The Brothers Karamazov The Brothers Karamazov discussion


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Which translation is the best translation?

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Annesha This post applies for all of Dostoyevsky's books as well.


Will IV The answer I most often find to this question is Pevear and Volokhonsky. I have yet to read a P&V translation, but that's what I hear is the best.


Bryn Hammond For The Brothers Karamazov, I found the David McDuff more lively than the P&V. For Crime and Punishment, I thought the opposite: the P&V more lively than David McDuff. Go figure. In both cases, I read the two translations straight after one another.

By more lively I mean with more voice, with more individuality in the voices.

P&V have most of the glory these days, so I just want to say don't discount the updated Penguins - David McDuff and Robert Maguire. Avoid the old Penguins - David Magarshack - like the plague, since he despised Dostoyevsky.


Will IV David Magarshack despised Dostoevsky? What? He admired him greatly. I have his translation of a bunch of his short stories and he talks with great fondness about Dostoevsky in the introduction.


Bryn Hammond Will wrote: "David Magarshack despised Dostoevsky? What? He admired him greatly. I have his translation of a bunch of his short stories and he talks with great fondness about Dostoevsky in the introduction."

I take that from his intro to The Devils. For me, it's no less than slander, and very unfair. I hate to quote him because people believe this portrait of Dostoyevsky... but "frantic fury... spite and hatred [of 'imaginary' opponents]... religious obsessions... It would be absurd to take Dostoyevsky's political views seriously." And a gossipy anecdote from Turgenev, to put D. in the worst possible light.

Just can't forgive this intro, that teaches you to think poorly of the book before you've begun. Not an introduction's job.


Will IV Hmmm, that's bizarre. He practically paints Dostoevsky as a god in the introduction to his short stories. I guess he really didn't like The Devils and thought it was his job to inject his opinions of it beforehand. That's disappointing.

I will say his translation of these short stories is really well done, especially compared to other translations I have of Notes from Underground.


Bryn Hammond Will wrote: "Hmmm, that's bizarre. He practically paints Dostoevsky as a god in the introduction to his short stories. I guess he really didn't like The Devils and thought it was his job to inject his opinions ..."

Okay, that is strange. Yes, maybe the politics got his hackles up, with The Devils. I don't remember his other intros - that one stuck in my head.


Will IV I can see why that would put you off.

Would you say that David McDuff's The Brother's Karamazov is a lot better than P&V's, or just slightly better? How much better is what I'm asking.


Bryn Hammond Will wrote: "Would you say that David McDuff's The Brother's Karamazov is a lot better than P&V's, or just slightly better? How much better is what I'm asking."

Honestly, I felt right away, 'this is better, this is way better - more distinct, more vivid, funnier'. In the matter of idiosyncratic speech, for the characters and narrator. Eg. there were a couple of words I've never heard before - if they are words. And I believe D. has his people make up words or use very strange ones, but I can't remember that in a translation before.

But then I was just as definite on Crime and Punishment, the other way. Where am I now?


message 10: by Gary (new) - rated it 5 stars

Gary Patella Pevear and Volokhonsky are supposedly the ones that translate closest to the original Russian. Other translators may be more lively (I don't know), but if those passages were not lively in Dostoevsky's original, then it is no flaw for them to not be lively in a translation.

Since the critics claim that Pevear and Volokhonsky keep it closest to the original, I just stick with them when it comes to Dostoevsky. I can't read or understand Russian, so I can never verify this claim. So in this case, I have to trust the consensus.


Danny Annesha wrote: "This post applies for all of Dostoyevsky's books as well."

Convention seems to be Pevear, but I read the Constance Garnet version because I got the free e-book version. It's a little disheartening to hear all the bashing of Garnett, but I realized that that would be the version that generations of english speaking people had read, so if it was good enough for our elders, then it's good enough for me.

That's not to say you won't get something different out of Pevear, but I'm saying if you end up with Garnett it's not like your reading experience will be terrible. It's a fantastic book whichever translation you use.


message 12: by Bryn (new) - rated it 5 stars

Bryn Hammond On Constance Garnett -- through whom I learnt my Dostoyevsky -- I was heartened to see this in Joseph Frank's wonderful 5-book biography: "I have used the translation of Constance Garnett because she takes fewer liberties with the literal meaning than more recent translators." That quote's from the 1st, published 1976, so no idea what he thinks of later translators.

Dostoevsky: The Seeds of Revolt, 1821-1849


Peter Will wrote: "The answer I most often find to this question is Pevear and Volokhonsky. I have yet to read a P&V translation, but that's what I hear is the best."

Pevear and Volokhonsky are head and shoulders above the rest. I've read this in two translations and theirs flows much better than the rest; non of the clumsy word heavy idiom that can be so evident in some translated books. Having also read their translation of Anna Kerinena I can say that it applies equally to their translations of Tolstoy


Danny Pete wrote: "Will wrote: "The answer I most often find to this question is Pevear and Volokhonsky. I have yet to read a P&V translation, but that's what I hear is the best."

Pevear and Volokhonsky are head and..."


Well I should note that I haven't read any Pevear and Volokhonsky translations so I don't really know what I'm missing. I did still end up falling in love with the book reading the Garnett version. That said maybe I'd be blown away by the P&V translations. Maybe if I read it again I'll scope out their translations.


Peter Danny wrote: "Pete wrote: "Will wrote: "The answer I most often find to this question is Pevear and Volokhonsky. I have yet to read a P&V translation, but that's what I hear is the best."

..."


it's not that the other translations of this are bad, just that Pevear and Volokhonsky's are just better.
It is a book that deserves to be aread a few times, don't you think?


message 16: by Fernando (last edited Dec 28, 2012 04:09PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Fernando The best translation of The Brothers Karamazov IMHO was made by Constance Clara Garnett from Cambridge. She was a brilliant "Russianist" with an extraordinary talent to understand and convey the essence of the writer's soul. She did also a great job with Chekhov, Tolstoy and many others laureate Russians Authors as well.


message 17: by Bryn (new) - rated it 5 stars

Bryn Hammond That's good to hear, Fernando, thanks. I do think people 'move on' to newer translations just for the sake they're new, while Constance Garnett suffers merely for being 'old hat'.

The Norton Critical Edition, 1976, has the Garnett translation revised by Ralph E. Matlaw, with an afterword on translation issues. --That was my first. Since, P&V and McDuff.


Heather Anderson I have the 1929 Modern Library edition. Translated by: Constance Garnett! I just love this edition.


message 19: by C.P. (new)

C.P. Lesley Personally, I like the Garnett translations. I read hers of Anna Karenina years ago and loved the book. When the P&V translation hit it big on Oprah, I decided that was my signal to reread. Paid for the hard-cover and everything. But the translation just plodded along, and after 150 pages or so, I gave up.

Which I think, given the range of reactions here, means that there is no one "best" translation—just the one you like the most.


message 20: by Raj (new) - rated it 5 stars

Raj Constance Garnett is closer to the author's. Even after so many years, Garnett's translation is still fresh.


message 21: by Chris (new)


Fernando Thanks for your suggestion, Chris. I've just read The New Yorker's article and very much enjoyed it.


message 23: by Peter (last edited Aug 29, 2013 03:05AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Peter Chris wrote: "This is worth a read:

http://www.newyorker.com/archive/2005..."


Good article, Chris and a good take on the debate. The better translators remain relatively invisible so that the art of the author shines through. It's the translations of modern German authors like Joseph Roth and Gunther Grass that I have found to be the most clumsy rather than those of Tolstoy et al. Thanks!


message 24: by Steve (last edited Nov 06, 2013 09:30PM) (new)

Steve Newman The best translations of Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky are revised versions of Garnett's work. Garnett was an amateur linguist--so she did make a fair number of errors--who also wrote beautifully clear prose. Blunders are easy to correct, an unpolished style is not. It's frankly incredible that her translations have held up as well as they have. As someone pointed out above, Ralph Matlaw revised Garnett's work for the Norton Critical edition published in the 1970s and the daisy-fresh 2nd edition of 2011 did the same. That's the edition to get.


message 26: by Ganesh (new) - added it

Ganesh Iyer Check out this link. The author gives a very good understanding of the importance of a good translation and compares P&V, Garnett and McDuff.

http://www.nytimes.com/1992/04/26/boo...


message 27: by David (last edited Dec 10, 2013 01:56PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

David C. I appreciate translators that can properly translate a title:

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/7...

Edit: Apparently my preferred translator died just yesterday. RIP: http://www.theguardian.com/education/...


Melting Uncle P&V bad


message 29: by Nick (last edited Dec 11, 2013 04:53AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Nick I started with the Garnett translation and had great difficulty making progress (and I've read a fair bit of 19th Century literature - I'm used to the style); I got on much better with the MacAndrew. I found it lively and the language was natural and fluid.

I can't comment on P&V but I fear it may be the opposite of MacAndrew.


message 30: by Bryn (last edited Dec 11, 2013 10:23PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Bryn Hammond David wrote: "Edit: Apparently my preferred translator died just yesterday. RIP: ..."

Oh, sorry to hear that. Might make me read his, which I've bought ready. Ignat Avsey

However, I have to like The Brothers Karamazov for the rhythm.


message 31: by Ricardo (new)

Ricardo Such an interesting discussion. I think one crucial point is, what is meant by "best translation"? Is it accuracy? Is it readability? Is it the one that gets you to read the work? And what does accuracy mean? Literal language? Or style? For example: I am fluent in English and Spanish (the latter is my native language). I have read parts of many translations of Don Quijote. Some get the style but sacrifice accuracy. Some are accurate but awkward in flow and grammar. NONE of them duplicate the reading experience exactly. In something like the Brothers, I prefer either accuracy, or a good flowing style with LOTS of footnotes discussing the translator's choices. The NEW Norton revisionoif Garnett by Susan McReynolds Oddo is very good. And Pevear is fantastic. So best to have both of these in front of you and move back and forth to best understand the author's intention. Cheers!


Melting Uncle I would rather have a translation that reads well, with smooth flowing language, than one that is "accurate" but basically is not written well. Stilted, unnatural prose makes for an unpleasant reading experience.


message 33: by Ecilop889 (new)

Ecilop889 For those enchanted by P&V translations in general I recommend this article: http://www.docshut.com/miivuz/the-pev...
and this one: http://www.firstthings.com/blogs/hele...
To cut the long story short: in their word-for-word translations they overlook a lot of subtleties thus making their work "flat and fake".


message 34: by Ivan (last edited Jan 17, 2014 05:09PM) (new)

Ivan Goldman Listen, I'm a huge Dostoevsky fan, but his politics were in fact crazy unless you believe worshiping the murderous Czar as a beacon of Christ is a worthy belief. That could explain Magarshack's duality when he writes about The Devils.


message 35: by Evangeline (new)

Evangeline Auld Constance Garnett's translations are the only ones I have read, so I cannot compare with any others. I can only say that I found her style very clear and enjoyed reading them.


message 36: by Rebecca (last edited May 23, 2014 01:16PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Rebecca If it weren't for the fact that Garnett's translations were free no one would be reading them any more. I read her translation of Anna Karenina and then listened to a podcast of a university lecture on the same book and it was completely different. She had skipped important parts of the story, she had misunderstood and changed the plot... I didn't read Anna Karenina I read something else entirely.


message 37: by Evangeline (new)

Evangeline Auld Ah, well. I read these books long ago when there were no free or online books, so as I said, I cannot make comparisons. I'll have to try to reread some by other translators but time is the problem.


Daphne Kaamiño Fernando wrote: "The best translation of The Brothers Karamazov IMHO was made by Constance Clara Garnett from Cambridge. She was a brilliant "Russianist" with an extraordinary talent to understand and convey the e..."


Yes I like her too but hasn't it been an issue of hers that she has a tendency to skip some parts she don't understand?


message 39: by Rebecca (last edited May 24, 2014 01:28AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Rebecca Evangeline wrote: "Ah, well. I read these books long ago when there were no free or online books, so as I said, I cannot make comparisons. I'll have to try to reread some by other translators but time is the problem."

Even in bookshops a Garnett translation will cost you 3 euro while a modern translation will usually cost you 11

The important thing of course is enjoying the book. If it is your favorite book in the world it would be crazy not to read a few different translations and compare, in fact Dostoevsky is cited as the main reason foreigners learn Russian!

But if it is just a good book you quite liked then there is no reason to worry over details you may have missed or things that the translator misunderstood or left out.


message 40: by Tom (new)

Tom Smith I have a copy of the Airmont Classics edition, copyright 1966 -- with NO translator listed at all. Can anyone identify the translator for me?


message 41: by Ken (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ken Kuhlken Maybe I lack discernment, but I never have found anything but pleasure and admiration with the Constance Garnett translations.


Danny Maybe in the end, it's all about personal preference. I've read Garnett and I've read more modern translators. They were both enjoyable reads. Since I'm not a Russian linguist, I can only go off my end user results, and that is of course tainted by how engaged i am in the story, and the story itself.


message 43: by Esdaile (last edited Jul 19, 2014 09:14AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Esdaile Bryn wrote: "Will wrote: "David Magarshack despised Dostoevsky? What? He admired him greatly. I have his translation of a bunch of his short stories and he talks with great fondness about Dostoevsky in the intr..."

I was put off by his introduction too. Also, correct me if I am wrong, but he was a native Latvian speaker I think, and neither Russian nor English was his language, which makes his effort remarkable and admirable but makes one wonder how accurate his translations were. The dislike of D's politics with regard to The Devils is especially discouraging because that book is deeply political and enthused with the notion that socialism without God is a fatal disease. A translator does not have to share the views of the writer whom he/she translates but if he/she is is saying that a major part of the writer's concerns in what is written should be ignored, then this may well have an adverse effect on the quality of the translated text.


Esdaile Ken wrote: "Maybe I lack discernment, but I never have found anything but pleasure and admiration with the Constance Garnett translations."

Hmm I do not think it is necessarily a question of lacking discernment. In this case, I think Constance Garnet decided to adopt the tone of the English upper class of the early twentieth century to render the tonme of the Russian aristocracy of the nineteenth century. The tone is therefore very English and I had problems feeling that the stories were of events in Imperial Russia. A possible conclusion is that the older translations may generally speaking work better for an older generation.


message 45: by Ken (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ken Kuhlken That's a wise observation. I'm pretty older and I grew up reading 19th century British English.


message 46: by Bryn (new) - rated it 5 stars

Bryn Hammond I found Esdaile's observation wise too.


message 47: by jordan (new)

jordan There are many choices here .. which one is easily readable translation ..


Paul Martin English isn't my first language, but I thought the Garnett translation of Crime and Punishment was very readable.


Carlin David Magarshack 1899-1977 suited my tastes well.


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Books mentioned in this topic

The Brothers Karamazov (other topics)
Dostoevsky: The Seeds of Revolt, 1821-1849 (other topics)

Authors mentioned in this topic

Ignat Avsey (other topics)