It’s amazing how my reading and book thoughts have gone off on such a tangent with the Russian Reading Month. I felt obliged to dig out all my classics to see who they are translated by; I’m researching online, seeing what other people think; sending off for other editions with new translations. Yesterday found me particularly focusing on Tolstoy who I confess I’ve never made much headway with.

I own a few Tolstoy volumes – “The Kreutzer Sonata” which I attempted and gave up on recently (translated by David Duff); “The Death of Ivan Ilych”, a Wordsworth edition with no translator credited that I can see; and the two big books as follows:

My War and Peace is a lovely old hardback OUP World Classics which even has a fold out map!

My Anna Karenina, however, is a strange Pilot Press 2 volume edition.

On reading up about Tolstoy, it became clear that the translations by Aylmer and Louise Maude are something to be reckoned with as they knew Tolstoy personally and he approved their work. My W&P is the Maude translation and so I’m happy to go with that! My AK however, doesn’t state a translator and so I felt I really must have a Maude version. After a bit of research, I found that the current Wordsworth Classics version is the Maude one and it looks like this:

So a quick trip to my local branch of The Works was in order yesterday – at £1.99 there’s not a lot to complain about. A quick comparison with the first few paragraphs of my Pilot version shows differences, so I’m happy to have both and when there’s a spare day or two may actually get round to reading them!

However, the point I’m getting to is one which came up during my researches. It seems that in 2010 Oxford University Press published War and Peace in a version which contained the Maude translation revised by Amy Mandelker. This was apparently felt necessary to update the language to be more in keeping with modern speech, and that’s an argument I’ve seen given for the current slew of Pevear/Volokhonsky translations. I can’t say how much this offends me! The Maude translations were written in an English that was contemporary with Tolstoy’s Russian and so surely should be left in that version! Do we say we should re-write Dickens to update him because modern readers can’t cope with decent length sentences, slightly archaic words, richer vocabulary? I think not! We need to stop treating readers as idiots, spoon-feeding them as if they don’t have any wider experience or knowledge of history, literature etc. Some volumes I’ve read recently have had a ridiculous amount of footnotes, over-explaining everything – with the World Wide Web available to us, if there’s a word or an allusion we don’t get, it’s quite easy to look it up!

Enough ranting – my favourite translator of the moment is definitely turning out to be the discreetly prolific Hugh Aplin – having just finished his “Notes from the Underground” I’m very impressed and shall review soon. Russian Reading Month continues!

(As a footnote, many of the Wordsworth Classics versions of Russian authors are the much-criticised Constance Garnett versions – an inexpensive way for anyone that wants them to track them down).