By Raymond Queneau
Translated by James Patrick Gosling
Publication Date: 9/26/23
Sally Mara’s Intimate Diary, dating from 1950, is exceptional; a salacious, black humorous and meaningful story by the influential and erudite French novelist, Raymond Queneau. When ‘Sally Mara’ begins her diary in January 1934, she is 17 years old and lives with her mother, older brother and younger sister in south central Dublin. The everyday language is, of course, English, but she is writing in ‘newly-learned’ French to impress her beloved and just departed French tutor, a professional polyglot linguist. To impress him even more, she decides to learn Irish in order to write a novel of some kind in Irish. However, the action throughout is determined by Sally’s resolution to overcome her ignorance of the mysteries of sex and reproduction.
The often sensual and dark humor of Sally Mara’s Journal intime is founded on language and languages, so this translation, while prioritizing clarity, aims to maintain ‘Frenchness’, tinged of course with Dublinese. Surprisingly, for a French author, Irish words and phrases occur throughout; these are not translated but, like some challenging French phrases, are supported by footnotes. In 1949, when Raymond Queneau wrote Journal intime, published anonymously under the pseudonym Sally Mara, he was, as always, greatly influenced by James Joyce and fascinated by the limitations of language. He was also in need of the ready money provided by Éditions du Scorpion, publishers of erotic and violent pulp fiction, and of Journal intime.
Raymond Queneau (1903–1976) is a key figure of mid twentieth century French literature. He was a novelist, poet/songwriter, screenwriter, encyclopaedist, mathematician and painter. He was also a literary innovator and theoretician, and cofounded L’Ouvroir de littérature potentielle (OuLiPo) a fertile association of writers interested in constrained writing techniques. A senior editor with the prestigious publishers Gallimard, he also mentored aspiring writers (e.g. Marguerite Duras, Patrick Modiano, Nobel 2104) and was a judge for the annual Prix Goncourt. He is especially well known for the novel Zazie dans le Metro (1959) filmed by Louis Malle.
James Gosling, translator of and commentator on this work has previously published appreciations of Queneau’s Sally Mara works (Raymond Queneau’s Dubliners, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2019; Queneau philologue, Sally romancière, Éditions universitaires de Dijon, in press).