Dean’s Undergraduate Research Award (DURA) recipient Madeleine Schmitz translated Ma. Ein Porträt, one of the rare first editions of Lou Andreas-Salomé’s works housed by Special Collections. Schmitz created an online exhibit with a biographical sketch, images, a translation of a significant excerpt, and extensive justification for this translation.

Schmitz reflects on her DURA research experience:

“I researched the recently acquired Lou Andreas-Salomé’s works in the Special Collections as a recipient of the Dean’s Undergraduate Research Award (DURA). I focused Ma. Ein Porträt, a novel that follows the journey of Marianne—affectionately nicknamed ‘Ma’—as her youngest daughter, Sophie, decides to move abroad after finishing high school. The reader follows Cita (the oldest daughter), Dr. Tomasow (Marianne’s therapist), and Aunt Ottilie (Marianne’s sister) through a few emotional Christmas days. Each character ponders motherhood, womanhood, marriage, family, and more as Sophie comes to her decision and shares it with her family. By the end, Marianne transforms from a woman dependent on a man and family relations into a self-sufficient woman who chooses to be a mother and can confidently reject a marriage proposal.

This novel is a powerful treatment of male-female dialogue and discourse; I am interested in the way that the initially very appealing, likable men are ever more emphatically revealed to be “out to control” the women. Moreover, I am interested in the account of freedom Salomé puts forth in the novel. A translation of the novel could make much of the process by which the male protagonists are subtly unmasked in that fashion, typical of several other of her prose works.

Thus, my aim as a DURA fellow was twofold: begin to translate the novel and begin to make sense of it in the context of her philosophy and other works. I propose that this novel is a particularly important work insofar as it is a fictional instantiation of her most famous philosophical work Der Mensch als Weib. Insofar as we observe Salomé’s fictional concepts play out in the real world, as it were, we can gain a greater understanding of how she understands woman, selfhood, motherhood, and freedom (for gendered individuals). 

At the current moment, I have translated one third of the book (the first of three chapters) and written two papers (one of 14,000 words and another of 27,000 words). The first argues for freedom in Ma (on the website), and the second develops a rigorous interpretation of the novel in general (under revision).

A great deal of preparation went into the translation process. I began my work by deeply engaging with theoretical work on translation. Venuti’s The Translator’s Invisibility became the work I studied closely, taking notes on what would remain critical for me and my translation, as well as notes on what I did not think was quite right. I continued by reading every translated Salomé work: first the original, then the translated. I looked for patterns and disagreements across translations, bits of translation that I thought went well, and other bits of translation that I thought missed the mark. A part of this was engaging with the secondary literature, immersing myself in interpretations of her works that may have come only from the translation and not from the original. On this topic of translation, I corresponded with Raleigh Whitinger, a scholar who has translated other key Salomé works; he gave me insight into his process, what he looks for, and what kind of translation he finds unpalatable.

This was one aspect of my research. The other entailed becoming as informed about her thoughts and character as possible. I read what I consider to be the most informative biography on her—the biography written by Ursula Welsch and Michaela Wiesner—as well as those biographies that I thought do not do her life justice. In addition to getting to know what she thought and how she thought, I also spent time with her diary and memoirs; knowing who she was would help me understand how she wrote and why she made certain choices in her writing. Furthermore, I closely read her other works on motherhood and womanhood, given that Ma is, to my mind, largely about those topics; a change (or the lack of) in her argument was an important context for my translation. Finally, I read the significant works from her psychoanalytic writings with the hopes of understanding this version of her that emerged right after Ma was published. Again, I turned to the small selection of secondary literature to see what others have said about these works.

Regarding the translation itself, it ultimately follows two tenets, as it were: (1) to preserve Salomé’s idiosyncratic language filled with imagery and (2) to preserve her often vague writing and incidents of grammatical or idiomatic usage that involve passivity or agency. Often, if the original shows a female figure as the passive subject or as the recipient or object of something, I decided that I would not adhere to the English preference for shifting her into the active-subject role. Preserving how Salomé conceives of gender, even in grammatical constructions, is often overlooked though ought not to be, certainly not given that the text is about the question of woman to begin with. These two guiding thoughts tenets, however, come at the cost of clarity: the German is often more present than one might want it to be in a translation. Because various implications of the German grammatical structures are so closely tied to the novel’s main topics, I decided that this would be a worthwhile sacrifice. In simple terms, I chose to translate not just the content but the language (its attached implications and history) as well: a difficult feat for work written by such a prolific writer who made very idiosyncratic and often difficult-to-follow choices.

Several ‘thank-you’s’ are in order. In no particular order: thank you to Jared Hickman from the English department for helping me find this DURA grant and for helping me discover my interest in translation. Thank you to Heidi Herr for the enthusiasm with which she searched for Salomé’s works and for connecting me with the folks she connected me with. Thank you to Raleigh Whittinger and Frank Beck for their translation work and for indulging my questions and interests. Thank you to Nathalie Schmitz and Ava Lasmanis for your feedback on my translation. Katharina Kraus: Thank you. Thank you for all the long meetings, for reading my work, for spending all the time we spent trying to figure out how to translate just one work, for your feedback on my writing, and for your encouragement to do more. Thank you for sharing my excitement for Salomé. Jason Yonover: Thank you. Thank you for believing in me from the start and for the time you spent on this project: for connecting me with relevant folks, for encouraging me to turn this into a publishable text, and for continuing to work on the translation with me. Finally, thank you, Ace, for listening to my thoughts, being the person I trust the most to read my work, and finding me bearable even when I am deep into the writing process.

There is far more work to be done; for now, I am excited to share the first part of my translation with the public.