Tuesday 3 March 2009

In Memoriam Barbara Wright

John Calder called me this afternoon to give me the sad news of Barbara Wright's death last night, after complications from a hip operation. Barbara was one of the greatest and most influential translators from the French, and was almost as instrumental as John in making available the works of some of the greatest authors of twentieth-century French literature, such as Queneau and Sarraute.

I had several drinks and dinners with her in the past couple of years, and worked with her on a number of projects, including a revised edition of Queneau's Exercises in Style, which we are going to send to the printers tomorrow. It's a great pity she cannot see our new edition, more than fifty years after her original translation for Stefan Themerson's Gaberbocchus.

I spoke to her only a few days ago about the final proofs of Exercises in Style, and met her at the Calder Bookshop on 22nd January, when she unexpectedly turned up for the Kafka event.

We'll miss her a lot. My condolences to her family and friends. Bill Webb and John Calder will write obituaries for the national press, and John has promised to write something for our blog too.



  1. Enthusiasts for the work of Raymond Queneau will be particularly saddened by this news. Barbara Wright translated almost all of his prose work, magnificently. She knew Queneau, worked with him, and there was mutual respect I believe.

  2. I'm so sorry to hear this (and utterly ashamed that I've only just done so.) Her joyful yet diligent enthusiasm, combined with Queneau's intellect produced in Exercises in Style one of the most inspiring, charming, exciting works I have ever read. Queneau showed us what you could do with language, then Wright then showed us how to do it in English: with flair.

    I have a copy of the new edition of Exercises in Style (a replacement for a rather too well-thumbed edition) waiting for me in the local bookshop, but must now collect it with a heavier heart. Thank you, Barbara Wright.


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