(The Riverbank, Henri Matisse)

(NOTE: This post was moved over from my readalong blog, which I’ve since closed down) Two months into the Classics project, and I realized I’d read an entire stack of books but not written about any of them! In order to remedy this, I’ve posted some thoughts on Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s Love in the Time of Cholera over at tuesday in silhouette.

Planning for Russian Reading Month is coming along quite nicely. I’ve injected some order into the madness, and narrowed it down to two readalongs: Anna Karenina and The Master and Margarita, as well as a Russian Short Story Week.

I may be in danger of overestimating myself, because I’ve actually also joined Tien’s Les Miserables readalong. That will stretch from September to December, so it is slightly worrying – RRM sits right in the middle of that. Les Miserables will be a re-read for me, though, so I don’t mind being a little relaxed with the dates; I’ll probably be reading it into January, or even February.

I read Victor Hugo’s classic for the first time back in 2008,  in the Wordsworth edition. The translator isn’t named, but I cross-examined my book with the 1887 translation by Isabel Florence Hapgood on Project Gutenberg and it was slightly different, so I’m going to assume that it’s the 1862 Charles E. Wilbour translation.  The reason why I made such an assumption is because the language is quite archaic and reads a lot like a 19th century translation (much like Constance Garnett’s translations of Tolstoy), and there is a gaping schism in English translations until the 1970s, where Norman Denny comes into the picture.

For this readalong, I’ve decided to dive into an entirely different (but equally exciting) deep end, and try Julie Rose’s controversial new translation (published by Vintage Classics, and I think also Modern Library). Readers seem to be divided on extreme ends of the spectrum about this new edition, and I can understand why. Liberal translators who take artistic license in making classics ‘accessible’ to modern readers often receive a lot of criticism. Personally, I’m not a fan of contemporary idioms and slang used in translation, because it just shortens the life-span of that edition, and renders it unreadable to the next generation.

I’ve skimmed through the Vintage Classic edition, however, and apart from a few rather comic/jarring phrases, it doesn’t seem to be too awful. I’d take that sort of artistic license over the stilted, wooden, grammatically clunky translations of literalists like Pevear & Volokhonsky any day.

Also, talk came up of a Great Gatsby readalong in time for the Baz Luhrmann production, in one of my other posts – anyone interested in making this happen?


5 thoughts on “September

  1. Good to have you on board even though it’s a re-read. I do believe there are others who are jumping in for a re-read. Do take as much time as you like – it’s meant to be a fun time. It’s only regimented so I can finish before I see the movie ;)

  2. Matisse, my love! Hm.. so would you not recommend reading Anna Karenina in Pevear & Volokhonsky? I thought they were easy to read (I haven’t tried them, just the impression I’d gathered from others), but stilted and wooden and clunky would probably turn me off. I wanted to purchase the Vintage Classics edition of Les Miserables but they were always out of stock from The Book Depository whenever I checked. I’ll check again sometime.

    1. Can’t really recommend for or against the Pevear and Volokhonsky Anna Karenina, since I’ve never read that particular book – but I read an article about their latest translation of Doctor Zhivago, and the extracts I read there were terrible……. just a grammatical mess, and really convoluted language! I’ll try to find a link to the article

      1. Here it is:

        I actually found it quite funny haha, e.g.:

        “When Volokhonsky-Pevear write: “Having performed his traveling ablutions in pre-war comfort”, they translate the Russian word for word, and it sounds absurd. Hayward-Harari turn what it implies into easy English (“He washed and shaved in pre-war comfort”). This was certainly one of Pasternak’s principles as a translator. In his great translations of Shakespeare he cut, compressed, paraphrased and invented freely. He wrote Shakespeare in Russian.”

        “Volokhonsky-Pevear introduce us to a showy figure at the station, enigmatically wearing “an expensive fur coat trimmed with railway piping”. What does that mean? The unusual Russian adjective, “puteiskii”, suggests the function of a railway engineer. Hayward-Harari hazard an explanation: “an expensive fur-lined coat on which the piping of the railway uniform had been sewn”. The italicised words have no textual basis. Which is better? To trip up the reader on a trivial enigma, or to try to make sense of it?”

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