Nicholas (nwhyte) wrote,

Think of the Children! Reading Anna Karenina in translation

Some chums and I have got together on Facebook to read Anna Karenina over the next few months, at a chapter a day (they are mostly quite short chapters, so this will take us a while). We are doing it in English, as not enough of us are sufficiently fluent i Russian to tackle the original. This useful page gives various different translations of the first chapter to compare, and I think it's very helpful. For instance, the famous opening sentence, "Все счастливые семьи похожи друг на друга, каждая несчастливая семья несчастлива по-своему", is done by the different versions as follows:
Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.
(Constance Garnett, 1901)

All happy families resemble one another, each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.
(Louise and Aylmer Maude, 1918)

All happy families are alike but an unhappy family is unhappy after its own fashion.
(Rosemary Edmonds, 1949-50)

All happy families resemble one another, but each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.
(The Maude translation revised)

All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.
(Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky, 2008)

All happy families are alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.
(Kyril Zinovieff and Jenny Hughes, 2008)
No huge difference between any of those; the sentiment is pretty clear, and the fact that there are no actual verbs in the Russian sentence means that it cannot be translated with quite the same ring into languages that do use verbs in sentences like this.

But I was struck by the weirdness of my cheap Constance Garnett translation's version of a phrase in the middle of the next paragraph, which describes what is happening in the Oblonsky household as a result of Dolly discovering Stiva's affair, and comparison with other translations indicated that she had got it wrong:
Дети бегали по всему дому, как потерянные

The children ran wild all over the house
(Constance Garnett, 1901)

the children ran about all over the house uneasily
(Louise and Aylmer Maude, 1918)

The children strayed all over the house, not knowing what to do with themselves.
(Rosemary Edmonds, 1949-50)

the children ran restlessly about the house
(The Maude translation revised)

The children were running all over the house as if lost
(Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky, 2008)

The children were wandering about the house like lost souls
(Kyril Zinovieff and Jenny Hughes, 2008)
There's a tension here between бегать, imperfective of "to run", and потерянный, "lost", which goes back to the original text. (And also по всему дому, "through the whole house", which shows that they are not lost but know where they are.) I think I end up with an image of the kids, both energised and emotionally uprooted by their parents' row, running around the house as if they didn't know where they were. I like Zinovieff and Hughes' "lost souls", but it maybe pushes it a bit far and they have toned down "running" to "wandering". Edmonds goes in the same direction but not so far, and helpfully unpacks "lost". Garnett's "ran wild" is clearly much further from the original sense, though - "wild" brings in a whole new idea which simply isn't in Tolstoy.

So I think I will switch to one of the more recent translations, though not quite sure which.
Tags: language: russian, translation, writer: leo tolstoy

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