Russian authors in English: which are the recommended translations?
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Another author who's work has generated a lot of criticism among translators in Evgenii Onegin by Alexander Pushkin. The two most recent Penguins are both quite faithful, but they have retained melody and rhythm (in other words, they are not direct or literal translations of Pushkin's verse). Vladimir Nabokov, in his four volume translation, presents a masterful, albeit vindictive (yes, very much so), translation which is both literal and direct. The conflict seems to be between those translators who want to ensure that it is still lyrical (and who try to approximate the Onegin stanza in English*), and those who wish to represent a literal translation that is not melodic (that is, Nabokov, who trashes earlier translations). If you're particularly interested in Evgenii Onegin, then Nabokov's scholarship is indispensible; if you don't enjoy his translation, that's fair enough, but he is more thorough in terms of explaining why he translates particular terms as such-and-such than any other translations. On a final note, the old Penguin translation (by Charles Johnston) is a bit insipid in comparison to the more recent ones (Mitchell, apparently, is good (2003, Penguin)).
As for retaining dialect language in translations, IMO it may be better to soft pedal it, unless it can be rendered idiomatically in the target language. Otherwise it creates a sense of ludicrousness and burlesque that is usually not intended by the author who was seeking verisimilitude. This maxim of course applies no less when translating from English slang, jargon, or dialect, a process which results in truly bizarre French, German, etc. when handled unskillfully.
Earlier this year I read 5 different translations of Eugene Onegin and compared them, I also read Nabokov's commentary. I humbly submit my study of both here, and my review of EO:
I hear that DM Thomas, renowned Pushkin translator is working on a new version of EO.
going swimmingly well, but there is one word used serveral times that just
leaps out at me as being totally bizarre. It is the word "twit'. Has anyone come across the use of this word in the version of the novel they have read?
it can't be emblematic of Russian speak can it? Maybe it is intended as being
a sort of slang word.It really jars me and I don't like it.
My appreciation for the links; I found your treatment of the translations very well considered, and I cannot but agree with you regarding Nabokov. I found his volumes better reference guides than a source of poetry, though I often think in those cases that it is precisely his scholarship which is more poetic than his translations of the poetry of another. Anyway, nobody else has been so exacting in securing references, allusions and the many possible roots (folkloric, popular, and from foreign novels) of the images in the original.
Earlier, I did not make reference to Ivan Goncharov's Oblomov (Обломов). As it stands, there the field of translation is best represented by David Magarshak's 1954 translation. Positively, the translation retains the clear and highly observational nature of Goncharov's prose. Negatively, it does not always convey the 'warmth' of his descriptions, while Zakhar (Oblomov's manservant) suffers again from being denied the same skaz that I mention in Gogol; it is not as clear in this instance, but his voice is supposed to contain contradictory elements, and two distinct discourses that give him, in essence, paranoic transformations of voice throughout the work (between the proud nobility of his voice when he is acting the 'landowner's butler', and of the petty criminal and layabout when he is acting the urban, dispossesed house keeper). It's a small criticism, but important to his character.
I would, however, mention that C. J. Hogarth's translation (1915) should be avoided; the translation, in the terms used by Nabokov that tomcatMurr mentioned on his site, are "paraphrastic". In addition, Hogarth in fact produced a concise version of Oblomov, shearing it of many large chunks of text, while conforming the remainder to contemporary English idioms. If you're interested as part of a comparative exercise, it is available here: http://www.oblomovka.com/eldritch/iag/oblomov.htm. There is a more recent translation by Stephen Pearl (2006). I've not yet had a chance to read this version, and intend to do so soon, at which point I'll give some sort of verdict.
In Russian, there are a number of slang terms for something like a "twit", if it is implied as a slightly warm, or friendly, insult (as opposed to calling somebody an idiot). The terms below can mean 'idiot', however, and it really depends on the context ...
Durak - fool (male)
Dura - fool (female)
As I mentioned earlier, however, skaz speech (slang, idioms, 'jarred phrasing') are all emblematic of the 'common voice' in 19th century literature since Gogol.
an excellent observation. Thanks for your comments on Oblomov. They add to my appreciation of this masterpiece.
I've always wanted to read Orlando Figge's Natasha's Dance, is that the best one out there today?
Thank you for the comments on Gogol's Dead Souls. I'm hoping to read this soon as I have just finished Living Souls by Dmitry Bykov and believe, from the few reviews I've read of "Dead Souls" that Bykov was trying to produce an updated version of Gogol's work.
Perhaps I'm wrong, but that will only be proven one way or t'other when I've read "Dead Souls".
I recommend Living Souls. The translation was by Cathy Porter.
It can make a difference, but it's nice to see you feel so strongly towards Basarov. I believe Turgenev was reluctant to make a full-fledged hero out of him and this comes across to some as ambivalence or inability on the author's part. If you read a little more Turgenev, which I wholeheartedly recommend*, you get a fuller appreciation for his special gifts.
Here's some insight to Basarov from Turgenev himself:
Interestingly, Basarov became a very controversial character after the book was released. The right felt that Turgenev portrayed Basarov too sympathetically, the left, that he made a poor representative. Regardless, it was very popular.
I agree that the comparison is a little troubling, but I think I understand the point she's trying to make. I also think "Turgenev's day" is important, because it wasn't until later that the nihilists' effect on society were fully realized.
A true, literal translation of the title would be Children, not Sons. To me, Children makes more sense in that it emphasizes the generational divide in the story rather than a specified paternal focus. It doesn't sound as nice though.
*Nest of Gentlefolk and Other Stories translated by Jessie Coulson. A Lear of the Steppes is in there too, just a wonderful story. He should really be known better for his novellas. That tender sadness Flaubert sometimes goes for is much more powerful and rewarding in Turgenev. Track this down too, if you can: Three novellas : Punin and Baburin, The inn, The watch. No ISBN unfortunately.
Thank you for the link to google books. Very interesting; its kept me gazing at my computer screen all morning. What comes across from the correspondence also is the level of censorship that Turgenev had to deal with, which had some influence on how he said what he wanted to say. It is always interesting to read what is in an author's mind at the time of writing, but how much this should influence a reading of the text is debatable.
I will certainly follow up on your further reading suggestions, although I might have to make do with other translations to the one that you suggested. The short sories look very interesting and I will be re-reading Father and sons sometime soon.
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