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Thread: Constance Garnett - Tolstoy & Dostoevsky

  1. #16
    Moderator Logos's Avatar
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    There have been a number of discussions about Russian literature and translation in general
    http://www.online-literature.com/for...d.php?t=14658&

    and Garnett in particular here:
    http://www.online-literature.com/for...ad.php?t=31955

    of which I won't repeat myself again
    http://www.online-literature.com/for...99&postcount=3

    except to say that she did learn Russian and had many Russian revolutionary friends who visited her in England, or who she visited in Russia, including Tolstoy who praised her work on translating his novels.
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  2. #17
    Since the initial post in this thread, I've also learned of The Oxford Guide to Literature in English Translation, which apparently evaluates available translations.

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    Jealous Optimist Dori's Avatar
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    com-pas-sion (n.) [ME. & OFr. <LL. (Ec.) compassio, sympathy < compassus, pp. of compati, to feel pity < L. com-, together + pali, to suffer] sorrow for the sufferings or trouble of another or others, accompanied by an urge to help; deep sympathy; pity

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    I was wonder where you learned that Garnett skipped passages in her translation work --I know that DH Lawrence and others commented on her speed but who commented on omissions? Nabokov possibly?

    Also, would anyone here happen to know if Garnett translated and published "Family Happiness" (aka "Happy Ever After") -- I've googled looking for it and only the Edmonds translation comes up.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Kafka's Crow View Post
    Maybe it has something to do with the gypsy diaspora. Countries with stronger gypsy presence (Spain, France, Ireland etc) have richer and more diverse artistic traditions. If the Church gave us drama, gypsies (who were originally from India and were taken out of there a thousand years ago) gave us the wandering minstrel, the dancers, the musicians, the story-tellers.
    Nah, those countries had that before the gypsies came. And wandering storytellers and musicians were there during/before gypsies. Minnesingers, bards, etc.
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  6. #21
    Registered User Etienne's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Logos View Post
    including Tolstoy who praised her work on translating his novels.
    I know Constance has met Tolstoy, but I thought it was before she translated his novels.

    Personally I've read a couple of her translations and I have to say that I did not like it. She might be credited to giving the English world a lot of Russian translations, but today, there are far better translations than her's.

    For Tolstoy, although I haven't read their translations (I've read his works in French) but the Maude's translations should be the best bet
    Last edited by Etienne; 08-28-2008 at 04:30 PM.
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    Question

    Quote Originally Posted by Etienne View Post
    I know Constance has met Tolstoy, but I thought it was before she translated his novels.

    Personally I've read a couple of her translations and I have to say that I did not like it. She might be credited to giving the English world a lot of Russian translations, but today, there are far better translations than her's.

    For Tolstoy, although I haven't read their translations (I've read his works in French) but the Maude's translations should be the best bet
    She met Tolstoy in 1894 after she had translated "The Kingdom of God is Within You" but before the novels which came several years later.

    I know there are more rigorously accurate translations than Garnetts but I am curious about what specifically you dislike about hers.

  8. #23
    Registered User Etienne's Avatar
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    Ok, thanks for the information. Well simply that at one point I read almost exclusively Russian classics in English, which meant that I happened to have a couple of Constance Garnett, and those were the ones that I found the most poorly written, especially her Dostoevsky's, they just didn't feel right. Her translation of Fathers and Sons was alright, I suspect it might have something to do with the fact that Turgenev was a somewhat more "European" novelist, and that Dostoevsky, on the other side was perhaps the more "Russian". I haven't read any of her Tolstoy's translation though.

    And besides this, there has been many critics about her accuracy from competent authorities, but this has already been mentioned. I believe for Tolstoy's one should get the Maude's translation which has the seal of approval from Tolstoy himself (I enjoyed the translation I read which was Ann Dunnigan's too). Pevear and Volokhonsky seem to do a good job (or so I heard) and are some of the most recent translations, so I believe these should be recommended, but I haven't read them.
    Last edited by Etienne; 08-28-2008 at 10:28 PM.
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  9. #24
    King of Dreams MorpheusSandman's Avatar
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    All I can comment on to Tolstoy's prose style is what I've read from the Pevear/Volokhonsky translation of War and Peace and the Briggs of The Death of Ivan Ilyich and Other Stories. Tolstoy seems to be an incredibly lucid writer - not a flowery one. No mater what mode he's in - whether it's describing battles, a character's psychology and thoughts, certain philosophy, background information, etc. he doesn't muddy it up by being verbose. At times I even find his style... perhaps "rough" is the word. Or maybe it's just direct. He doesn't seem to soften his prose at all.

    One reason I chose not to get the Garnett translation of Tolstoy is because I heard she went a long way in prettying him up and removed or changed many of his literary techniques (repetitions and such). But then after talking to someone on Amazon who's read nearly every W&P translation he said he liked Garnett because she had a talent for getting to the aesthetic that the author meant to convey rather than just getting the words right. He gave the example of how she changed "Bald Hills" to "Bleak Hills", because the former was just a physical description in English, but she felt that the latter was meant to be implied by the title in Russian.

    Not speaking Russian I certainly couldn't say. All I can say is that in getting into literature the barrier of translations of classic works has depressed me a bit because I'm a big believer that, in art, how something is said is just as (if not more) important than what is said. And translations can't help but change how it's said because different languages are, well, different. No real way around this though unless wants to learn a ton of foreign languages, which I might just end up doing anyway.
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  10. #25
    Registered User Emil Miller's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by ThousandthIsle View Post
    Constance Garnett's name has been scattered around the forum lately. While she is applauded for bringing many Russian works to the Western world for the first time through her translations, she has two major shortcomings I've learned of, which disturb me in the following order:

    1) Her translations do little to distinguish each author's individual "voice" & writing style, etc.

    2) Her rapid pace combided with her disadvantage of being raised an English speaker resulted in errors in her translations, even so far as she would "skim past" passages she could not understand in the original Russian versions.

    Critics against Garnett in turn criticise her readers as being more "Garnett fans" than lovers of Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Gogol, Chekhov, etc. because in her translations, Garnett essentially conveys these authors' works in her own writing style.

    I still appreciate the work Garnett has done - she has covered wide ground, which clearly was her greatest motive, and she did it.

    But, upon learning this about Garnett, I am conflicted. Most of the Tolstoy/Dostoevsky translations I've read have been Garnett's, and though I can appreciate stories of Tolstoy and Dostoevsky, I am now aware that I don't know either of them as artists.

    What I am going to have to do now is find other translations to re-read. I would love to learn Russian, but alas, cannot at this point. I know there are Russian speakers on this forum, and Tolstoy/Dostoevsky enthusaists as well. In the meantime, would anyone care to take a stab at expressing the particular prose style of each Tolstoy and Dostoevsky? (Or any of the others Garnett has translated also, but these two authors who I have spent the most time reading)

    Ahhh, disillusionment.
    Constance Garnett was at one time the main translator or possibly the only one translating the classic Russian writers into English. Although I haven't read a great deal of their writing, I do remember her as being rather irritating in her translations. A later and, to my mind, more readable translator is David Margashak who I believe had family connections with Russia, although I don't think he did as many translations as Constance Garnett.

  11. #26
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    I much prefer Garnett's translations of Chekov. I agree with the poster who said that she had a talent for capturing the aesthetic of a writer although I would probably exempt her Dostoevsky translation because I think she found him less to her taste than Chekhov or Turgenev. Her grandson wrote a very good biography (1991) of her in which he includes a chapter comparing her translations to others -- including Nabokov -- it's worth seeking out -- I think a lot of the criticism she gets comes from the picture DH Lawrence painted of her just producing reams of paperwork in the garden -- but she took pains to capture in English what the writer was trying to convey in Russian...and was willing to sacrifice some absolute accuracy to get there.

    I don't think anyone yet has translated as much as Connie did -- 70 volumes over about 38 years.
    Last edited by AJ12754; 09-09-2008 at 10:17 PM.

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