Jun 152017


The excerpts reproduced here are the opening and ending of a decade-long correspondence between a man and a woman, the award-winning literary translator Bernard Hœpffner and a certain “Sarah M.,” then a graduate student and hidden behind a pseudonym. The exchange had been preserved and assembled by Hœpffner into a sprawling epistolary work, a romance. Its interest lies primarily in the lovers involved–bi-and tri-lingual workers-in-language already well into their lives, separated less by geography than by their choices and responsibilities–who in the course of time fashion a common heteroclite idiom of emotions as these ebb and flow, are first born and, years later, die a natural death.



•    Hello Mon, 24 May 2004

Hello Sara, It was very nice meeting you, and then bumping into you at all times (odd times) and I hope we’ll bump into each other again soon.

I came back with a heavy cold.

I forgot to wish you a merry and happy wedding on Saturday.

Je t’embrasse,



∞    Tue, 25 May 2004

Still spellbound. Morbidly glad about your barefoot farewell.

Correcting papers as therapy. Time keeps on its petty pace… How would you translate “froggy dew”?

Best regards to your salad (roquette?) S

P.S. Won’t be back here till Thursday noon.


•    Frogs Tue, 25 May 2004

Sara, “Rosée de grenouilles” ou “rosée grenouillère”, mais mieux encore, puisqu’il s’agit de grenouilles minuscules, pour donner l’effet de rosée, “rosée grenouillette”.

Good luck for paper correcting; I’m trying to imagine you in your little ol’ factory: “[…] and if you ever could see her the way I saw her/well you’d never go back to the ol’ factory/no I’m never going back to the ol’ factory dreams of a little clothes shop on the lower east side […]”

Vôtre, Bernard


∞    Frogs    Thu, 27 May 2004

Merci pour la rosée aux grenouilles. J’ai enfin rendu les copies. En attendant la nouvelle fournée mercredi prochain, je retourne à “ma petite entreprise” domestique. My little ol’ factory has a pretty sunny terrace with fragrant purple roses (a word for “mauve”?). But some old scents are still hanging around.

Best S


•     FROGer de Coverley    Thu, 27 May 2004

Sara, Odd to write it like that (without an h)!

Six and a half hours yesterday with a Libé journalist who came all the way here for “a few questions about Ulysses” left me exhausted, today, only the old banger to go through control test and a bit of FRoger Coover, a bit of watering the old strawberries and some rereading of Gilbert Sorrentino (maybe I’m correcting my own papers).

Not knowing much about correcting papers, I have difficulties imagining you doing it: do you scratch your head, or chew your pen, do you screatch your had for all you have, or do you shine your pew, is this a cue?

Do you know, I don’t like admitting it (of course) but I’m missing you.

Still and again, all the best on Saturday (who’s handing you over?)



∞     FROGer de Coverley     Fri, 04 Jun 2004

Saturday’s done gone, as Bigger would say (reading Wright, sounds like an oximoron, or Davenport). I’m a big girl so I handed myself out. My sons helped: Max (12) sang the nuptial march, Leo (6) checked the signatures, so nobody could cheat. I guess now I’m a “married woman”, but that doesn’t feel any different, except for the cold I caught. And my newly acquired husband’s absence (he went for a few days to (Ivory?) Tours, and returns tomorrow). Maybe it’s some kind of rite of passage or initiation to married life.

So I’m left alone with Your Anatomy & your Melancholy: I’m very much impressed indeed with so much erudition, thank you. It will take me about a century only to read, but at least, you’ve solved my problem of choice as to what book to take to the US in order to keep up my French. It certainly unfurled again your words into my brain, before I came back to University to read your email (there are no more classes, so I come seldom: I’ll be back on the 10th).

In case it’s urgent (and not really compromising) you can write to my home mail, (at least the email is free). But it is not really private. So the tone of my response will certainly be more official.

Good luck with (F)Roger (Rabbit?) de Coverley.


P.S. I bite my nails heavily and often nibble all sorts of things (raisins, almonds, pens). And I’ve just picked up the new load of papers (about a hundered).


•     Where and When    Wed, 09 Jun 2004

Sara, So short a time — two days — and now regretting not having made more of it. But what’s a regret if not an aigrette (a puff on a cigarette) for a cheap novelette? I do not know much about you but I would like to see you again. This email is nuisome as, contrary to the normal use of it, you only rarely have access to it (the 10th, you wrote) and it would seem that what I write here would brobably be considered too compromising to appear on your family screen, yet, so far, only compromising words, it appears.

It’s hot, it’s dry, I went down to Avignon to meet an American writer whom I wish to translate here, we had a lovely time. Yesterday was the transit of Venus and my cumpleaños; not having proper welder’s goggles, I couldn’t observe the transit, but one year’s transit was duly recognized without glasses. Yesterday, sowing of beans, watering the almond and apricot trees planted last autumn, this morning sickling the long grass along the electric fence meant to stop roe deer and wild boar from eating and destroying everything as they did a few years ago. Writing to Sorrentino and Davenport, translating Coover, getting ready for a workshop on Bartleby, getting ready for the Joyce celebrations, translating more Coover, forgetting my hat and getting a headache (“A giddy Megrim wheel’d about my head”), picking and eating strawberries by the bushel under which I hide my light, going down to the village to buy tobacco, taking my wife to the bus so she could go to work in Lyon, translating some more Coover… and having a quick browse through the Sorrentino I will soon be starting to translate.

Oh, but I blubber, I blubber… I’d like to see you again, I’d like to hear you, you can phone me; the number’s here below. I don’t even know how long you’re staying in Paris (Montreuil) before leaving for Prince-town.

I did say it before, I miss you, Sara.

Vôtre, Bernard


∞     Where and When     Thu, 10 Jun 2004

Here I am. No regrets. More of it? How much less would then be left to fantasy… And I’ll not comment on Venus, though I did try to see it without googles. It is well known it burns your retinas, so I didn’t insist (les aigrettes pour les mirettes?). But a glimpse from time to time spices up the day.

So you’re a Gemini, right? Intellectually and artistically versatile, but what’s the dark side? My birthday is July 25th (almost like Juliet), and the next one is a “jubilee”: 40 (no longer a Lolita), though I may hide the cards, and stay 36 for a while (like Oscar Wilde’s ladies).

My timetable is quite more prosaic than yours: papers, accounts and telephone calls for the visits of the apartment on sale. But I have some very pleasant rituals: singing with Leo (6) on his way to school in the morning so he wouldn’t be sad, splashes with the kids in the small plastic swimming-pool on the terrace under the parasol when it’s hot (and it IS HOT now), cool lemonade, annual rock-concerts of a friend, who was a rock star in the 80ies in ex-Yugoslavia (I went there yesterday on my own and met about 20 or more acquaintances and friends: it’s like going to a high-school party).

Actually, June is rather pleasant in Paris: just before la Fête de la Musique, there are also translators’ meetings at the Cité U, and some quite versatile people coming up from down South. I may not be there in the morning as I have a “Kermesse de l’école” (?), but I’ll come in the afternoon (no double bind), and some might find it quite compromising (Mafreuxville, guess who). He’s a scandalmonger (?), but I’ll be leaving soon so who cares.

I’ll certainly feel quite inadequate among great translators so unlike me.

I’ll be in Paris for a while longer, as I’m not leaving for Princeton before August 15th. And I should go to Aix sometime by the end of June or mid-July for a few days to listen to some Bambara tapes at Regards Croisées. And then I’ll go to the seaside from mid-July to mid-August (Croatia). Now I must run home. I’ll be back here on the 15th.

It always thrills me to open the mail, though I must admit I’m a bit afraid of meeting you.


P.S. Why do you hide a light under a strawberry bushel?


•     The Joke’s on me     Thu, 10 Jun 2004

“P.S. Why do you hide a light under a strawberry bushel?”

For I’m a Bible thumper, for I’m a Bible reader, for I’m (right now) listening to Big Bill Bronzy: “Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick” — this might be the dark side of geminis, they won’t hide it and will put it on a candlestick; and, maybe more seriously, cos’ some of my greatest pleasures are growing vegetables and fruits and that day I did pick a bushel of the pink stuff. That’s how the cookie crumbles… Do you know, for Geminis are supposed to have a sense of humor, I was bubbling up with laughter in Pau, I mean on Saturday, for I was working on Mulligan Stew in the early morning in my hotel room, and as I want (wanted) to share the joke with you since you were fulsomely and unwittingly part of it, I will now send you the passage in question, now in a more acceptable French so you’ve got the succedaneum. I hope you also find the joke funny.

Thursday evening and a subtle sunset rolling out in layers horizonwards, bands of the purest Virgin blue (no, no, not royal!) overlaid with a kind of sumptuous (come on, no holds barred, luscious) strawberry pukey gauzy stuff (Willy May, don’t ya hear me callin’ ye? [funny, “I’m going down the line” pronounced “I’m going dandelion”]); zen the puke burnin’ an’ boilin’ o’er the hill.

I enjoyed you description of your activities, singing your kid (6) to school, lemonade and swimming pool. (Now it’s Lou-iiiii-se, you’re the sweetest gal I know. And the sky’s turning dove grey.) You did strike me, struck my fancy, your compleat being seems to be made of the flimsiest humor (there’s a word, a better one, but I can’t find it, maybe I will before I’m done with this). From the first day when I saw you standing for hours — it seemed — at the café in Pau. Don’t you worry your pretty smiling eyes, I’m not talking about love at first sight and all that. I enjoyed cropping against you (bunking into you: Brooklyn slang of the 40’s says Sorrentino in his last letter, meaning bumping into [“The pacific bunking into North Carolina”]), with almost no conscious will to do so. So I’m talking friendly relations, though sex does rear its not so ugly head sometime (Vid. attached document). I simply mean seeing you again, having enjoyed so much these two “bunking” days.

And I’ll be happy to see you on Saturday 19 if you manage to come, and screw the ol’ scandalmonger. At any rate, I believe my wife will be there, what scandal can there be? And we did conduct us all proper and shipshape before, didn’t we now? And zen I’ll be busy with me workshop, I would prefer not to, Deleuze’s crap, dead letters and all that. Nevertheless, you sure will be a welcome sight for sore eyes.

Then sure we’ll have some time and surely a few occasions in some near future, won’t we?

I’m gone four days in Majorca first days in July to see me favourite daughter (27) on a one-year cruise over the Mediterranean billows, but I sure will find occasion to go up to Paris, if somehow this might prove feasible for you. Let me know how things stand yourwards (You see, there’s now a definite Prussian green on the horizon, despite everything the French say to the contrary). Maybe there’ll also be a pissobolity while you’re in Aix; like meeting in Avignon or something.

Hey, why should you be afraid of meeting me? We met before, you know! I’m the rubber man.

I won’t be able to read any email from you before the 19, as you won’t have this before the 15 and I’ll be in Paris on the 15th for Gallimard’s big Ulysse do, then all next day with the “team” and the evening at France Cul for some live performances (they say Jeanne Moreau will come to read, but I’ll believe that when I see her); then 2 days in Lille before coming down again on the 19. But this of course is not to stop you from sending me an email for when I’m back in ol’ Dieulefit. (“I will buy you a frigidaire when you mooooove!”)

Some-x, Bernard


•     Esprit d’escalier     Fri, 11 Jun 2004

Sara, Sprightly and lithe were the words I was looking for yesterday: or sprlithely.



•     Dimanche    Mon, 14 Jun 2004

Sara, I finally have to remain in Paris for an urgent CA on Monday morning. Maybe we can also see each other, even if briefly, on Sunday or Monday a.m. We’ll see if you can make it on Saturday, otherwise, maybe I could give you a tinkle (oh, ever so British, that!)? At any rate, I do trust our good star… we’re bound to meet, aren’t we? Bertie


∞     Dimanche     Tue, 15 Jun 2004

Bertie suddenly sounds so familiar. And though I don’t like cooking, I don’t despise good stew, and I definitely love cookies and strawberry crumble (I still didn’t get the candle though). And jokes. And sunsets (my doorway is turned westward, quite above the city, and the evening sometimes bowls you off your feet with loud orange-pink and soft bluish green). And Hopkins (that was about sprightly lithe sprlithely Poe, sorry Pau). I’m drowning in your words.

Soft sift in an hourglass… (that much about the Deutschland) until Saturday.

Of course I’m afraid, look what you’ve sent me! How am I to keep the distance under all the gazing eyes? I’m afraid I’ll be meeting my diary, but I’ll have to pretend I cannot read or write at all. And speak convincingly of things that will probably not be on my mind.

But no regrets.

Bye S

P.S. Would be great if you had a cell(o)phone.

P.P.S. Oh, “pissobolity” sounds tickling.

PPPS Will be back here next Tuesday or Wednesday (the 23rd) after you get home to Dieu-sait-où…


•     Monday Evening    Mon, 21 Jun 2004

Sara, This won’t be long; I just got back here and, afore getting a salad and a few strawberries for dinner and then to bed (I’m exhausted, the CA was a tough one), I wanted to send you a little word — there’ll be more tomorrow.

In the train (I mean in the toilet of the train), found a beautiful long blond hair coiled round my cock… where did it come from?

You can phone me any time between the time you receive this (or before) and Friday morning. I don’t dare phone you — I mean I don’t want to get shot.

Sorry if I’m gluing you in words, but you do twist me round your little finger.

Love, and kisses.

Will write again tomorrow.

It was so nice you managed to come today, even (and especially) for so short a time, your eyes and smile remain (not like the Cheshire cat’s). Bertie



•    Us   9/11/13

Are we sure?


∞    Us   9/11/13

Is anything ?


•     The end    18/11/13

In other words, starts with a bang, ends in a whimper… B

—Sarah M. & Bernard Hœpffner


Bernard Hœpffner, after working as a restorer in London and as a farmer in the Canary Islands, has been writing and translating for the last thirty years. He has translated, among others, the works of Gilbert Sorrentino, Robert Coover, Thomas Browne, James Joyce, Mark Twain, Robert Burton, William Shakespeare, Philip Sidney, Jacques Roubaud, Pierre Senges, Elizabeth Bishop, Will Self and Gabriel Josipovici; he has written a number of short stories and essays, as well as a book, Guy Davenport: L’Utopie localisée. He is one of the rare bilingual literary translators working today.


Sarah M. prefers not to divulge too much of herself.


  One Response to “Starts With a Bang… Ends In a Whisper | An Epistolary Romance — Sarah M. (∞) & Bernard Hœpffner (•)”

  1. Bernard died before this publication, in May 2017: his brother Jacques put on his blog many messages sent by his friends, and by Sarah (Suzanna) M. : http://hoepffner.info/spip3/spip.php?article160

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