Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0025272, Sat, 12 Apr 2014 16:54:05 -0300

[SIGHTING] Nabokov on Constance Garnett
Poor Constance Garnett. Such noble ambition, such a pioneer translator of
the Russian giants, such a heroic hard worker. And yet so cruelly maligned.

Alas, her enduring image is a daffy old lady. David Remnick writes in The
New Yorker that a young drama student called Meryl Streep once played her in
a satire, The Idiots Karamazov, at the Yale Repertory Theatre. Streep
portrayed her as a ''muddled loon'' constantly mangling the translator's

Vladimir Nabokov reviled her translation of Anna Karenina as ''a complete
disaster'' and her version of Gogol as ''dry shit''. Joseph Brodsky said
that the reason English-speaking readers couldn't tell the difference
between Tolstoy and Dostoevsky was that they weren't reading the prose of
either one: ''They're reading Constance Garnett.''

The latest barb from the anti-Garnett brigade came from Lebanese writer
Rabih Alameddine at last month's Adelaide Writers Week. ''I came across her
when I read her translation of Crime and Punishment and I thought it was
wonderful,'' he said. ''Little did we know that she was also horrible.''
Until the 1960s, Garnett's was the only English version of the Dostoevsky
masterpiece. ''My aunt told me, 'Try the French translation, it's funnier'.
Constance Garnett was never funny.''

Read more:

Turning pages - The Sydney Morning Herald.

Date April 12, 2014 Jane Sullivan


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