The question of the accent is usually muted in theories of linguistic and cultural translation, yet perhaps no other mark speaks more eloquently of exile. Exile may thus be conceived as the permanent burden of an accent in the midst of someone else's mother tongue, while cosmopolitanism may require a provisional deafness vis-à-vis the accent. This essay seeks to apply recent poststructuralist thinking on language, translation, and exile to a figure who straddles the Enlightenment and Romanticism and whose life and work starkly embody the inaudible accent of exile and cosmopolitanism: the cultural critic and novelist Germaine de Staël (1766-1817). It argues that de Staël conceived of exile in terms of translation—as the necessity, even the opportunity, of crossing borders that are not only national but also linguistic and cultural. I begin by situating de Staël in relation to recent work at the intersection of language, translation, and gender: Derrida's The Monolingualism of the Other (1996) and “Shibboleth: For Paul Celan” (2005), and Barbara Johnson's Mother Tongues (2003). I then consider the extent to which many of her key figures—drawn from the work of Novalis, Schleiermarcher, and Goethe—enable her to explore both the productive and the perverse dimensions of translation. Finally, I argue that her views on translation in “De l'esprit des traductions” (1816) and De la littérature (1800) are radically tested by her novel Corinne, ou l'Italie (1807), which can be read as an extended personification of the promise and failure of translation.

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