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Best Dostoyevsky Translations?

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message 1: by Brad (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:04PM) (new)

Brad | 4 comments I'm hoping that one of you could enlighten me regarding the best translations of his major works. Thank you!


message 2: by Joe (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:08PM) (new)

Joe | 12 comments Mod
I'm definitely no expert, but I tend to lean towards the older translations. Sometimes I feel like the newer ones are trying to be too unique.
I read the edition of Crime and Punishment by Penguin classics (I forget the actual translator) and that one flowed pretty well.
I just read the new translation of The Double by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky, and I had mixed feelings about that. I thought that the overall feeling of the novella was great, but they overused the word "physiognomy" and I didn't like their use of the word "sir" to denote the formal Russian word for "you". I just started reading The Gambler in the same volume, and I like how the prose feels, but yet again the word "physiognomy" appeared in the first few pages.


message 3: by Adam (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:19PM) (new)

Adam | 4 comments I have to say, I have never really encountered that word outside of Russian literature. What's the deal? Is there a colloquialism the translators are trying to render into English? Нечего на зеркало пенять, коли рожа крива? Could the word countenance be used just as fittingly without the burden of 5 syllables?


message 4: by Joe (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:19PM) (new)

Joe | 12 comments Mod
Yes, I think the word countenance would be just as accurate. As always happens in translation, they are trying their best to convey a very nuanced Russian thought by only using one english word. It would be hopeless for them to give footnotes or endnotes for every russian word that they don't think has a direct translation. Physiognomy works pretty well (even though it doesn't sound good) because it conveys appearence/countenance as not just physical, but a physical rendition of emotion/soul/spirituality.
I have the text in Russian and English; I'll have to check to be sure that they are using physiognomy as a translation of "рожа" which Adam provided. Where did you learn that saying? "Don't blame the mirror if your appearence/physiognomy is crooked".


message 5: by Joe (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:19PM) (new)

Joe | 12 comments Mod
By the way, in what other works have you encountered "physiognomy"?


message 6: by Adam (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:20PM) (new)

Adam | 4 comments I can't really say which works, though I think mostly of Dostoyevsky when I see the word. I will look out for it in Cancer Ward. The way you describe the concept has redeemed it a bit for me. It's too bad we don't have a more attractive word.
"Where did you learn that saying?" - you flatter me. I am just a poser. I saw that on a website as I was researching the Russian meaning. I do enjoy learning colloquialisms and idioms from other languages. Do you know any others in Russian?


message 7: by Joe (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:21PM) (new)

Joe | 12 comments Mod
I"ll have to think about that; I'm sure I can remember some others.


message 8: by Steph (new)

Steph Sobota (StephSobota) | 2 comments It seems like I keep running into the word "physiognomy" - физиономия - in the works of Mikhail Bulgakov. It's in "Fatal Eggs," "Heart of a Dog" and _Master and Margarita_ for sure (those are the works I've read most recently).
As for the rendering of the formal and informal "You" in translations of Dostoevsky, perhaps the use of "sir" to mean the formal "you" is a bit much. But what's worse is the use of "thou" to mean the informal "you." Try and read Garnett's translation of "The Grand Inquisitor" from Bros K. Gaaaahhhhh. It's unreadable and waaay too King Jamesy.


message 9: by Christian (new)

Christian | 1 comments I have read the Pevear and Volokhonsky translations of Demons and Crime and Punishment which were good I thought. The translation of Karamazov that I read was the Matlaw revison of the Garnett translation, and found it to be much worse. I have heard good and bad things about the P&V translations but they seem to read well.


message 10: by Tim (new)

Tim (tobagotim) | 7 comments I started reading Dostoevsky and Tolstoy in high school. Most of the translations have been Garnett for Dostoevsky and Maude for Tolstoy's Resurrection and Garnett for War and Peace and Anna Karenina. The first two books that I read were Ressurection and Crime and Punishment. I wrote a paper back then comparing the two authors treatment of a similar subject. In less I go to the trouble to learn Russian to a degree that the originals would have meaning, I feel that I am stuck with Constance Garnett. I live near the Victor Kamkin Bookstore which used to be warehouse full books from the Forieign Language Publishing House of Moscow. Olga Shartse seemed to be a major Dostoevsky translator while Ivy Litvinov and Kathleen Cook are the names of the translators for Chekhov with the Progress Publishers, Moscow.
Thanks for the tip. I have read and re-read Crime and Punishment. It is time to read it again with the Pevear/Volokhonosky translation


message 11: by Frankie (new)

Frankie (fran_kie) | 37 comments I'm halfway through Joseph Frank's five-book bio of Dostoevsky, and he leans toward Garnett. I have a copy of Idiot trans by Pevear/Volokhonsky, and I'm worried about re-reading it. Is there a big difference? I'm old-fashioned. Is it as black and white as versions of the Bible?


message 12: by Hamish (new)

Hamish | 11 comments See, I personally avoid Garnett when at all possible. I think she tends to really flatten the writers she translates, destroys their individual voices and makes them all sound the same. She's also pretty infamous for just skipping over words she didn't understand. Plus she was generally working on a tight schedule and it led to a lot of pretty unforgivable syntax errors. There's a pretty interesting article about it here:
http://www.newyorker.com/archive/2005...

I haven't read Pevear/Volokhonosky's Dostoevsky, but I really liked their Chekhov and Gogol.


message 13: by Tim (new)

Tim (tobagotim) | 7 comments Thanks for the URL for the New Yorker article. I appreciate their prospective as well as the backgrounds or Mrs. Garnett as well as Prevear and Volokhonsky. The article (11 pages) is obviously a much more comprehensive opinion than can be fit in one of thes goodreads comment boxes. The article is certainly worth reading if you are reading any fiction in a language other than your own, but it is particularly enlightening for the writing processes of both the authors and translators.


message 14: by Blair (new)

Blair | 2 comments Hamish,

Many thanks for that great New Yorker article. It touched on so many things that I found fascinating! Finishing off with stories of Nabokov kept me reading through its considerable (online) length.

I have only read bits of the P/V Karamzov, but I did enjoy Pevear's Three Musketeers version. Not really a fair comparison obviously....


message 15: by Tom (new)

Tom | 51 comments Not to digress, but I, too, noticed that Pevear has moved on to French Lit. Never read Dumas, but based on P's (and V's, too, of course) wonderful Russian translations, I've been considering getting 3 Musketeers. Glad to hear you found it enjoyable.


message 16: by Bibliomantic (new)

Bibliomantic | 5 comments Three Musks is a very enjoyable book. The two sequels are good too, but not as good.


message 17: by S.C. (new)

S.C. (strangeness) | 1 comments So, I am a neophyte when it comes to Russian Lit, at best. I'm studying Mandarin and Linguistics, but I have found myself positively falling in love with Dostoevsky. I feel bad coming into this thread with so little knowledge, but it looks like you cats are able to best direct me to more authors I may enjoy. A few questions:
White Nights...I love it, is the movie Le Notti Bianche worth watching?

If one likes Dostoevsky, as I clearly do, what would you consider the must read text? Be specific with the translation (as I am sure you smarties will), as I am not one who has paid much attention to such things in the past.

And, finally, who else should I be reading? I know this community is for people that are familiar with Russian writers, and I am not, but really, help a gal out. If you need a Chinese text translated, I'll get it done in return :)


message 18: by Tom (new)

Tom | 51 comments Well, my vote would be for Brothers Karamazov, Pevear and Volohonsky translation. But then I haven't read all of D's work. A good friend who has read all of D says that in some quarters Demons (also P/V) is considered the best.

As for other Russian writers, my personal favorite is Chekhov, the short stories. For poetry, Mandelstam. For essays, Joseph Brodsky's collection "On Grief and Reason."


message 19: by Hamish (new)

Hamish | 11 comments Brothers Karamazov is by far my favorite Dos, followed by The Idiot. I actually haven't read the P/V translations, but based on their other work that I've read I feel OK backing Tom's recommendation that you go with them.

This might be the obvious suggestion, but after Dos, Tolstoy's Anna Karenina is the must-read Russian novel. Also Chekhov's short stories, Bulgakov's Master and Margarita, Gogol's St Petersburg stories, Andrei Bely's Petersburg (if you want something more experimental) and Turgenev's First Love (if you want something short). Also I just read Erofeev's Moscow to the End of the Line and am currently in love with it. Can't go wrong with any of those. Have fun, I'm jealous that you're getting to experience this stuff for the first time.


message 20: by Tom (new)

Tom | 51 comments Hey, I've had Erofeev's book on my shelf so long, unread, that I forgot it was there! (too many piles upon piles). Thanks for the reminder, Hamish.


message 21: by Tim (new)

Tim (tobagotim) | 7 comments On the thread of Dostoevsky translations, are the titles ever translated differently? If so, is it possible to put together a list of equivalent titles in the novel-length works. I have Brothers K., Crime and Punishment, The Idiot, and The Possessed, and a compilation of 5 short novels. I also have a book on Dostoyevsky: A Writer's Life by Geir Kjetsaa. I cannot find a reference to The Demons mentioned in some of the recent posts. My best guess is that Constance Garnett translated the title of The Possessed (possibly) differently from the other translators mentioned.
When reading a long Russian novel, I always start with an Excel spreadsheet of families and their members and relationships. This printed out and folded into the book is very valuable, particularly with Tolstoy who has many characters. I mention this because if there are variations in the titles, I believe a table of translators and titles might be valuable. I know it would be to me.
This is a project that I am willing to undertake based on feedback from the group.
Tim


message 22: by C.P. (new)

C.P. (cpklapper) | 2 comments Apparently, the title translated into "The Idiot" does not have an article in the Russian, so a literal translation would be "Idiot".


message 23: by C.P. (new)

C.P. (cpklapper) | 2 comments What about "image"? That would fit better for the mirror saying. Also, is there an association in Russian between "рожа" and the word for "icon" similar to "image"?


message 24: by Sam (new)

Sam Jung | 3 comments I've been reading Constance Garret's translation of "Crime and Punishment", and so far I'm highly satisfied with the translation. Although there are some phrases and words that are pretty arcane and may be a bit awkward to some of us (including me), it is surprisingly easy to read through and personally I think it's better than the recent, somewhat modernized translation.

P.S. raskolnik, Frank's biography of Dostoevsky is really fun to read, probably one of the best biography I read.


message 25: by Vanessa (last edited Feb 21, 2009 07:21AM) (new)

Vanessa (bellelettrist) | 2 comments Constance Garnett is a joke. Avoid at all costs. Here is a quote from her wikipedia article which summarizes why you shouldn't read her:

"However, Garnett also has had many critics, notably prominent Russian natives and authors Vladimir Nabokov and Joseph Brodsky. Brodsky notably criticized Garnett for blurring the distinctive authorial voices of different Russian authors[1:]:

'The reason English-speaking readers can barely tell the difference between Tolstoy and Dostoevsky is that they aren't reading the prose of either one. They're reading Constance Garnett.'

In her translations, she worked quickly, and smoothed over certain small portions for "readability", particularly in her translations of Dostoevsky.[2:] In instances where she did not understand a word or phrase, she omitted that portion.[1:] [3:]"

Hemingway said he got his sparse style from Dostoevsky. But he didn't read Dostoevsky. He read Constance Garnett.

Here is a New Yorker article on the subject: http://www.newyorker.com/archive/2005...


message 26: by Sam (new)

Sam Jung | 3 comments Hmmm..... May be that's why Garnett's translation was highly "readable" to me... Didn't know that


message 27: by Vanessa (new)

Vanessa (bellelettrist) | 2 comments Yes. In college, when I was pressed for time and just wanting to get the reading DONE, I would read the Garnett translations.


message 28: by Susan (new)

Susan | 6 comments Tom wrote: "Well, my vote would be for Brothers Karamazov, Pevear and Volohonsky translation. But then I haven't read all of D's work. A good friend who has read all of D says that in some quarters Demons (a..."

I tried to get a book club to read Bulgakov;s The Master and Margarita. I read Mirra Ginsburg's translation and found it as life altering as Brothers K. But others in the book club read other translations: Burgin and O Connor and other translations I can't recall. It was a bit of a flop. I didn't know if this flop occurred because I was not wise enough to suggest the correct translation or if it is that some people just "don't get it". Please advise. It was isolating for me and though I am not particularly internet savey and perhaps don't have much to add other than a virgin awe of all things Dostoevsky. I was drawn to finding this group and so here I am. I was thinking of re-reading Master again by the other translators if they are any good since I was so touched by the Ginsburg translation. Please advise


message 29: by Susan (new)

Susan | 6 comments Hamish wrote: "Brothers Karamazov is by far my favorite Dos, followed by The Idiot. I actually haven't read the P/V translations, but based on their other work that I've read I feel OK backing Tom's recommendati..."

I tried to get a book club to read Bulgakov;s The Master and Margarita. I read Mirra Ginsburg's translation and found it as life altering as Brothers K. But others in the book club read other translations: Burgin and O Connor and other translations I can't recall. It was a bit of a flop. I didn't know if this flop occurred because I was not wise enough to suggest the correct translation or if it is that some people just "don't get it". Please advise. It was isolating for me and though I am not particularly internet savey and perhaps don't have much to add other than a virgin awe of all things Dostoevsky. I was drawn to finding this group and so here I am. I was thinking of re-reading Master again by the other translators if they are any good since I was so touched by the Ginsburg translation. Please advise





message 30: by Susan (new)

Susan | 6 comments Tim wrote: "On the thread of Dostoevsky translations, are the titles ever translated differently? If so, is it possible to put together a list of equivalent titles in the novel-length works. I have Brothers ..."

yes the Demons is the same as the possessed


message 31: by Susan (new)

Susan | 6 comments Hamish wrote: "Brothers Karamazov is by far my favorite Dos, followed by The Idiot. I actually haven't read the P/V translations, but based on their other work that I've read I feel OK backing Tom's recommendati..."

I have started Petersburg, translated by Maguire and Malmstad and am having a hard time getting into it. Is this the best translation or should I try a different translation?


message 32: by Hamish (new)

Hamish | 11 comments Susan wrote: "Hamish wrote: "Brothers Karamazov is by far my favorite Dos, followed by The Idiot. I actually haven't read the P/V translations, but based on their other work that I've read I feel OK backing Tom..."

i read the m/m translation of petersburg and loved it. if you are having trouble, it probably has more to do with the fact that it's a really tough book than the translation. keep at it though, it's totally worth it!


message 33: by Susan (new)

Susan | 6 comments Good to know I will.


message 34: by Tom (new)

Tom | 51 comments Susan, I can't imagine any translator mangling Bulgakov's marvelous M & M to point of making if "flop" with readers. Mind you, I've read only the Ginsburg translation, and the language caused me no problems whatsoever, but then again, perhaps that's because I was so swept away by the brilliant story-telling. Not to be judgmental, but I suspect your fellow club readers wouldn't have "got it" regardless of the translation.


message 35: by Susan (new)

Susan | 6 comments Thanks, that's what I was afraid of.


message 36: by Eric (new)

Eric (earector) | 5 comments Joe wrote: "I'm definitely no expert, but I tend to lean towards the older translations. Sometimes I feel like the newer ones are trying to be too unique.
I read the edition of Crime and Punishment by Penguin..."


I think the Penguin Edition was translated by David David Magarshack. I've read C&P in a couple of translations, and that one was my favorite by far. Unfortunately, I lost it along the way...




message 37: by Eric (new)

Eric (earector) | 5 comments Hamish wrote: "See, I personally avoid Garnett when at all possible..."

Ditto.




message 38: by Eric (new)

Eric (earector) | 5 comments Susan wrote: "I didn't know if this flop occurred because I was not wise enough to suggest the correct translation or if it is that some people just "don't get it". Please advise...."

I really like the Michael Glenny translation, but the publication (isbn: 0452008999) doesn't get the best reviews on Amazon...because of typos, etc.




message 39: by Loewyn (last edited Feb 15, 2011 03:30PM) (new)

Loewyn Young | 1 comments Damnit, I just checked my copies of Dostoevsky and every one of them was translated by Constance Garnet! No wonder they were so cheap. Thanks for the article!


message 40: by Charlize (new)

Charlize | 2 comments Any translations by Pevear/Volokhonsy- go for them! I've been in the same boat with the Garret translations :S


message 41: by Charlize (new)

Charlize | 2 comments Also- if anyone could recommend a few good biographies for me (Romanov's, Catherine the Great, etc) it would be appreciated :)


message 42: by Brad (new)

Brad | 4 comments Wow... this thread has certainly had lasting power! I feel so special!

Well since my initial post in 2007 I've read Bros. K. and The Idiot, both in the P&V translations and loved them. Well the books themselves (of couse:) but I found the translations to be great, though I feel a little strange saying that since I have not read the books in a different translation and therefore cannot compare. (Also read the book of Chekhov's "short novels" translated by P&V and it too was great all around).

I second Charlize's request for good biographies. I will say that I listened to Rayfield's Chekhov's biography and really enjoyed it. The ISBN for the book is 0805057471 but I listened to the audiobook that I got through audible.com.

Anyone else read that? Or like a different Chekhov bio that I should get into?

Thanks!


message 43: by Steve (new)

Steve Evans (steveevansofpahiatua) | 6 comments Sometimes Garnett is all there is, or all I can find...she's not much chop, but if you need the English, at least it is in some kind of English.

Presently I am reading The Adolescent in the P and V version and the translation seems excellent to me; I've also bought their version of Demons. However the Penguin Demons by Robert Macguire and others was available to me earlier and it too seems quite good. The McDuff version of Karamazov also seems excellent to me.

What seems likely is that these days translators of serious literature are pretty good at what they do. Demons is such a terrific if depressing book that I'll read the P/V translation and note the differences from Maguire.


message 44: by Bryn (last edited May 10, 2012 05:00PM) (new)

Bryn Hammond (brynhammond) I am in translation-confusion on my most beloved author, Dostoyevsky. - I managed to know him only through Constance Garnett (who, I feel, gets a little too much stick, at least since Joseph Frank supports her) and the execrable (sorry for the emotive language) David Magarshack - old Penguins, happily obsolete - and still he was not just my number-one writer but a writer apart.

So, I've recently purchased six P&Vs, read Karamazov and part one of The Idiot. But having got in touch with Steve from the post above (hi Steve) he alerted me to the new Penguins, by Maguire and McDuff, and I'm picking those up too. I opened the McDuff Karamazov - a fortnight after finishing the P&V - well, there's much more scholarly material in the dear Penguins, the translator's own intro does seem to have a grasp and insight, a vision of the book even (too individual?). I read the narrator's preamble and... found it distinctly better than any I had tried before. More characteristic language to catch the personality of this narrator Dostoyevsky has chosen. Funny, too.

The wild idea strikes me to go straight on with McDuff's Karamazov, while the P&V is in my memory, to determine to my own satisfaction what translations are for me...

One test, the test I always do in Karamazov, is the title phrase used in Book Four: 'strain' in P&V, 'crack-up' in McDuff, 'laceration' in Garnett and the Ralph E. Matlaw update of the Garnett that I have. I think 'strain' is too weak. In the Matlaw, a Norton Critical Edition, there's an essay that talks about that word in Russian. Hard to translate, but I gather it needs a strong term.


message 45: by Bryn (last edited May 12, 2012 05:16PM) (new)

Bryn Hammond (brynhammond) I went ahead with my experiment: to read the McDuff (Penguin) almost straight after the Pevear and Volokhonsky. I'm only a fifth in, but I know I'm a convert to the David McDuff. His language seems richer to me.

An eg. Alyosha to Rakitin in 'A Seminarian-Careerist':

McDuff: "Ivan's sights are set higher than that. Ivan would not be tempted even by thousands. Ivan isn't in quest of money, or peace of mind. He may possibly be in quest of torment."

P&V: "Ivan aims higher than that. Ivan won't be tempted by thousands either. Ivan is not seeking money, or ease. Perhaps he is seeking suffering."

Constance Garnett has: "Ivan is above that. He wouldn't make up to anyone for thousands. It is not money, it's not comfort Ivan is seeking. Perhaps it's suffering he is seeking?"

Hm, is that two against one? But - and even though I can't read the original - I like McDuff's 'quest': I am convinced that Alyosha spoke in this old-fashioned, high-flown way, at this moment; besides, the 'torment' goes with the chapter titles where Mitya is first investigated (where the torments are a specific Christian metaphor).

McDuff has two or three times used words I've never heard and/or doubt exist. Perhaps he includes these in his note: '[The translation] also aims to reproduce the somewhat idiosyncratic nature of the wording of certain passages, which is not always the one that might be expected either in Russian or in English'. He has come across to me more idiosyncratic. People's speech gets so eccentric they make up words on the spot or wrench them to fit. No other translator has given me words I don't understand, but I perfectly believe D. does the Russian equivalent.

Whenever a McDuff phrase strikes me I look up the P&V, and McDuff has won in the great majority of cases.

Translations are very personal. This simplifies things for me, however; it's a bummer when you don't know which to turn to.


message 46: by Nancy (new)

Nancy | 1 comments I'm reading Margarschack's translations of several of Dostoevsky's short stories. I have not been captivated by the style of writing. Notes from the Underground has felt especially tedious...not difficult but dull. I started looking into the question of translations, and have been won over to P/V mostly because their team approach seems to result in the best reflection of Dostoevsky's intent and his writing style.

It's hard for me to believe that Garnett's translations were anything but crude equivalents to what Dostoevsky actually wrote. She was not a native speaker of Russian (she was self taught), she worked in haste, and she was known to have omitted language that might have disturbed Victorian sensibilities. If people prefer her translations, it's because they're responding to Garnett's language and not to Dostoevsky's.

P/V work as a team with Larissa Volokhonsky, who is a Russian born translator of works in English, translating into English and Richard Pevear polishing the English in order to improve the flow. I believe the result is not just "modernized," but it's closer to the original. That's what should matter the most.

Here's a link to a New Yorker article on the subject.http://www.newyorker.com/archive/2005...


message 47: by David (new)

David (ahungerartist801) | 1 comments The Peaver and Volokhonsky version of Crime and Punishment is reading quite well for me. I avoid Constance Garnett at all costs.


message 48: by Vesna (new)

Vesna Damljanovic | 4 comments People
it is not mater translation(of course it is but it is performance for my advice),while you read Fyodor,you must go free your emotional.Dostoyevsky cant be understand,but you can feel him!His sucses is in that secvence"deep emotional",nothing else!


message 49: by Loei (new)

Loei Chan | 1 comments What if I am not limited to reading English? If we include German, Dutch and French translations, which would be the best?
I could imagine that both German and French would lend themselves better to convey the different nuances of Russian?


message 50: by Steve (new)

Steve Evans (steveevansofpahiatua) | 6 comments Loei wrote: "What if I am not limited to reading English? If we include German, Dutch and French translations, which would be the best?
I could imagine that both German and French would lend themselves better ..."


Loel of course this is relevant if you are fluent in another language but I am not sure that French or German would be "better suited" than any other. Translations are translations. There would be some technical issues too - Demons features long passages in affected French in the original intended to convey a character's falseness. English translations I know translate the passages in notes at the end or at the bottom of the page. I don't know how French translations would handle this since all the text would be in French. Perhaps they could render those passages in italics or something. If you have a French translation would be interested in finding out.


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