Friday, August 11, 2006


How do I feel about the new translations? Obviously it depends on the translator. Translation at the end is about rendering the original/foreign understandable to us, the modern reader. I do not agree that a 19th century translation is necessarily the best translation of a 19th century novel, though some have argued for it. The simple fact is that I am not a 19th century reader.

Constance Garnett (December 19, 1861 - December 17, 1946) is the earliest translator of Tolstoy, Gogol, Dostoevsky and Chekhov. She is responsible for introducing the Russian masters to the English-reading public. Her life’s work made all subsequent English translations of Russian literature a little easier, I believe.

Constance Garnett's translations of Russian classics were highly acclaimed in her time and many established literary criticisms use the Garnett version for reference. Yet for the contemporary readers, the Garnett translations now feel outdated. Also, while she kept close to the syntax and vocabulary of the original, she occasionally excised certain portions liberally, as in her translations of Dostoevsky. Dostoevsky was ahead of his time, and Constance Garnett’s Edwardian sentiments and language stifled his style.

But I admit there are some idiosyncrasies I am partial to. I once came across a contemporary translation of the Christian Bible which has the Ten Commandments going "Do Not Steal" etc.

I want my "Thou Shalt Not …" thank you very much. The Bible is evergreen and should not be updated.

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