Anna Karenina Anna Karenina question

Which English translation of Anna Karenina was the best?
Aaditya Mandalemula Aaditya Mar 08, 2012 12:00PM
I always had difficulty reading high English. I tried to some how get through Tobias Smollet's Don Quixote, but still may be that was because that book was amazing and interesting all through. Tolstoy's Anna Karenina doesn't seem to be that exciting and entertaining. Can you please tell me which English translation was the easiest to read, but still maintains it's accuracy of the Novel's meaning and depth?

I'm going to go against everyone else, here.

I read the P&V translation. Then, I immediately began to re-read it, but in the Constance Garnett translation.

I didn't think it was a big difference. To hear people talk about it, CG did a terrible job and the book is just awful because of her language. While there are occasional differences in the exact words used, most sentences are exactly the same. And, there's no striking difference in tone.

I make a point of saying this because the CG translation can be gotten for free as an eBook and I'd hate for someone to not read Anna Karenina just because they can't afford the P&V translation. If you can get P&V affordably, then go for it. But if you want to save money, I don't think you stand to lose anything of the enjoyment of this book by using CG.

M 25x33
Michael Teo ..The Constance Garnett was the translation which I had read, AND depended on throughout my higher education. It is dependable, accessible, and litera ...more
Jul 26, 2020 05:45AM · flag

By far the best translation is the Penguin version translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky. They are a married couple who have translated many Russian novels (their War & Peace was exquisite). Not only do they try to maintain Tolstoy's voice as rigorously as possible, they also include about 50 pages of notes explaining the cultural references Tolstoy used, so no allusion is overlooked. Read their versions of Russian literature to get the fullest immersion into the text.

If you have a chance and like this mode at all, if you don't read Russian, you might try reading one translation while listening to another. I find this "trick" often gives one insight into the translators' dilemmas and possible nuances of the native language (as well as of our own).

Off hand, I don't remember who it was, but one English woman who translated Tolstoy was apparently friendly with him. To what extent he approved of her translations, I am unsure. They did both represent pretty much the same time period, but obviously in two different cultures. P&V have a reputation of presenting some of the best of what is understood about doing responsible translations today. (If interested, there is a series of articles about their work that appeared in the NYT. They can probably be found with a Google search.)

deleted member Dec 23, 2012 03:41PM   2 votes
I started reading the Maude translation of Anna Karenina, but before I could finish it, I had to return it to the library, I read the rest of the book in the Constance Garret translation. The Maude one was a little easier to read, I thought.

deleted member Jun 16, 2016 11:57AM   1 vote
Constance Garnett's is very good, and both of the new ones, Marian Schwartz and Rosamund Bartlett. Pevear & Volokhonsky's translation does not read as nicely as these do.

Lucy Day (last edited Aug 16, 2021 05:04AM ) Aug 16, 2021 04:58AM   1 vote
Tricky question... Many readers are likely to recommend whichever one they themselves read, which is probably whichever one happened to be on hand at the time, and not necessarily the "best", whatever that means. I read the Wordsworth Maude paperback.

The trendy translation is Pevear and Volokhonsky, because Oprah chose it for her book club in 2004. Two subsequent translations, by Bartlett and Schwartz, have both been well received. Consumers of cheap paperbacks and free ebooks gravitate towards the still-satisfying Garnett translation, which is in the public domain. There are other choices, altogether too many choices, but whichever you choose, it's still a good book.

Visit for a full listing of translations (14 total!) and more information on each one, including links to reviews and sample extracts:

What's the best translation of Anna Karenina?

P&V translations of Russian literature are NOT highly regarded. This translation of AK was chosen by Oprah because it was accessible not because it was superior. My vote is for Constance Garnett's translation edited by Kent & Berberova and published by Modern Library. Garnett was an amazing woman and a very good translator. Janet Malcom's article in the NYRB may interest you.

Li (last edited Jun 23, 2020 06:31AM ) Jun 23, 2020 04:32AM   1 vote
I read the Richard Pevear & Larissa Volokhonsky translation. Occasionly I would feel a bit confused regards to what Tolstoy was trying to say, so I had to go to the Constance Garnett translation freely available on internet, and would find that Contance Garnett used a different word, a mot juste, in my opinion, that suddenly enlighted me. The differences are small, one uses "desperately", "the need to live was so strong" while the other uses "in despair", "the desire for life was so intense", so you cannot say one is wrong, but you just suddenly feel that you learned more what was going on with one translation than with the other. Based on a few isolated examples, I suspect Constance Garnett has a better sense of language. But I could be wrong, because it is also possible that, if I had been reading the Constance Garnett translation, I might also have occasion to find myself coming to the Richard Pevear translation for comparison and feel enlightened.

So my advice? Go with the free Constance Garnett translation. As a professional translator myself (Chinese-English) and well aware of how tricky it is to compare the merits of different translations, I seriously doubt whoever wrote the book review for the Richard Pevear translation was himself/herself a qualified translator and had commited the time to do a careful comparison between the two before writing the review. After all, generations of English readers, including some famous writers, did not seem to suffer much loss when they missed out on the benefits of the newer translations.

Aditya wrote: "I always had difficulty reading high English. I tried to some how get through Tobias Smollet's Don Quixote, but still may be that was because that book was amazing and interesting all through. Tols..."

I highly recommend Constance Garnett's translation. Her prose is far superior to P&V's. Additionally, the more I learn about P&V, the less I wish I knew about them. According to a New Yorker article, Pevear has never been to Moscow...and never has a desire to go. Talk about ugly Americanism!

I'd check out this great article in Commentary by Gary Saul Morson before deciding on a translation yourself:

Cams Thank you for posting that link. Fascinating. I didn't realise that the CG version had been revised. I compared the excerpt of Anna Karenina that was ...more
Oct 20, 2020 04:31AM · flag

Wow, I'm very late! However, for anyone who sees this in the future, I believe that the Rosamund Bartlett translation is the best translation. It is not difficult to comprehend or follow along with, and it still manages to keep the beauty and vibrancy that the words of Anna Karenina are supposed to hold.

Maude all day, easily the best one.

It may not be a smooth read, its gets cranky someway in the middle. but, leo tolstoys' plot is very compulsive. i haven't read two or more versions to judge. i read the one by constance garnett, its good. however, i cannot assure its easy.
all the best.

I'm not sure who the translator was, but I read the Oprah book club version of it - I think it was a Penguin classics. I haven't read any other versions to compare, but I found it quite readable.

Constance Garnett toward the end stops translating any French. I'm stuck in book 7 now because I drive all day and can't keep stopping to pull up Gutenberg text to copy the French to google translate. Is this habit of untranslated translation continued by other translators?

I read the Louise and Aylmer Maude translation in high school, and I thought it was very readable.

I drive for a living but since Constance Garnett stopped translating French in Book 7 I am stuck. Can anyone warn me if this is just her untranslation problem or did other translators do this also?

I read Anna Karenina when I was a freshman in college. I read it in a Chinese translation. It was well translated. I read an English translation after that but did not remember how good it was. I would like to find one that is not only accurately but also beautifully translated.

I am about to read different translations. I always assume a translation is a kind of interpretation. Thank each of you for your comments.

Kyle (last edited Feb 26, 2020 10:00AM ) Feb 26, 2020 09:50AM   0 votes
By and large my favorite of the three translations I've been able to read from has been the Garnett translations with revisions by Leonard J Kent and Nina Berberova. It was published by Modern Library Classics.

I also much prefer the Rosamund Bartlett translation to that of P&V.

P&V's Anna Karenina felt stilted and awkward to me. But their translation of Bulgakov's The Master and Margarita is probably the best translation of that text I've ever seen.

deleted member Dec 23, 2012 04:40AM   0 votes
I read the Pevear and Volokhonsky translation a couple of years ago, and just recently I read the Joel Carmichael translation, and I enjoyed the charmichael translation more. I don't remember the P&V translation perfectly but I enyoyed reading it more this time around. It seemed like the prose were denser and more fluid, probably more the way Tolstoy intended them to be read.

I'm a big fan of Librivox because I work with my hands all day and need to listen to something. It's a very different experience to reading the book, of course, but I just listened to the CG translation, and it was quite compelling.

I do have a question though, for those of you that have experience with other translations: several times in the CG version, there are character descriptions that seem to get contradicted abruptly. At Kitty's wedding, she is described as having lost her looks, but then looking especially beautiful. Levin, so serious throughout, is occasionally described as good-humored as if this were a general trait. I had to wonder if these seemingly sudden changes were due to the text being translated...or just part of hearing the words rather than reading them off the page!

I'm sure he gets that the majority of us drool over this novel, but did anyone actually want to answer the question directly? Let me try to persuade you to read this novel ... I have read almost every available English-printed edition.

Any of the Maude translations are thought to be the most closely synonymous to the Russian novel Tolstoy produced. There are two editions, less flowery than most, that you may find more to your particular liking. First and foremost, you may do well to consider The Oxford World's Classics edition (one of the many Maude translations) and then, secondly, the Joel Carmichael translation from Bantam Classics.

I do hope you'll find a translation that suits you! This novel truly is one of the greatest literary accomplishments of all time, and deserves its own, sacred spot on every man's bookshelf.

The assertion below that the P&V translations are not highly regarded is categorically absurd. I studied Russian Literature at UC Berkeley, and the Pevear/Volokhonsky translations of Dostoevsky were assigned. I can't comment on the Tolstoy translations as I've not read them, but to claim they are not highly respected translators is laughable. Any casual perusal of the world's top Slavic Language and Literature departments will confirm this.

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