My Horse Came in Second, Russian Translators, & Did Dickens Meet Dostoevsky?

Golden Soul

Golden Soul

Isn’t Golden Soul gorgeous?

We got home just in time to watch the Kentucky Derby. Every year it starts when–5:25?–and I watch the horses and jockeys and pick my winner.  I picked Golden Soul minutes before the Kentucky Derby started.

He was such a long shot that everyone thought I was being stubborn for no reason.

“I like a long shot,” I said.   “I just think he’s the most beautiful horse.  I don’t care if he wins or not!”

He came in second!

Hurrah, Golden Soul.

Now if only I had bet–there’s win, place, or show–I could apparently have made some serious money!


war-and-peace-briggs-bigI am reading War and Peace for perhaps the seventh time.

I am delighted by Anthony Briggs’s wonderful 2005 translation, and recommend it to those of you who are making the difficult choice of which translation to read.  Of course I have also enjoyed the Maude, the Constance Garnett, and the Pevear and Volokhonsky, so it’s safe to say I’m not fussy.  (Or is there a bad translation of War and Peace somewhere?)

At my house the general opinion is that reading War and Peace may save my mind from the internet.   Blogging is bad enough, they think, but far, far worse is Twitter.

“I don’t get it.  You’ve read War and Peace six times and now you’re on Twitter?”

Am I on Twitter?  I don’t know my Twitter address.  (Far more likely that I’m on  War and Peace.)

If you don’t believe I prefer Tolstoy to Twitter, let me tell you that I even love his shorter works.  You think Tolstoy’s Resurrection is bad?  Try me.  I’ve read it and will be happy to read it again.

Hadji Murat by tolstoyMany novels and stories by Tolstoy have been translated in recent years to great acclaim.  When Oprah chose Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky’s Anna Karenina for her book club, no one thought anybody would read it.  May I just say that my book group, who aren’t always reading Tolstoy, read and loved it?

In the March/April edition of of Humanities,  Kevin Mahnken interviews Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky about their translations of Tolstoy and Dostoevsky.  They have finished Tolstoy’s major works: Hadji Murat was the last they translated.

The married couple’s process is interesting:  Volokhonsky, who is Russian, translates the Russian word for word, and then Pevear, who is American, smooths it out into literary English.

They started with Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov, because they thought a new translation was needed to convey the humor and irony.

The couple are thinking about translating Turgenev: I hope they do.


Naiman_Commentary_336746h Dickens and DostoevskyIn the TLS, Eric Naiman’s article,  “When Dickens Met Dostoevsky,” will divert both Dickens fans and Dostoevsky fans.

Did Dickens meet Dostoevsky?

Naiman begins his article, which actually reads like a mystery:

Late in 2011, Michiko Kakutani opened her New York Times review of Claire Tomalin’s biography of Charles Dickens with “a remarkable account” she had found in its pages. In London for a few days in 1862, Fyodor Dostoevsky had dropped in on Dickens’s editorial offices and found the writer in an expansive mood. In a letter written by Dostoevsky to an old friend sixteen years later, the writer of so many great confession scenes depicted Dickens baring his creative soul…

But it seems that no one quite knows where this letter is.  Hmmm.  Was it a hoax?

6 thoughts on “My Horse Came in Second, Russian Translators, & Did Dickens Meet Dostoevsky?

  1. I’ve been listening to Davina Porter read aloud Constance Garnett’s translation of Anna Karenina. I’m enjoying it very much — he seems to me to be in a dialogue with Trollopian motives. Dostoevksy is to Dickens as Tolstoy is to Trollope.


  2. It’s interesting how much our response to translators is a personal thing. I really *don’t* like the P/V translations I’ve tried and have found them clumsy when comparing passages with some others. However, I find Hugh Aplin’s excellent Dostoevsky translations are quite brilliant. As far as Tolstoy is concerned, I’ve always thought sticking with the Maudes would be the most reliable way as they actually knew Tolstoy and I believe he approved their work. Presumably we would get an authentic feel of T as they were producing a contemporary kind of version, not a modernised one. I guess it’s finding what works best for you!


  3. It is personal! I’ve been a Pevear/Volokhonsky devotee ever since I started reading Dostoevsky. It was nearly impossible for me to find the right notes in a different translation of The Gambler (forget which)–I had to switch midway through.

    Very interesting about the phantom meeting. I think of Bleak House as a very Russian book–like Dostoevsky’s Double or any of Gogol’s Petersburg petty clerk tales. Around the time of their supposed meeting, though, Dostoevsky would have moved away from what I think of as a Dickensian mode of writing and into the more spiritually intense phase that lasted for the rest of his career.


  4. Ellen, I love Constance Garnett, too. I have always enjoyed the descriptions of her sitting in a garden very quickly translating and writing while others drink tea or something (and where I read this I don’t know: in a biography of D. H. Lawrence? in somebody’s letters?).

    Kaggy, I loved Pevear and Volokhonsky’s translation of Doctor Zhivago, but the year it was published I found out that not everyone online liked it. The sentences are long and lyrical, and I wanted to reread it as soon as it was over, but many preferred the original translation, which, yes, I also like. I adore the Maude translations of Tolstoy, but have very much enjoyed the new translations, too. I agree: it’s personal. Sometimes one wants one style, another another.

    Edward, I haven’t read much Dostoevsky, but perhaps P and V would make a difference. It has been years and years since I read The Double, but oh, I love Bleak House! I’m very fond of Gogol, and didn’t make any connections with Dickens, but now I can read Dostoevsky and Gogol with the excuse that I’m preparing for Bleak House.


  5. I’ve read several Dostoevsky’s recently translated by Hugh Aplin and “The Gambler” in particular was excellent – I was gripped from start to finish. The notes are always excellent too – this I think was an Alma Classics version. I also read his translation of “The Double” and “Poor People” and I think too “Notes from Underground”. Yes, it *is* always a personal response to a translation and his versions certainly work for me!


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