Tuesday, June 20, 2006

"Translation Wars"

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.

13 Comments:

Anonymous rachel said...

I've got a 1968 Ann Dunnigan translation. I know nothing about it, relative to others -- only that it's the copy I've owned since forever and have already read twice.

Hm. Maybe it would seem like a whole new book in another translation.

It DOES keep the French, and I am rather picky in that regard. It's essential to the flavor of the work, IMO.

Of course, when War and Peace gets translated into French, what do they do?

4:39 PM  
Blogger gina c said...

I have Briggs, got him on sale at Barnes and Noble last spring, 30% off! But I read Edmonds back in the seventies and cant recall much about it other than the painfully small typeface which I couldnt stand today (eyes arent what they used to be!). So will be using Briggs and dipping into the online translation you provided the link to while at work.

4:53 PM  
Blogger Isabella said...

See also the previous post for some links.

Rachel: Umberto Eco addressed the question (without satisfactorily answering it) here:
http://www.themodernword.com/eco/eco_guardian94.html

6:29 PM  
Blogger Krakovianka said...

I have the Ann Dunnigan translation as well, and that's the one I'll be reading just because it's the one on my shelf, and I can't easily get another. This will be my first time to read the novel, so I hope it's not a "bad" or inelegant translation.

2:58 AM  
Anonymous leah said...

Monica Ali appears to be enjoying the new Briggs translation...I might give that one a shot :)

http://books.guardian.co.uk/summerreading2006/story/0,,1799317,00.html

10:38 AM  
Blogger Heather said...

At the moment I'm reading the translation by Louise and Aylmer Maude via Project Gutenberg until I buy my copy. Once payday gets here I'm going to order a copy, probably the Briggs translation as well, as I like the cover so much. I'm so book-vain that way.

1:10 PM  
Blogger GaelicGrl said...

I think I'm going to end up choosing either the Edmonds or the Briggs.

1:46 PM  
Blogger Sam said...

Like Rachel, I too have the 1968 Ann Dunnigan translation that has been sitting on my bookshelves forever. I read it once...sometime last century. It is minus the back cover and a few end pages, but it will serve.

12:51 AM  
Blogger piksea said...

I got the Briggs. As much of a doorstop as this book is, I was pleased to find that it is broken up into very manageable parts.

11:29 AM  
Blogger rondinara said...

I'm currently reading the Briggs translation; a copy from the library. I also took out the Maude translation with edits by Gibian. Superficially comparing the two, I prefer Briggs. The language is more readable, IMHO.

I'm finding the text to be very enjoyable and am having a hard time putting it down which is saying a lot for me.

12:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I just finished the Dunnigan translation and found it excellent. My only comparison is the iPad free version, which was so bad I quit after two pages.

9:32 AM  
Blogger Floyce Alexander said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

4:40 AM  
Blogger Floyce Alexander said...

I read the Maudes' translation some years ago, but will read Pevear-Volokhonsky for sure. I've been a fan of theirs since their version of Karamazov appeared.

4:42 AM  

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