Geraldine Higgins, Director of the Irish Studies Program at Emory. Well-trained for the translation of The Letters, Cao has put to full use his knowledge of Samuel Beckett, western European culture, and both languages.
While at Emory in 2019, he presented a study of the Chinese reception of Samuel Beckett’s work, for a colloquia series on translation at the Center for Humanistic Inquiry: “The Chinese Translation of Samuel Beckett: A Critical History” (Irish University Review 51.2, November 2021). He gave that talk in Chinese at the Chinese Flagship Program, Indiana University (Bloomington), and presented it in English with a paper, “The Chinese Translation of a Samuel Beckett Letter,” at a symposium at Washington University of St. Louis. Also in 2019, he prepared a study of Beckett’s awareness of Chinese culture: “Terms of Chinese Culture in Samuel Beckett’s Dream of Fair to Middling Women and their (Re- /Back) Translations.”
The progress of the Chinese translations of Samuel Beckett’s work since the turn of the twentieth-century “mirrors both the re-evaluation of Beckett as an innovative artist and the ‘inward turn’ of Chinese intellectual circles,” writes Cao. The Chinese version of The Letters is “the heroic conclusion of Samuel Beckett’s reception in China, which began reproachfully with the publication of Waiting for Godot in 1965 by China Theatre Press, and reached its climax with the Chinese translation of the Complete Works of Samuel Beckett, in 22 volumes, by HLAPH.
To Cao, the Chinese translation is also a mark of the constructive cooperation in the international SB community. His stay at Emory opened for him a second window on Samuel Beckett and Irish studies outside of Ireland. In July 2021, he published some conclusions drawn from his talks with Lois Overbeck: “Recent Trends of Samuel Beckett Studies” in Foreign Language and Literature, a journal of Sichuan International Studies University in Chongqing City of China.
Translations are underway of the following three volumes of The Letters of Samuel Beckett, from 1941 to 1989, each undertaken by a different translator. The balance of the Chinese edition is expected to be published by 2023. It will join the German (Suhrkamp) French, (Gallimard), and Italian (Adelphi) translations of the edition. “Beckett’s correspondents and consequently his letters can be found in archives all over the world,” says Lois Overbeck, so it is both appropriate and exciting that the edition of his letters has reached such a wide audience.”