Friday, January 12, 2007

United Pants of America

I'm re-reading Crime and Punishment right now, but this time I'm trying a new translation with a reading group I'm in--the one by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky, whose Brothers Karamazov is so superb. I originally read this book in the David Magarshack translation, and this is the edition that made it my favorite novel. But I have to admit--though Magarshack still rules the roost when it comes to Chekhov, this Vintage C&P is the new king.

How come? Take a look at this passage, from the Magarshack version. Here, Raskolnikov's friend Razumikhin has brought him some new clothes. He fits a new cap on Raskolnikov's head, and then:

"Well, now, let's address ourselves to the United States of America, as we used to call it at school. A word of warning, though--I am proud of the trousers!" and he spread out before Raskolnikov a pair of grey summer trousers of light woolen material.

All right, then...fair enough, if a little puzzling. Now read the Pevear/Volokhonsky:

"Well, sir, now let's start on the United Pants of America, as we used to call them in school. I warn you, I'm proud of them," and he displayed before Raskolnikov a pair of gray trousers, made of lightweight summer wool.

Now, you see the difference? The second one is freaking hilarious. And I greatly prefer the word "displayed" to Magarshack's "spread out"...the words are of equal utility, but the Vintage translation seems to emphasize the ridiculousness of the moment--as it's Raskolnikov's last thirty-five rubles, we learn, from which the pants money has been drawn.

I recommend either, of course, but if you're trying Dostoyevsky for the first time, go with the new one. It's very natural, nearly as good as the other great new translation I read recently, Lydia Davis's Swann's Way.

6 comments:

Matthew Tiffany said...

I've had Davis' translation on my TBR list for a while now... hopefully, this Spring. It looks great -

jrlennon said...

It's fantastic! If you like her fiction, you'll suddenly understand where some of her aesthetic came from. I've gotten up through Sodom & Gomorrah in the new Penguins, and they're all quite good, but none quite measure up to Davis's work...

5 Red said...

I feel like one of my students when I internally complain, "but the print is so small, and the book smells so musty!" everytime I pick up my used book store copy of C&P. This post has given me new incentive to tackle me some Dostoyevsky.

This talk of translation also brings to the fore the nagging question I have when I read Murakami's work. I can't help wondering what his work is like in Japanese. I've convinced myself that it's even better, and I feel like I'm missing out.

After my friend insisted to me that Gabriel Garcia Marquez's work was much better in Spanish, and my mother told me that the Chinese movies we watch are always better in Chinese, I can't help feeling like I'm missing something. And like they're rubbing it a bit in my face.

I will be checking these translations you speak of. Very intriguing.

AddledWriter said...

Hi, JRL - Just wanted to say I loved your video about how to write a book, especially the part about New York City... ;) Glad I just went to your site and found this blog. Keep up the good work! - Lissner

AddledWriter said...

Oh, my stuff's at www.addledwriter.blogspot.com these days.

jrlennon said...

Hey Caren, what's up! I'll link to you ASAP...