Rosa Bautista on Discovering Dos Passos

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Rosa María Bautista Cordero is a professor and translator based in Madrid, Spain. She attended the First Biennial John Dos Passos Society Conference in Chattanooga, TN and presented on Manhattan Transfer in translation. See her description below on discovering the Dos Passos canon:

My John Dos Passos Connection

I first read John Dos Passos at one of Prof. Nancy Bredendick’s graduate courses at the Universidad Autónoma de Madrid some years ago. The course was on the image of Spain in North-American literature and, more specifically, on Dos Passos’ works on Spain. So we went through Rosinante to the Road Again (1922), A Pushcart at the Curb (1922), Journeys Between Wars (1938), Adventures of a Young Man (1939), and The Best Times: An Informal Memoir (1966). We also read about the personal and historical circumstances in which those works had been written, their critical reception and, naturally, the Dos Passos-Hemingway connection.

I was impressed by Dos Passos’ interest in Spain, and by his profound knowledge of our political, cultural or literary life. Through his works on Spain, I got to know about his political ideas, his way of understanding art and literature, his sense of friendship and loyalty. I immediately felt sympathy for the story of his friendship with the translator of Manhattan Transfer, José Robles Pazos, and for Dos Passos’ sincere, committed search for answers upon his execution as an officer on the Republican side by the Russians during the Spanish Civil War (1936-39).

As a translator myself, I was captured by the light, the colors and the smells in his texts and by the many challenging, untranslatable features in them. I think John Dos Passos was a writer ahead of his times in many ways.

John Dos Passos is very much alive in 21st century Spain. But not just because of his works of Spanish inspiration or his USA trilogy. Above everything else, he is “the author of Manhattan Transfer” for us. Indeed, Manhattan Transfer is Dos Passos’ most reprinted work and for many years, his only novel in Spain. First published by Cenit in 1929, a second edition came shortly afterwards, in 1930. Officially banned by Franco’s censors in post war years, the next authorized edition did not come until the late 1950’s by Planeta, together with the publication of other Dos Passos’ major fictional and nonfictional prose for the first time in Spain.

The early reception of Manhattan Transfer in our country was extremely positive. Hemingway’s testimony regarding Dos Passos’ popularity in Spain in 1931, saying “nobody has read Manhattan less than four times,” confirms this. In the years that followed, all Spanish critics writing about Manhattan Transfer have invariably had a positive view. The fact that it was banned by censors for many years did not have a negative effect on its reputation.

A recurring topic in recent criticism, the Spanish Civil War played a determining cabergoline buy online australia role in the reception of John Dos Passos as a writer both in America and in Spain, but with different effects; in America, Dos Passos’ political shift, triggered by the execution of José “Pepe” Robles, made him less and less popular among critics, fellow writers and the reading public in the 1930’s, and his status was never fully recovered.

By contrast, in Spain, Robles’ death linked Dos Passos and Manhattan Transfer to our historical and cultural identity. Contributing to this continuing interest, Manhattan Transfer is associated in our mind with some of the cultural and political milestones in 20th century Spain. The literary life at the cafés, or “tertulias”, the spirit of liberal educators at Institución Libre de Enseñanza, student life at Residencia de Estudiantes, marked a whole generation of Spanish scholars, artists, and writers who later experienced the war with all its consequences (executions, exile, repression). Dos Passos was not only a witness to the Spanish civil war, but saw himself “tangled” in the horror of innocent deaths through the loss of his best Spanish friend, Pepe.

Dos Passos’ ideological developments towards conservatism in later years do not seem to have affected his reputation as a writer in Spain, where he is mostly talked about with admiration for his contribution to the modernization of the novel and with general respect for his involvement in the Spanish Civil War. Our view of Dos Passos has not been permeated by his political shift.

It is good that history and politics are keeping the name of Dos Passos on the shelves of Spanish bookshops and libraries, in internet blogs and the media; his reputation seems to be intact. But we must make an effort to explain and spread the literary reasons, too; otherwise, John Dos Passos may be at risk of being more discussed than read in Spain.

Rosa María Bautista Cordero is currently writing her PhD dissertation on the Spanish translations of Manhattan Transfer and their role in the Spanish construction of John Dos Passos. She is the author of “The Spanish Translation of Manhattan Transfer and Censorship” in Estudios de Traducción; Vol 3 (2013); 149-162 and “The Spanish Translations of Manhattan Transfer” in Caleidoscopio de Traducción Literaria; Dyckinson; Madrid (2012); 125-137.

As a literary translator, her published work includes articles, essays and short stories by Bruce Chatwin, V.S. Naipaul, Erica Jong, Amos Oz, Hugh Thomas, James Joyce, Peter Ackroyd, Tom Wolfe, Allen Ginsberg, Graham Greene, Philip Roth, Anthony Burgess and Salman Rushdie.

Rosa teaches Translation and Intercultural Communication at Universidad Alfonso X el Sabio and at the ILMyT (Instituto de Lenguas Modernas y Traductores) of the Universidad Complutense de Madrid.She holds a postgraduate degree in British and North American Literature and a BA in English Language and Literature. She has been a certified/sworn translator by appointment of the Spanish authorities (Ministerio de Asuntos Exteriores) since 1995.