Barbara Wright

British, 1915-2009

Barbara Wright was an English translator of modern French literature. Wright, born in Worthing, orphaned in 1930, went to the Godolphin School in Salisbury and studied music at the Conservatoire with Alfred Cortot and art in Paris in the years before World War II. Wright began her career as a pianist specializing in the accompaniment of Lieder, supporting herself by working as an art and literary critic, often needing to translate the works that she was writing about herself. As time went on she devoted more and more of her time to translation.

She specialised in “poetic prose” and drama, especially French surrealist and existential writing, but she translated works in several genres including women’s literature, historical fiction, and fantasy. In 1986, she was made a Commandeur in L’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres. In April 2001, she was made a member of the College of Pataphysics, as Régente de Zozologie Shakespearienne, with Fernando Arrabal and Umberto Eco (cacopédiste) as company. She was vibrant and lucid to the very end.

Her literary translation papers are held by the Lilly Library at Indiana University (Bloomington). The files are arranged alphabetically with publisher correspondence and French author–translation queries and notes all in a single alphabet. The authors she has translated and who are represented in the collection include Jean Hamburger (Le Journal de William Harvey), Eugène Ionesco, Alfred Jarry, Pierre Lauer, Robert Pinget, Raymond Queneau, Nathalie Sarraute, and Stefan Themerson. The publishers of Wright’s works, with whom there are extensive correspondence files, include the Gaberbocchus Press, John Calder, Doubleday, Faber & Faber, New Directions, the Atlas Press, and Red Dust. Also present is a large file of correspondence between Wright and Russell Fitzgerald, an aspiring author and devoted fan of her work from San Francisco, California.