Multilingualism in Modernist Fiction is a useful addition to the increasing number of books being devoted to bi- or multilingual writers. This critical trend, which began in the late 1970s with such works as Jane Grayson’s Nabokov Translated, developed in the late 1980s, (e.g. Alien Tongues1), and provisionally culminated in Steven G. Kellman’s The Translingual Imagination (2000), with its useful and extensive list of writers working in languages other than their first.
Given the increasing quantity and variety of bi- or translingual writing since Kellman’s book, Juliette Taylor-Batty has wisely chosen to limit her corpus. She focuses on “the most conservatively periodized conception of modernist literature” (6) and “primarily on the use by Anglophone writers of other European languages” (7)—more specifically French and German. She omits Nabokov, probably because of his continuing dialogue with Russian, but that is rather too bad as, in his own words: “I was an English child,”2 “I might have been a great French writer,”3 “I am trilingual, in the proper sense of writing, and not only speaking, three languages.”4 Her chosen scope also keeps Taylor-Batty from treating more recent, truly and extensively bilingual writers, such as Ariel Dorfman and Nancy Huston (whose most recent book, Danse Noire, is written [End Page 1050] in three languages and includes translations, en bas de page, of: several varieties of its French into English, several varieties of its English (including that of an American Indian prostitute) into French, and several varieties of joual into whichever dialect of the other language is most appropriate).
After laying her theoretical groundwork in a chapter entitled “Modernism and Babel,” Taylor-Batty discusses the differing representations of linguistic encounters in the work of Lawrence, Richardson, and Mansfield (“vehicular matching” (41, 52), “selective reproduction” (41), “verbal transposition” (42, 69, 72), “explicit attribution” (52)). Chapter 2, titled “Representing Language in Modernist Fiction,” also contains a section called “Polyglot cosmopolitans and funny foreigners” (where, where is Pnin when we need him?). This section explores the representation of Jewish cosmopolitan figures in Pilgrimage and Women in Love, and the narrative emphasis on their ambiguities and contradictory qualities, as well as their tendency to mix languages.
Her next chapter turns to “Writing in Translation in Jean Rhys’ Paris Fiction,” which discusses the creolizing and translational processes culminating in the “masterful and carefully honed bilingualism of Good Morning, Midnight” (87). This is an interesting and carefully written chapter that develops several of Taylor-Batty’s central themes: the useful simplification of the process of writing when it is not in one’s mother tongue, and the advantages and pitfalls of a “translational” aesthetic.
Chapter 4 is devoted to “Protean Mutations: James Joyce’s Ulysses.” Unlike the preceding chapters, where Taylor-Batty examines the use of several languages primarily as a means of representing a polylingual reality, when she discusses Joyce’s work she shifts her perspective to show how an “awareness of linguistic plurality and arbitrariness becomes a seemingly endless source of poetic possibility” (113). Here, as in other chapters where Taylor-Batty treats different writers, she emphasizes the stylistic effects drawn from Joyce’s experience as a teacher of English—that is, the experience that taught him the ways to “unlearn English” (117). Towards the third episode of Ulysses, Taylor–Batty claims that:
‘Proteus’ parades a multilingual sophistication that makes far more explicit use of over-determination and multilingual complementarity, and is thus a key chapter for understanding how multilingualism can form the basis of aesthetically productive forms of defamiliarisation.(135)
She occasionally pushes her analysis of Joyce’s verbal devices too far, however: “seamorse” is not in Stephen’s mind to hint at morse code. It is there because morse is the normal French word for walrus. And the acronym P.C.N. is pronounced by French speakers exactly as Joyce transcribes it. It is not “French distorted by an Irish accent” (135).
Chapter 5, “French (De)composition: Samuel Beckett’s Trilogy,” begins with a discussion of “Pidgin bullscrit”5: an interlingual pun which...