I’d remembered reading an article in The New Yorker
on Constance Garnett and “Translation Wars.” I remember that the article led me to purchase the Rosemary Edmonds’ translation of War and Peace
. I did some research and found the article in one of our library databases. Due to copyright issues I cannot link the site. I will provide the bibliographic information*.
Here is a summary of the article:
Garnett translated over 70 volumes of Russian literature. She translated with rapidity and is known to have skipped words she was unfamiliar with and to also have grammatical and idiomatic errors and, at times, her writing would be unsmooth and lack polish. Nabokov was said to have loathed Garnett’s translations. In the article, Nabokov is quoted as calling Garnett’s Anna Karenina
“a complete disaster” and he also states that Americans were turned off by the Great Russian novels because they were “reading Constance Garnett” rather than Tolstoy or Chekov.
Nabokov is not the only one with a beef on Garnett’s translations. The article tells of two other translators, Pevear and Volokhonsky
, who tried for years to get Random House to publish a correct translation of Karamazov
. When comparing the different translations the author of the article, David Remnick, states that, “to compare the Garnett and the Pevear-Volokhonsky translations of The Brothers Karamazov
is to alight on hundreds of subtle differences in tone, word choice, word order, and rhythm.”
The article then discusses the importance of translation and details the newest translation of War and Peace
by Anthony Briggs. Briggs translates all the French passages to English and spells out the expletives. I like the Edmonds’ translation with the French. It keeps me in practice!
Out of curiosity, what translation are you reading?*Here are the bibliographic details:
Remnick, David. “The Translation Wars.” The New Yorker. 11/7/2005, Vol. 81 Issue 35, p98, 12p.