On this day…1 May

On 1 May 1931 the French translation of Anna Livia Plurabelle was published.

In 1930, Philippe Soupault suggested to Alfred Péron and Samuel Beckett that they translate Joyce’s Anna Livia Plurabelle into French for the avant garde magazine Bifur, edited by Georges Ribemont-Dessaignes.

Alfred Péron had studied English at the Ecole Normale Supérieure, and in 1926 he studied at Trinity College Dublin where he became friendly with Beckett. Whenever they had time during the summer of 1930, Péron and Beckett met in Beckett’s room or in a café to work on the translation.

Beckett felt they did not have enough time and were rushing the translation which initially was to be called “Anna Lyvia Pluratself.” The publication of the translation had been announced in Bifur, and Péron and Beckett were already correcting the proofs, when Joyce decided that the translation wasn’t ready and couldn’t be published. In any case, Beckett had to return to Ireland in September 1930 to start work as a lecturer in French at Trinity, and so couldn’t continue work on the translation at that time.

Through November and December, Joyce continued the translation with assistance from Eugene Jolas and Ivan Goll. Even then, Joyce was still dissatisfied with it, and he organised to meet with Philippe Soupault and Paul Léon at Léon’s flat to discuss the translation. The meetings took place every Thursday afternoon at 2.30pm, and fifteen of these meetings took place before Joyce was finally satisfied.

In a letter to Harriet Weaver in March 1931 Joyce announced that the French translation was finally complete and that it was a masterpiece. Beckett returned to Paris for a séance at Adrienne Monnier’s bookshop on 26 March 1931 to launch the translation. At the séance, Philippe Soupault explained the history of the translation, claiming that Péron and Beckett’s work was only a first attempt which later had to be heavily revised, an idea that Beckett greatly resented.

Péron and Beckett were credited, along with the others, when the translation was published in La Nouvelle Revue Française on 1 May 1931. However, recent studies seem to belie the idea that Péron and Beckett’s work was heavily revised by Joyce and his ‘committee’ before publication in the Nouvelle Revue. According to Megan Quigley, there are only twelve differences between Péron’s final corrected typescript and what appeared in the Nouvelle Revue.

Péron later lectured in English at the Lycée Buffon, and was to give the first radio talk on Finnegans Wake in late June 1939. He joined the French Resistance in 1940 and also recruited Beckett to the Resistance soon after Paul Léon’s arrest in August 1941. Their cell was infiltrated by the Nazis and Péron was arrested on 16 August 1942 and sent to Mauthausen concentration camp. He was liberated from the camp by the Swiss Red Cross but died two days later on 1 May 1945. He was buried along with other camp victims in Samedan, near St Moritz. Péron’s wife Mania warned Beckett about the betrayal of the cell and Beckett was able to escape arrest.


Sources & Further Reading:

Ellmann, Richard: James Joyce – New and Revised edition, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1982.

Norburn, Roger: A James Joyce Chronology, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004.

Quigley, Megan M: ‘Justice for the “Illstarred punster”: Samuel Becket and Alfred Péron’s Revisions of “Anna Lyvia Pluratself”’ in James Joyce Quarterly, vol. 41, no. 3, Spring 2004, pp. 469-187.

Knowlson, James: Damned to Fame – The Life of Samuel Beckett, London: Bloomsbury, 1996.