201 Stories by Anton Chekhov
November 11, 2007 12:39 AM   Subscribe

201 Stories by Anton Chekhov translated by Constance Garnett presented in order of Russian publication.
posted by Kattullus (24 comments total) 49 users marked this as a favorite
Simply fantastic. Thanks.
posted by Rumple at 12:43 AM on November 11, 2007

Holy shit. Thanks!
posted by Iridic at 12:46 AM on November 11, 2007

[This is good.]
posted by trip and a half at 2:14 AM on November 11, 2007

I loves me some Chekhov. Gusev gives me the tingles.
posted by fleetmouse at 5:55 AM on November 11, 2007

YouTube fails me in my search for the Viva Variety! sketch "Chekhov Does Chekhov". Nor do they have "The Importance of Being Ernest."
posted by Eideteker at 6:34 AM on November 11, 2007

Books by Chekov at Internet Archive. Scanned books, color, some illustrated, early editions with original typeface and formating. Tr. by Constance Garnett and others.
posted by stbalbach at 6:39 AM on November 11, 2007

Holy crap, this is awesome! I've been meaning to read some Checkhov.

Actually, I've also been wanting to see some of his plays. Does anybody know of a theater troupe in NYC that performs his work?
posted by Afroblanco at 6:48 AM on November 11, 2007

How 'bout that old Constance Garnett, anyway? The whole Russian literature thing of the early 20th century in the English-speaking world, was really a Constance Garnett thing, wasn't it? She did for the Russian what Gregory Rabassa did for the South Americans fifty years later -- as far as we English speakers are concerned, they ARE the literary movements they translated. You only get one chance to make a first impression...
posted by Faze at 7:33 AM on November 11, 2007 [1 favorite]

New York Review of Books regarding Mrs Garnett:
No one did more to introduce the English-speaking world to Russian literature than Constance Garnett (1862– 1946), who translated into graceful late-Victorian prose seventy major Russian works, including seventeen volumes of Turgenev, thirteen volumes of Dostoevsky, six of Gogol, four of Tolstoy, six of Herzen, seventeen of Chekhov, and books by Goncharov and Ostrovsky. A friend of Garnett's, D.H. Lawrence, recalled her
sitting out in the garden turning out reams of her marvelous translations from the Russian. She would finish a page, and throw it off on a pile on the floor without looking up, and start a new page. The pile would be this high...really almost up to her knees, and all magical.[2]
She worked so fast that when she came across an awkward passage she would leave it out. She made mistakes. But her stylish prose, which made the Russian writers so accessible, and seemingly so close to the English sensibility, ensured that her translations would remain for many years the authoritative standard of how these writers ought to sound and feel. For the English-reading public, Russian literature was what Garnett made of it. As Joseph Conrad wrote in 1917, "Turgeniev for me is Constance Garnett and Constance Garnett is Turgeniev."[3]

The Russians were not so impressed. Nabokov called her Gogol translations "dry and flat, and always unbearably demure."[4] Kornei Chukovsky accused her of smoothing out the idiosyncrasies of writers' styles so that "Dostoevsky comes in some strange way to resemble Turgenev":
In reading the original [of Notes from Underground], who does not feel the convulsions, the nervous trembling of Dostoevsky's style? It is expressed in convulsions of syntax, in a frenzied and somehow piercing diction where malicious irony is mixed with sorrow and despair. But with Constance Garnett it becomes a safe blandscript: not a volcano, but a smooth lawn mowed in the English manner—which is to say a complete distortion of the original.[5]
Joseph Brodsky sniped that the "reason English-speaking readers can barely tell the difference between Tolstoy and Dostoevsky is that they aren't reading the prose of either one. They're reading Constance Garnett."
posted by stbalbach at 7:40 AM on November 11, 2007 [8 favorites]

Richard Pevear has done a recent translation of many Chekov stories, it is probably the best available, but only 30 stories. Pevear also did the Complete Short Novels . Then there is The Complete Plays, a "stunning" new translation published this year.
posted by stbalbach at 7:50 AM on November 11, 2007 [1 favorite]

Does anybody know of a theater troupe in NYC that performs his work?

Self-link: Folding Chair Classical Theatre.

We do a Chekhov every couple of years.
posted by grumblebee at 7:54 AM on November 11, 2007 [2 favorites]

By the way, if you want to see some fun adaptations, I recommend this triple feature"

"Vanya on 42nd Street"
"Country Life"
posted by grumblebee at 7:58 AM on November 11, 2007

"It is this genius for stating only the simplest truth as simply as can be that makes Chekhov inexhaustible — like life. We can see him for the hundredth time when we are sick of everything else in the theater, just as we can read his stories when everything else, even detectives and science fiction, bores us." (Kenneth Rexroth)
posted by Bureau of Public Secrets at 8:36 AM on November 11, 2007

That's cool, but how about his plays?
posted by dbarefoot at 8:56 AM on November 11, 2007

Chris Durang and Albert Innaurato paid irreverent homage to Ms. Garnett (portrayed as an "80 year old, wheelchair bound “translatrix” of many Russian works")

in The Idiots Karamazov

A then-unknown Meryl Streep played Constance

"Ms. Garnett attempts to tell the audience her memories of when she translated Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov, but she promptly confuses the Karamazov brothers with Chekhov’s Three Sisters, leading to the song O We Gotta Get to Moscow."
posted by mer2113 at 10:10 AM on November 11, 2007 [1 favorite]

One of the cool things about his plays is how many playwrights have translated/adapted them. "Uncle Vanya" is an especial favorite. It's fascinating reading these multiple versions. I know of ones by David Mamet, Michael Frayn and Brian Friel. There's a version of "The Seagull" by Tennessee Williams called "The Notebook of Trigorin."
posted by grumblebee at 10:13 AM on November 11, 2007

Chekhov's stories are an amazing read - he's utterly on-target with the perfect balance of distance from/sympathy with his characters. It was a new approach, and he took hits from critics for not making his moral positions about their situations more direct and obvious. The critics were so wrong.

For what it's worth, Garnett's translation of "Anna On The Neck" is the first Chekhov story I read and the one that got me to plow through tons more. Anna's transformation at the winter ball is a glorious moment in literature. I then found the Pevear & Volokhonsky translations easier to read, which, according to this great discussion at languagehat's site, is the main reason folks over-praise them (see also here). But in the end I find myself more annoyed at the idea that Garnett's late Victorian sensibilities may have flattened elements of Chekhov's insight than at the idea that P&V aren't completely accurate.

Either way, though, Chekhov is an essential read - full of heart but never shying away from darkness.
posted by mediareport at 10:20 AM on November 11, 2007

Constance Garnett's translation are terrible. She omits whole pages, probably because they puzzled her. But badly translated Chekhov is better than no Chekhov at all.

Two plays (translation uncredited, but probably Garnett's): Uncle Vanya, The Cherry Orchard. Also see index.
posted by whimwit at 10:23 AM on November 11, 2007

Constance Garnett's translation are terrible. She omits whole pages, probably because they puzzled her.

If you're implying they're terrible because she omits material, you're wrong. A translation can be great despite being incomplete and/or misunderstanding the original (e.g., Pound's versions of Chinese poetry in Cathay) or terrible despite being accurate (if they're also tin-eared or boring). And I'd sure like to see some backup for the assertion about omitting "whole pages," because I think you pulled that out of your ass.
posted by languagehat at 12:22 PM on November 11, 2007 [1 favorite]

Languagehat--If you believe that a good literary translation is possible without knowledge of the source language, however cursory, as in Pound's case with Chinese, we are in violent disagreement.

The poems Pound wrote under the influence of the Chinese originals are good and stand up on their own merits. But if we call them translations, we might as well call John Gardner's Grendel a translation of Beowulf. Interpretations or revisions have always seemed more apt to me.

As for demonstration of my point about Garnett dropping whole passages, the example that comes to mind most readily is her excising the passage about the choosing of Akakiy's name from The Overcoat. Her translation isn't on-line, at least not anywhere I can find it, but it is in The Complete Tales of Gogol. I'll admit--I exaggerated. Looking at it, I can see it's not a full page.

And as for whether or not her translations are good or bad...I say they are terrible not only because they are at times inaccurate, but also because they are stylistically lacking. I direct you to "Fat and Thin" [EN] [RU] and its substitution of stunted formality for energetic familiarity and music of the original in the dialogue.

But I don't want our debate to take away from my main point in my last comment. What I was trying to say was that even if I agree with those posters above who criticize her about the quality of her translations, beggars can't be choosers. Or as Stephen Kotkin said it much better in Times Reading Room blog:
Those who carp about translations of monumental literary works call to mind the people who engage someone to clean their gigantic houses or apartments, then go around finding all the spots that were missed. They’re right, of course.
posted by whimwit at 3:17 PM on November 11, 2007

Correction: "as in Pound's case with Chinese" should read "as is not the case with Pound and Chinese."
posted by whimwit at 4:01 PM on November 11, 2007

Eh, I don't care whether you call the poems in Cathay translations, imitations, or whatever; the important thing is that they're among the greatest works of English poetry from the last sodden, miserable century, and they wouldn't have existed without the Chinese originals they so eloquently betrayed.

As for Kotkin, we'll have to violently disagree. I thought he was out of line. Comparing translations is not "carping," for Christ's sake, it's a basic activity of intellectual life. You can dislike Garnett if you want, I can appreciate her despite her Victorian oddities, but as long as we can discuss it and think about it, we're using our brains and not just passively absorbing what's fed us. (If you're interested, I wrote about the Times discussion of P&V here.)
posted by languagehat at 6:35 PM on November 11, 2007

It is nice that they are free and available, but I found Garnett's translation of Karamazov cloyingly unreadable. I'm glad for her role in bringing Russian literature into circulation, but am glad she has been replaced by later translators. My distaste for her work led me much deeper into recognizing the nuances of translation.
posted by bullitt 5 at 8:23 PM on November 11, 2007

While recognizing CG's tremendous contribution in popularizing the literature in the West, there is simply no reason to read her translations now. They are horrible. She made Chekhov sound like one of those bizarre heroine chic Calvin Klein ads; with people popping up with seemingly stream-of-consciousness non-sequiturs that hid the humor and slapped a rep on him for being affected and obtuse. For whatever reason, she excised long passages from Dostoevsky and Tolstoy. She missed puns and common allusions. I recall a character who was slowly growing mentally feeble and began speaking in a rhythmic sing-song lilting style of Russian that sounded (to our ear) la-la-la la-la-la. Anyway, she translated it literally, killed the effect and made him sound perfectly sane, so that when he finally lost it entirely later it felt absurd and abrupt.

And I'm generally very forgiving. Nabokov has (without a doubt) the greatest translation of "Eugene Onegin", but I'd never recommend it to a casual reader. It's footnotes are longer than the poem itself. Likewise, Burton Raffel wrote some of the worst literal translations of Old English poetry -- but he had an absolutely amazing knack for zeroing in and picking the most apt word or phrase to convey the "feeling" of a passage. He nailed the rhythm.

Constance Garnett was good at neither style of translation.
posted by RavinDave at 11:14 PM on November 11, 2007

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