Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0026894, Sun, 28 Feb 2016 12:24:26 -0300

RES: [NABOKV-L] QUERY -- VN and checking translations

J.M: There’s a positive view of translators 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” **//** - “Keats' generation was familiar enough with the polished literary translations of <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Dryden> John Dryden and <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alexander_Pope> Alexander Pope, which gave Homer an urbane gloss similar to <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Virgil> Virgil, but expressed in <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blank_verse> blank verse or <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heroic_couplet> heroic couplets. Chapman's vigorous and earthy paraphrase (1616) was put before Keats by <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Cowden_Clarke> Charles Cowden Clarke, a friend from his days as a pupil at a boarding school in <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Enfield_Town> Enfield Town. <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/On_First_Looking_into_Chapman%27s_Homer> [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)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.

Jansy Mello: I hadn’t really noticed that Shade’s reference to Aunt Maud’s clipping about Chapman’s Homer ( homer: home run), misinterpreted by Charles Kinbote when he introduced the sonnet by Keats with no indication of the baseball game, could be anything more than the inclusion of a funny newspaper information and coincidence in names.

John Shade had confessed, already, that: “I walked at my own risk: whipped by the bough,/Tripped by the stump. Asthmatic, lame and fat,/ 130 I never bounced a ball or swung a bat. An interesting description of a doorknob/bat appears in C. Kinbote’s note on an unpublished poem by Shade, “The Wing”,which he then includes, has the lines: “The shadow of the doorknob that/ At sundown is a baseball bat/ Upon the door;/”

(btw: While perusing the novel I also discovered that the nocturnal bats play an important part in Charles Kinbote’s notes. He compares Gradus to a cross between a bat and a crab, there’s a reference to a painting by Aunt Maud with a bat and a lot more.)

In sum, what was really VN’s opinion about Shade’s choice to employ heroic couplets when this is set side by side with what is known about the translations of the Odyssey by Pope and Keats, and his theories about translation?


Hen Hanna: I suggest you read VN “On Translation”. It can be found online at:

<http://www.newrepublic.com/article/113310/vladimir-nabokov-art-translation> http://www.newrepublic.com/article/113310/vladimir-nabokov-art-translation

excerpt: The howlers included in the first category be in their turn divided into two classes. Insufficient acquaintance with the foreign language involved may transform a commonplace expression into some remarkable statement that the real author never intended to make. “Bien être general” becomes the manly assertion that “it is good to be a general”; to which gallant general a French translator of “Hamlet” has been known to pass the caviar. Likewise, in a German edition of Chekhov, a certain teacher, as soon as he enters the classroom, is made to become engrossed in “his newspaper,” which prompted a pompous reviewer to comment on the sad condition of public instruction in pre-Soviet Russia. But the real Chekhov was simply referring to the classroom “journal” which a teacher would open to check lessons, marks and absentees. And inversely, innocent words in an English novel such as “first night” and “public house” have become in a Russian translation “nuptial night” and “a brothel.” These simple examples suffice. They are ridiculous and jarring, but they contain no pernicious purpose; and more often than not the garbled sentence still makes some sense in the original context.

Extracted from “The Stories of Vladimir Nabokov” (focusing on “translators”):

First published in two issues of the Russian emigre Rul' (Berlin), November 12 and 13, 1925. Reprinted in the collection Vozvrashchenie Chorba, Slovo, Berlin, 1930.

An English version by Gleb Struve ("The Return of Tchorb" by Vladimir Sirin) appeared in the anthology This Quarter (vol. 4, no. 4, June 1932), published in Paris by Edw. W. Titus. After rereading that version forty years later I was sorry to find it too tame in style and too inaccurate in sense for my present purpose. I have retranslated the story completely in collaboration with my son.

It was written not long after my novel Mashen'ka (Mary) was finished and is a good example of my early constructions. The place is a small town in Germany half a century ago. I notice that the road from Nice to Grasse where I imagined poor Mrs. Chorb walking was still unpaved and chalky with dust around 1920. I have skipped her mother's ponderous name and patronymic "Varvara Klimovna," which would have meant nothing to my Anglo-American readers.

V.N., Details of a Sunset and Other Stories, 1976

A NURSERY TALE (page 161)

"A Nursery Tale" (Skazka) was written in Berlin in late May or early June 1926, and serialized in the emigre daily Rul' (Berlin), in the issues of June 27 and 29 of that year. It was reprinted in my Vozvrashchenie Chorba collection, Slovo, Berlin, 1930.

A rather artificial affair, composed a little hastily, with more concern for the tricky plot than for imagery and good taste, it required some revamping here and there in the English version. Young Erwin's harem, however, has remained intact. I had not reread my "Skazka" since 1930 and, when working now at its translation, was eerily startled to meet a somewhat decrepit but unmistakable Humbert escorting his nymphet in the story I wrote almost half a century ago.

V.N., Tyrants Destroyed and Other Stories, 1975

THE PASSENGER (page 183)

"Passazhir" was written in early 1927 in Berlin, published in Rul', Berlin, March 6, 1927, and included in the collection Vozvrashchenie Chorba, by V. Sirin, Slovo, Berlin, 1930. An English translation by Gleb Struve appeared in Lovat Dickson's Magazine, edited by P. Gilchrist Thompson (with my name on the cover reading V. Nobokov [«c]-Sirin), vol. 2, no. 6, London, June 1934. It was reprinted in A Century of Russian Prose and Verse from Pushkin to Nabokov, edited by O. R. and R. P. Hughes and G. Struve, with the original en regard, New York, Harcourt, Brace, 1967. I was unable to use Struve's version in this volume for the same reasons that made me forgo his "Tchorb's Return" (see Introduction to it). […]

V.N., Details of a Sunset and Other Stories, 1976

THE POTATO ELF (page 228)

This is the first faithful translation of "Kartofel'nyy el'f written in 1929 in Berlin, published there in the emigre daily Rul' (December 15, 17, 18, and 19, 1929) and included in Vozvrashcbenie Chorba, Slovo, Berlin, 1930, a collection of my stories. A very different English version (by Serge Bertenson and Irene Kosinska), full of mistakes and omissions, appeared in Esquire, December 1939, and has been reprinted in an anthology {The Single Voice, Collier, London, 1969).[ ] V.N., A Russian Beauty and Other Stories, 1973

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