“A Dead Rose” in English Translation, by Dr. Kanost

By Dr. Laura Kanost

When I was a grad student, I passed up the opportunity to take a course on Spanish American modernismo with a brilliant professor because I couldn’t stand the thought of a whole semester reading modernista writing. What bothered me most about modernismo was the way it objectified and excluded women. So when I was planning my own early 20th-century Spanish American narrative course at K-State, I wanted to juxtapose a well-known modernista text with one authored by a woman. With my students, I read and thought about what it meant for Peruvian Aurora Cáceres to write her 1914 novel La rosa muerta as a modernista text. Her protagonist is obsessed with making her own body a perfectly beautiful object—very modernista—but her body is not perfect at all: she has a life-threatening uterine ailment. How many novels, from any culture or time period, can you think of that narrate a pelvic exam? Cáceres defies cultural norms by discussing her female protagonist’s gynecological illness and treatment (including scathing criticisms of medical practices), and by depicting a sexual relationship between the protagonist and the devoted, progressive doctor she eventually finds.

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Sample images of “Modernista” women, as imagined by men — the majority are beautiful and pale; delicate and submissive; and ultimately passive objects of (male) desire.

In the introduction I wrote for my translation, A Dead Rose, I needed to explain for readers unfamiliar with modernismo why Cáceres wrote the way she did. During my sabbatical this semester, I read everything Cáceres had written leading up to this work, everything scholars have written about Cáceres, and many discussions of women and modernismo. One of the most exciting parts of this process was getting my own copy of the first edition and getting to read the second novel published in the same volume. Hardly anyone has access to this other novel, Las perlas de Rosa, so I wanted to include a detailed description of it in my introduction. In the early 20th century, part of the charm of reading a new book was cutting the pages apart as you read. The copy I bought had gone a century without ever being read, so I had to cut the pages to read them!

 

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The 1914 cover of Aurora Cáceres La rosa muerta, which contained a second novel also penned by Cáceres, Las perlas de Rosa.

It was a fun challenge to find ways to make the novel’s elaborate modernista language work in English. I used Google Books, the Biblioteca Nacional de España Hemeroteca Digital, the Oxford English Dictionary, and the Nuevo Tesoro Lexicográfico de la Lengua Española extensively to research fashion and technology terms and to check historical usage in both Spanish and English. For example, in the early 20th century, promiscuo/promiscuous also meant “varied, heterogenous,” so when the narrator uses this word to describe the women in the doctor’s waiting room, I had to convey the right idea to today’s readers. We do a lot of terminology research in Advanced Translation, SPAN 771, and this year I will be adding an activity using historical dictionaries inspired by my research for this novel.

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The new 2018 cover of Dr. Kanost’s English translation, of La rosa muerta, translated as A Dead Rose

Looking for some summer reading? You can purchase Dr. Kanost’s translation, A Dead Rose, from Stockcero publishers— $20 print / $10 online. Let her know if you read it in the comments, or wait to impress her in your Fall course, if you’re taking SPAN 575, Introduction to Translation, or SPAN 774, Translation & Interpreting in the Community.

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