Hosted by Jennie Erdal
As many of you will know there has been a variety of translations of War and Peace since it was first published into English as Jennie explained when the event began.
This event was going to focus on five translations of the book into English and the differences between the translations. The five translators that were the focus of this workshop was Constance Garnett (1904), Aylmer & Louise Maude (1922), Rosemary Edmonds (1957), Anthony Briggs (2005) and the most recent translation of Richard Pevear & Larissa Volokhonsky (2005).
The focus of the first half of the event was translations. Words are the starting blocks to all translations and translators have to have a love affair with words. Translation is all about taking something in one language and making it available to the masses. There are difficult areas to translate into another language such as tone, form, rhythm and structure of sentences.
In the UK we seem to be resistant to the idea of translation, out of the 125-150K novels that are published in the UK each year only about 3% are translated fiction. Compare this to France where the average is 30%, this shows how far behind the UK are when it comes to translated fiction. In the UK we seem to what the English to be as smooth and flow and this does not always happen with it comes to translations.
The Russian language is more direct than the English language. However when this is translated straight into English it would come across as rude. Russian’s use less words to express phrases than what would be used in English and this can be a difficulty when translating Russian into English.
All aspects of human passion are present in War and Peace and it scales historical, religious and social problems. Tolstoy went deeper into human nature than any author before him. The reception to War and Peace was not all positive at first. The aspects of the novel that didn’t appeal to people included the fact that there was not a single hero in the book, what was the subject? (life itself) and the lack of a satisfactory ending.
Repetition is the one of the biggest characteristics of Tolstoy’s style however this has been lost in the majority of the translations. The newest translation by Richard Pevear & Larissa Volokhonsky is the most truest to Tolstoy’s writing and keeps the repetition in it.
The fact that Richard Pevear & Larissa Volokhonsky translation is the most accurate to Tolstoy’s work is something that does worry me as a reader. This is the only translation of Tolstoy’s work that I could not finished. I felt that the English within the book did not flow and now I understand that this is due to the fact it has stayed true to the Russian language that Tolstoy originally wrote in.
The start of War and Peace actually begins in French not Russian, however the majority of translators have chosen to translate this French into English instead of leaving it in the original French as the author intended. This was obviously done on purpose by Tolstoy as the first section was in French in the original Russian version. Tolstoy used this French to tell us that this was an Aristocrat family of high social standing. However English readers can’t receive French in the same way as Russian readers, in Russia at that time, French was used to put people down. About 2% of the actual novel is in French for this purpose. Only when reading the text in the original Russian would the French within the novel come over naturally.
Names within a text are always a problem when it comes to translating any text, names can be translated and interpreted in different ways. There is different forms of transliteration example would be is it a I or a Y?
Anthony Briggs was extremely critical of the first three translations, it was mainly an attack on a certain kind of woman who translated War and Peace before him. He wanted to make a difference in the dialogue, there is a certain rawness and earthiness to the fiction he produced.
Tolstoy did not write War and Peace for English readers, it is the translators job to translate the Russian as accurately as they can into English. This is a problem faced by every translators as by translating a text you are going to change the original text as no text can translate perfectly into another language.
Overall I thoroughly enjoyed this event and certainly opened my mind to aspects of Tolstoy that had certainly pasted me by in the past. My only criticism of this event would be that it was held in the writer’s retreat (not my favourite venue) and there was only about 20 tickets allocated for this events but they kept the seats so close together that actually felt like a sardine in a tin and this was not comfortable for an hour and a half. However I am looking forward to the other reading workshops I am going to this year and I do hope they keep them up in the years to come.