On Translating Tolstoy

Anna Karenina coverOn the occasion of the publication of my new translation of Leo Tolstoy's Anna Karenina, an interview with me for Yale Books Unbound on translating Tolstoy, in which I touch on "the joys and challenges of Tolstoy as well as his lesser-known witty side":

Yale University Press: Anna Karenina is a seminal work in literature. How do you approach translating something like that?

Marian Schwartz: A question straight out of a Marx Brothers movie! The answer, of course, is "very carefully." Every critic, scholar, and reader has an opinion, a pet peeve, a particular passage dear to her heart. Pity the poor translator who crosses one of them.

Along with the Maudes, Garnett—whose translations I do like and who must have been doing something right because she launched the English reader's love affair with Russian literature—was introducing Tolstoy to the English reader for the first time and so did what an author's first translator is often compelled to do: help the reader by writing an English text less challenging than the original Russian. Translators who followed Garnett, including me, benefited from her groundwork. Indeed, my impulse to translate this novel arose wholly from a passion bordering on obsession to take the next step after Garnett—a step translators between us did not take—and confront Tolstoy's aesthetic choices head-on. I wanted to convey the nuances not expressed directly, in so many words, but rather embedded in his aesthetic and stylistic choices.

You can read the rest here.

Tags: Schwartz, Tolstoy Yale University Press Russian classics

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