NABOKV-L post 0026890, Sat, 27 Feb 2016 10:34:30 -0300

RES: [NABOKV-L] QUERY -- VN and checking translations
Tom Rymour: Fellini once took a film company to court for defamation. It had produced an English dubbed version that was an insult to the artistry of his Italian original. And I vaguely remember reading that Nabokov took up writing in English because the first English translation of Camera Obscura was so flawed.*

Jansy Mello: Hi, Tom. How wonderful to find you writing to the List after such a long interval.
I checked further about your tip on “Laughter in the Dark” and here’s the wiki:
“The first English translation, Camera Obscura, was made by Winifred Roy and published in London in 1936 by Johnathan Long, the paperback imprint of, with the author credited as Vladimir Nabokoff-Sirin. Nabokov was so displeased by the translation's quality that he undertook his own, which was published in 1938 under the now common name, Laughter in the Dark. It is sometimes mistakenly assumed that he was not fond of the book, yet in fact it was based on very personal breakthroughs in his life.”
If I remember it correctly, the story is somewhat more complicated than reported by wikipedia, although I usually get the information mixed up about V.Nabokov’s changing completely its opening paragraphs - and what happened with his other Russian novel “Despair,” (a name like Schlemel comes to my mind but I found no reference to him in wiki so the name must be incorrect and I have no copies of either Despair or Laughter in the Dark at hand now) : “Despair ( Отчаяние, or Otchayanie) is the seventh novel by, originally published in Russian, in the politicized during 1934.
It was then published as a book in 1936, and translated to English by the author in 1937. Most copies of the 1937 English edition were destroyed by German bombs during [ ]WWII; only a few copies remain. Nabokov published a second English translation in 1965; this is now the only English translation in print.”
VN’s own foreword to “Despair” merits special consideration when he mentions something like having foreglimpses of his old self in the young writer he was at that time, and how he envisages him from his present situation (a game with mirrors similar to what happens in the novel).

I hadn’t paid suficient attention to Hen Hanna’s inquiry about V.Nabokov’s firing the unfaithful translator when I first answered the posting. The entire episode related to the first translation of “Pale Fire” into French could be checked. One of the translators suffered a nervous breakdown, or so it seems, after suffering under V.Nabokov’s meticulous supervision of his work. I don’t know if he was fired but the recollection of what I read at the time was, for me, less anedoctal than it was painful as a report of what occurred at that time.

Now, unfaithful editors that need to be fired... there’s a lot in VN’s fiction, starting with Kinbote versus Sybil and Prof. Hurley, the collaboration of Van and Ada with Oranger, or the helpful hand Hugh receives in his passage to the “netherworld” in “Transparent Things”.

There’s a positive view of translator’s that is made indirectly in “Pale Fire” relayed through Keats and that reflects on John Shade’s choosing to work following Alexander Pope! “On first looking into Chapman’s Homer” **
John Shade: and from the local Star
A curio: Red Sox Beat Yanks 5-4
On Chapman’s Homer, thumbtacked to the door.
Charles Kinbote: Line 98: On Chapman’s Homer
A reference to the title of Keats’ famous sonnet (often quoted in America) which, owing to a printer’s absent-mindedness, has been drolly transposed, from some other article, into the account of a sports event. For other vivid misprints see note to line 802.


*On 2016-02-26 00:54, Hen Hanna wrote:
I'd appreciate help on any of these questions about VN and translation.

1. Is there an anecdote about VN checking a sample translation
done by a translator, finding it poor and firing the translator?
I have not found such an episode in
[Vladimir Nabokov : The American Years] by Brian Boyd.

2. Are there similar anecdotes involving other authors?
I just read one about Alexander Pope, but it is not
quite what I've been looking for
(because the translator Pope hired was cheating).

>>> Comparison of a back-translation with the original text is
sometimes used as a check on the accuracy
of the original translation <<<

This makes sense in theory, but a translation would have to be
really poor for a back-translation check to be useful.
Was back-translation actually used by VN or someone else?

Thank you. HH

** - “Keats' generation was familiar enough with the polished literary translations of John Dryden <> and Alexander Pope <> , which gave Homer an urbane gloss similar to Virgil <> , but expressed in blank verse <> or heroic couplets <> . Chapman's vigorous and earthy paraphrase (1616) was put before Keats by Charles Cowden Clarke <> , a friend from his days as a pupil at a boarding school in Enfield Town <> .[1] <> They sat up together till daylight to read it: "Keats shouting with delight as some passage of especial energy struck his imagination. At ten o'clock the next morning, Mr. Clarke found the sonnet on his breakfast-table." (from wikipedia)

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