In a contribution to a symposium on xenophilia, this essay — a study of Brian Friel’s 1980 play Translations — raises the question of whether all xenophilia is by nature doomed to fail. Set in Ireland in 1833, the drama centers on the tension arising from a young British lieutenant’s falling in love with an Irish-speaker while he is in her country to translate Irish place-names into English for an imperial cartographic survey. While the lieutenant is referred to in the play as a Hibernophile, the essay interprets his love as xenophilic: love for the foreignness rather than the Irishness of what he encounters. The lieutenant’s love of foreign places and their names impedes his effort to systematize Ireland for imperial ends, and his love for an Irish woman brings about his own undoing. Applying Simone de Beauvoir’s view of alterity to the lieutenant’s xenophilia, the essay questions whether the English written over the Irish in this play and the lieutenant’s desire written over the objects of his love obscure enough of the other’s otherness to render his xenophilia no longer viable.

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