Joyce Marshall: Author and Accidental translator
October 24th, 2016
Author and award-winning translator, Joyce Marshall’s roots are found in Montreal and much of her adult life was spent in Toronto but some of her formative years have Townships connections. Marshall was born in Montreal on November 28th, 1913 to William Marshall and Ruth Chambers. As a girl, Ruth had been forced to quit school in order to care for her younger siblings after her mother had become bed-ridden. This forced end to her education was something that Ruth resented and, as a result, she strongly encouraged her daughters to seek out personal and economic independence.
Marshall attended public schools in Montreal until 1929, when she left to study at St. Helen’s School, a prestigious girls boarding school, in Dunham, in the Townships, until 1932. Her family had early ties to the Townships, as well, with her maternal grandfather having received a degree from Bishop’s University and lived for a time in Knowlton. Following graduation from St. Helen’s, Marshall went on to study English at McGill University, where she obtained her B.A. in 1935 and was awarded the English Department’s language and literature medal.
Following graduation, Marshall chose to leave Montreal, where she felt limited and stifled as an English-speaking, non-Catholic woman in the politically conservative Quebec, in favour of the fast-growing city of Toronto. Marshall had started to write fiction in her childhood and had her first short story published in 1936. She published two novels, Presently Tomorrow in 1946 and Lovers and Strangers in 1957, but some of her most well-known work is in short stories, published in magazines and anthologies as well as read on CBC Radio.
In 1959, Marshall had serendipitously found herself with her first translation job when she was asked by the CBC to translate one of Gabrielle Roy’s stories. In reflecting on her career, Marshall noted later that she was initially asked because her knowledge of French but her deep knowledge of Quebec literature, skill as a writer, and passion for the intricacies of both languages contributed to her success as a translator. Following her first translation of Roy’s work, the Quebec author reached out to Marshall to pursue further translations, which began a long professional relationship between the two. She recounts instances where she and Roy would spend hours over the proper translation of a single word or how to structure a passage in English so that it would convey the same meaning and flow as the French original. In 1976, Marshall won the Canadian Council award for translation for her version of Gabrielle Roy’s “Cet été qui chantait”.
In addition to her work as an author, editor and translator, Marshall was dedicated to various associations for the promotion and protection of writers and translators and remained active in literary world for much of her life. Joyce Marshall passed away October 2005 at the age of 91.