Alexander Ivanovich Ertel in English

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Alexander Ivanovich Ertel in English

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1vaniamk13
Editado: Fev 11, 2015, 7:18pm

A few years back I came across a reference in D.S. Mirsky's A History of Russian Literature citing Alexander Ertel (1855-1908) as the "more important" Russian writer of the late 1880s and 1890s. Mirsky cites "The Gardenins, Their Retainers, Their Friends, and Their Enemies" (1898) as Ertel's best novel and says its the novel that best bridges Russian literature's great age with the modern (this was written c. 1925). That said, I've found no evidence that the novel was ever translated into English, which is both surprising and, I guess, unfortunate. LT doesn't have a single reference for Ertel and his Wikipedia page provides minimal info. Is anyone familiar with the writer and/or his novel, and if so, does it merit Mirsky's glowing praise?

Note that Eight Great Russian Short Stories contains two stories by Ertel

2anisoara
Fev 12, 2015, 7:01am

That's very interesting. I've never even heard of Ertel. I'm off to see what else I can find out...

3jsoos
Mar 2, 2015, 2:14pm

I have a pretty good collection of works translated into English - and find no works by Ertel.

4vaniamk13
Editado: Mar 3, 2015, 1:00pm

With a little further research, I've determined that Ertel was a follower of Leo Tolstoy and a friend of Chekhov. Tolstoy apparently wrote the preface for The Gardenins, which was published in 1889, not 1898 as stated in Mirsky's survey. The Cambridge History of Russian Literature paragraph on Ertel seems to concur with Mirsky's praise for The Gardenins, stating that it's "a panoramic portrayal of rural life (which) manifests Ertel's desire to apprehend Russian society during a period of profound mutability...distinguished both for its vivid character sketches and for its individualized, expressive language."

Are there any other significant 19th c. (or 20th c.) Russian novels that have never been translated into English? I figure there must a good reason why The Gardenins has not, perhaps the book is considered too lengthy and Ertel too obscure, or perhaps some other fatal flaw...

5languagehat
Mar 30, 2015, 2:46pm

Are there any other significant 19th c. (or 20th c.) Russian novels that have never been translated into English?

There are a great many (which is one reason I get so irritated every time I see the exciting news of yet another translation of Anna Karenina or The Brothers Karamazov). To take one example I frequently get on my soapbox about, one of the great novelists of the early 19th century was A. F. Veltman; I wrote about him at the end of this Year in Reading post, and I consider it a scandal that only a few short stories have ever been translated. Other examples: Vasily Narezhny's Rossiisky Zhilblaz (A Russian Gil Blas, 1814) and Bursak (The seminary student, 1824), Aleksey Pisemsky's Vzbalamuchennoe more (A troubled sea, 1863), and Nikolai Leskov's Nekuda (No way out, 1863). I could go on, but you get the idea. And think how much worse the situation is for languages that haven't been the focus of as much attention as Russian!

6sparemethecensor
Mar 30, 2015, 9:40pm

>5 languagehat: I read a Leskov collection last year and loved it. When I looked for more by him in English, I had no luck. While my Russian was probably once good enough to muddle through his works untranslated, I'd hesitate to try now... Really a loss for all of us.

7vaniamk13
Abr 1, 2015, 5:37pm

>5 languagehat: Mirsky's History (mentioned above) is the broadest compendium of pre-20th C. Russian lit that I've read. In that work Mirsky implies that he's read, and can express an opinion, on every Russian language novel, short story and poetry collection published up until to early 20th C!

That said, and for what it's worth, here are Mirsky's opinions of the further works you cite (and which may have contributed to would-be translators, and publishers, avoiding some of them):

Mirsky acknowledges Narezhny's contribution to the development of the very early 19th C Russian novel, but opines that Narezhny's works lack artistry and that "...owning to their heavy style and their diffuseness, (they) are heavy reading". He says Narezhny was little read even in his own time and had very little influence on the future development of Russian fiction.

Mirsky says Pisemsky's A Troubled Sea is "...not so good as A Thousand Souls", an uneven and "profoundly distorted" attack on the young generation, full of "bitterness and hypochondria".

Mirsky classifies No Way Out as one of Leskov's early "political" novels which had "...no part in the great reputation he enjoys today".

On a positive note, Mirsky cites Veltman (spelled Weltmann here) as the prolific head of the "German romanticist" school of 1830s Russian lit. Mirsky finds him a "delightfully readable" writer of "loosely constructed stories" and "a blend of imagination and playfully irresponsible humor...", but fails to cite any specific works or expand any further.

Of course , these are only the opinions of one critic writing 90 years ago, but one can imagine that any similar sentiments existing within the current publishing community would hinder efforts to have these works translated and republished for the non-Russian reading general public or even academia. The reason I started this thread was because Mirsky's assessment of Ertel's work seemed to place it in a superior realm nearly on par with the universally acclaimed greats of 19th C. Russian lit., which, if correct, would make the lack of an English translation strange indeed.

8languagehat
Editado: Abr 8, 2015, 2:54pm

I am very familiar with Mirsky's book; it was my introduction to the history of Russian literature, and I frequently recommend it to people. That said, for all Mirsky's deep familiarity with and sensitivity to Russian literature, he had his biases and limits like all of us, and you can no more allow him to be the sole arbiter than any other critic, no matter how good. One of the things I've learned while reading through all of Russian literature from the beginning (a mad enterprise I started a few years ago) is how limited he is when you go back far enough. Frankly, I'm not sure he actually read Narezhny; I've read five novels by the man, and I assure you that "their heavy style and their diffuseness" exist only in Mirsky's head. They are delightful reading; you can check out my review of Российский Жилблаз (A Russian Gil Blas) at http://languagehat.com/narezhnys-gil-blas/ and http://languagehat.com/a-russian-gil-blas/ and Бурсак (Bursak, ‘the seminary student’) at http://languagehat.com/the-printing-press-as-a-shaming-agent/.

As for Veltman, as I wrote elsewhere, "the usually reliable D.S. Mirsky gave him the wrong first name, rendered his last name as 'Weltmann,' and was off by ten years in his death date"; it is clear to me that Mirsky, like every other Russian intellectual of his generation (and later generations for that matter), was steeped in the "realist" literature we all think of when we think of the Russian 19th century (Tolstoevsky et al.) and was simply unable to properly appreciate the genres it displaced. Specifically, what one might call "formalist" writing, primarily interested in form and language rather than in analyzing What Was Wrong with Russia and What Should Be Done, was seen as essentially trivial, "delightfully readable" perhaps but not to be taken seriously. As I wrote in my review of his first book at http://languagehat.com/veltmans-lost-wanderer/ (I've read five so far and am most of the way through a sixth, Salomea):

"I would like to be living in a world where Strannik was as valued as any other nineteenth-century masterpiece, and I continue to meditate on the reasons it’s not. I suspect it has a lot to do with the turn toward Seriousness and Social Responsibility that Russian literature took in the 1840s. Belinsky has much to answer for."

You should really try to rid yourself of the (very common) idea that everything really worth translating has been translated, so if something hasn't been translated it can't be all that good; it's simply not true.

9languagehat
Abr 8, 2015, 11:09am

I just noticed the "(or 20th c.)" part of your earlier comment, so I thought I'd provide some more untranslated works, important for one reason or another: Aleksei Remizov, Prud (The pond, 1908) and Krestovye syostry (Sisters of the Cross, 1910); Mikhail Kuzmin, Chudesnaya zhizn Iosifa Balzamo, grafa Kaliostro (The wondrous life of Joseph Balsamo, Count Cagliostro, 1919); Vladimir Zazubrin (Zubtsov), Dva mira (Two worlds, 1921); Vsevolod Ivanov, Tsvetnye vetra (Colored winds, 1922) and Vozvrashchenie Buddy (Returning the Buddha, 1923, “a little-known masterpiece”); Ilya Ehrenburg, Trest «D.E.»: Istoriya gibeli Evropy (The D.E. Trust: The story of the destruction of Europe, 1923); Panteleimon Romanov, Rus (1923-36); Boris Pilnyak, Ivan Moskva (Ivan Moscow, 1927); Boris Zhitkov, Viktor Vavich (1929-41, praised highly by Pasternak); Nina Berberova, Poslednie i pervye (The last and the first, 1930) and Bez zakata (Without sunset, 1938); Ilya Zdanevich (Iliazd), Voskhishchenie (Rapture, 1930); Ivan Shmelyov, Leto gospodne (The summer of the Lord, 1933-48); Mark Aldanov, Peshchera (The cave, 1934-36) and Samoubiistvo (Suicide, 1958); Yuri Tynyanov, Detstvo (Childhood, 1935); Andrei Nekrasov, Priklyucheniya kapitana Vrungelya (The adventures of Captain Vrungel, 1937-39); Gaito Gazdanov, Nochnaya doroga (Night road, 1940), Vozvrashchenie Buddy (The return of the Buddha, 1949), and Piligrimy (Pilgrims, 1953); Vasily Grossman, Za pravoe delo (For a just cause, 1952-56); Mikhail Prishvin, Osudareva doroga (The tsar’s road, 1957); Fyodor Abramov, Bratya i syostry (Brothers and sisters, 1958); Grigory Baklanov, Iyul 41 goda (July 1941, 1964); Yuri Trifonov, Predvaritelnye itogi (Preliminary conclusions/stocktaking, 1970)... well, I'm running out of steam and should get some work done, but you get the idea. It's a continuing scandal that the later volumes of Solzhenitsyn's Krasnoe koleso (The red wheel) have still not been translated; August 1914 sold well, but apparently November 1916 didn't, so they're not bothering with the rest of his major epic. And shamefully little of the wonderful Alexander Grin has been translated; every Russian loves his tales of off-kilter adventures in his own un-Russian invented world, but foreigners know him, if at all, only for Scarlet Sails. And yet they keep translating Anna Karenina...

10languagehat
Abr 8, 2015, 2:59pm

To add to Mirsky's opinion of the Ertel book, the Columbia Dictionary of Modern European Literature calls it "one of the best works of the period" and the Cambridge History of Russian Literature says:

"The novel is distinguished both for its vivid character sketches and its individualized, expressive language. In a preface to the novel Tolstoy declared that one who wishes to know the language of the Russian people must study Ertel's prose."

11languagehat
Abr 9, 2015, 10:53am

Just ran into this, at http://www.thenation.com/article/203641/forensic-translation#:

"We tend to assume that all the best literature in a given language finds its way into English, and that—making a leap that sounds more sensible than plausible—if it’s worth reading, it’s probably already available in English. But this is simply not true. What gets translated and published in English in any given year is such a tiny fraction of literature available in other languages that we Anglophones can never hope to read all the worthwhile works of literature in other languages. Anyone who knows a foreign literature well would have little trouble naming titles, including major works by major writers in that language, that are unavailable in ours. The odds are strong that you will never be able to read what might have been your favorite book."

12vaniamk13
Abr 9, 2015, 10:06pm

I'm well aware that probably hundreds of works of quality world literature exist that remain either un-Englished or available only in expensive, rare and limited editions (or horrible POD editions), and the generous list you provide only adds to the large list of works I'd also like to see available. Fortunately, we seem to be going through a somewhat golden age in translation-publishing, with more and more small and/or independent presses releasing first-time-translated classic works each year. Pushkin Press, Northwestern University Press, Twisted Spoon Press, Hieroglyphic Press, Dedalus, Dalkey Press Archives, nyrb, and Black Coat Press are a few that come to mind immediately. There also seem to be many recent "amateur" translations available from self-publishing sites like Lulu.com. So, although I sympathize with your irritation at so called "great works" being retranslated ad nauseam whilst less known works go untranslated, it seems that this critique applies more to the mainstream/major publishing world where marketability and profit margins rule the day. But isn't that to be expected?

I found the lack of translation of Ertel's work odd solely because Mirsky (and apparently many others) praised it so very highly....and I believe I've found translated works of every other writer Mirsky praised as much in his History. I understand Mirsky had his quirks, like all critics, and I vehemently disagree with his negative assessment of Chekhov and some other of his contemporaries, but he was one source I was using to identify works of interest, and I can't read these works in the original Russian to find out for myself.

13languagehat
Abr 10, 2015, 9:04am

Sure, I totally understand, and I completely agree about the golden age in translation-publishing -- those presses you mention are doing yeoman work. I'm guessing I'll have to translate Veltman myself, though it will have to wait till I retire in a few years!

14kaggsy
Abr 10, 2015, 2:59pm

"The odds are strong that you will never be able to read what might have been your favorite book."

Now, that's *really* depressed me! As has the comment about the rest of Solzhenitsyn's Red Wheel sequence not being translated. I rate him extremely highly but alas, he's simply not in fashion. Such a shame.

15anisoara
Abr 11, 2015, 7:18am

On that subject, this is an interesting article ('Forensic Translation' by Benjamin Paloff):

http://m.thenation.com/article/203641-forensic-translation

which, among other things, says:

'We tend to assume that all the best literature in a given language finds its way into English, and that—making a leap that sounds more sensible than plausible—if it's worth reading, it's probably already available in English. But this is simply not true. What gets translated and published in English in any given year is such a tiny fraction of literature available in other languages that we Anglophones can never hope to read all the worthwhile works of literature in other languages. Anyone who knows a foreign literature well would have little trouble naming titles, including major works by major writers in that language, that are unavailable in ours. The odds are strong that you will never be able to read what might have been your favorite book.'

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