What’s the best translation of The Idiot?

There are three public-domain translations, two out-of-print translations, and six modern translations available.

  1. 1887 – Fredrick Whishaw
  2. 1913 – Constance Garnett
  3. 1915 – Eva Martin
  4. 1955 – David Magarshack
  5. 1965 – John W. Strahan
  6. 1980 – Henry Carlisle and Olga Andreyeva Carlisle (Signet)
  7. 1992 – Alan Myers (Oxford)
  8. 2002 – Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky (Vintage/Everyman)
  9. 2003 – Constance Garnett revised by Anna Brailovsky (Modern Library)
  10. 2004 – David McDuff (Penguin)
  11. 2010 – Ignat Avsey (Alma)

Since I’ve now investigated five different Russian Classics in total, the translators’ names are somewhat familiar…

  • Garnett and Pevear and Volokhonsky translated all four of the others (War and Peace, Anna Karenina, Crime and Punishment, Brothers Karamazov).
  • Magarshack did Anna Karenina, Crime and Punishment, and Brothers Karamazov, but not War and Peace.
  • McDuff did Crime and Punishment and Brothers Karamazov.
  • Avsey did Brothers Karamazov.
  • Whishaw did Crime and Punishment.

Garnett’s translations, in their time, were groundbreaking; though some say they’re out of date, updated versions exist alongside the originals. Meanwhile, Pevear and Volokhonsky have taken the world by storm, leaving other recent translations standing in their shadow. Which one is really “best” depends on what you’re looking for, though.

For cover images, sample extracts for comparison, ISBNs, pagecounts, and links to relevant articles, visit We Love Translations: World Literature in English.

What’s the best translation of The Idiot?

What’s the best translation of The Three Musketeers?

Five years ago, someone on reddit said there are “very few” translations of The Three Musketeers into English.

Wrong!

There are at least nine, counting distinct translations still in print; arguably as many as sixteen, counting one edited translation, an abridged edition, a likely abridged translation that’s out of print, and four unabridged but out-of-print translations.

  1. 1846 – Anonymous
  2. 1846 – Park Benjamin (out of print)
  3. 1846 – William Barrow
  4. 1853 – William Robson
  5. 1893 – H.L. Williams (abridged)
  6. 1894 – A. Curtis Bond (out of print)
  7. 1903 – Alfred Allinson (out of print)
  8. 1950 – Lord Sudley (out of print)
  9. 1950 – Jacques Le Clercq
  10. 1952 – Isabel Ely Lord (abridged?)
  11. 1984 – Lowell Bair
  12. 1991 – Barrow edited by David Coward
  13. 2006 – Richard Pevear
  14. 2006 – Eleanor Hochman
  15. 2014 – Will Hobson
  16. 2018 – Lawrence Ellsworth

Nineteenth-century translations were bowdlerized; that is, they left out things that weren’t considered suited to Victorian readers’ tastes. The twenty-first-century translators of The Three Musketeers are putting that stuff back in, like Robin Buss did with The Count of Monte Cristo.

The popular translation these days seems to be the one by Pevear, best known for the translation he and his wife did of Anna Karenina, which led to many other translations of Russian works.

But the most intriguing one is the one by Ellsworth. That’s not even his name. His name is Lawrence Schick, and he only became a translator in the first place because he’s obsessed with historical storytelling for various types of role-playing games, and started reading Dumas in French, and then decided the existing English versions weren’t good enough—or complete enough. He dug up a lost sequel and has embarked on a project to translate a million and a half words of Dumas’ fiction. Hats off to you, Lawrence!

For details on all sixteen translations, including cover images, ISBNs, pagecounts, links to relevant articles, and extracts for comparison, visit my Three Musketeers posts at We Love Translations. Here’s a link to the first of the two:

» What’s the best translation of The Three Musketeers (Part 1)

Snobbery vs Connoisseurship

Someone in the Classic Literature Book Club on Facebook made a thought-provoking post about the “discernment of quality” and mentioned Ulysses, Lady Chatterly’s Lover, To the Lighthouse, coffee, and a pair of very fine horses in The Count of Monte Cristo.

He said we should resist the tendency “to believe that distinctions others make and we don’t see are just imaginary, used as part of a code for in group inclusion.

I agree. It’s interesting that he chose coffee as the non-literary example. I immediately thought of wine.

Wine connoisseurs claim to notice differences that don’t exist for me. But I believe those differences do exist, I just haven’t learned what they are. Actually, I’d rather not know, because then I’d only enjoy drinking expensive wine. (Not that any wine is cheap in Singapore, lol.)

It’s weird to find myself saying anything that boils down to “ignorance is bliss”. I hate that stance. I’m sure that the pleasure of a good wine is real, even if I don’t quite know what I’m missing.

But actually, as OP mentioned as well, we simply can’t be experts about everything. Thanks to the inherent scarcity of time, there is such a thing as “rational ignorance”, even outside the realms of politics and economics. Rational ignorance means it’s totally legit that I find it personally convenient not to have to turn up my nose at cheap wine.

Still. I shouldn’t turn up my nose at people who turn up their noses at cheap wine. That just makes me a snob too—probably a worse kind!

The way I see it, there are at least four different kinds of snob…

Continue reading Snobbery vs Connoisseurship

What’s the best translation of Madame Bovary?

The original Eleanor Marx-Aveling translation is still widely read, if the number of revised editions and reprints available are anything to go by. The relatively recent Lydia Davis translation from 2010 is also widely read, if the amount of media attention is anything to go by.

No one seems to have much to say about the Bantam translation by Lowell Bair or the Signet translation by Mildred Marmur; concerning the Oxford edition translated by Margaret Mauldon, I could only find negative comments. Lesser known brands Hackett and Alma published translations by Raymond N. MacKenzie and Christoper Moncrieff in 2009 and 2010, respectively.

Editions that seem to have or have had a larger number adherents are the 1957 translation by Francis Steegmuller, the 1992 translation by Geoffrey Wall, and the 2011 translation by Adam Thorpe.

To see for yourself what these translations sound like and what people have said about them, visit We Love Translations: World Literature in English, where you will also find cover images, ISBNs, pagecounts for hardcovers, paperbacks, and ebooks from different publishers.

» What’s the best translation of Madame Bovary?

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What’s the best translation of Don Quixote?

For a long time all I knew was what everyone knows by cultural osmosis: we are ridiculous when we tilt at windmills.

Published in 1620, Don Quixote is a foundational book in the history of Western literature. Unsurprisingly, therefore, it has been translated more than a dozen times. Different translators had differing amounts of financial and literary success; some translations have aged well and others have been forgotten—or misremembered: the “Jarvis” translation was actually done by a man named Jervas whose name was printed incorrectly.

The translation by Smollett has a particularly interesting history: it did well in its time, but later Smollet was accused of plagiarism (of the Jervas/Jarvis translation), and/or using a team to do the work because he didn’t know Spanish. Someone wrote a book called Smollet’s Hoax, with data supporting the idea that his translation was not his own. A recent scholarly reprint exonerates him and upholds the unique and positive qualities of the work.

Apart from Jervas/Jarvis and Smollett, there have been translations by Thomas Shelton, John Phillips, Pierre Antoine Motteux, Alexander James Duffield, John Ormsby, Henry Edward Watts, Robinson Smith, Samuel Putnam, JM Cohen, Walter Starkie, Burton Raffel, John Rutherford, Edith Grossman, Tom Lathrop, and James H. Montgomery.

The Grossman translation is the trendy one; if you don’t want one that sounds modern, you’d be in good company picking the public domain Ormsby text.

For a heck of a lot more detail on all the translations—cover images, extracts for comparison, ISBNs, pagecounts, and links to relevant articles—visit We Love Translations: World Literature in English:

» What’s the best translation of Don Quixote?

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What’s the best translation of The Brothers Karamazov?

Is this just another chapter in the ongoing Garnett vs. Pevear & Volokhonsky debate? Well, there are three other in-print translations of The Brothers Karamazov.

The MacAndrew translation is thought to be too loose, and the McDuff translation is even more literal than the Pevear & Volokhonsky translation, which makes it even harder to read. The Avsey translation appeals to some, but he’s also on the loose end of the spectrum, having gone so far as to change the title to “The Karamazov Brothers” to make it sound more idiomatic in English.

To read about these translations, and the ones that are now out of print, visit We Love Translations: World Literature in English, where you will also find cover images, extracts for comparison, ISBNs, and pagecounts.

» What’s the best translation of The Brothers Karamazov?

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Which translation of Les Miserables should I read?

What’s the best translation of Les Miserables by Victor Hugo?

I researched the different translations of Les Miserables and posted on my other website, We Love Translations. That was, however, after I had already bought the two-volume Wordsworth Classics paperback edition of the Wilbour translation.

You know, the one with Zombie Cosette on the cover. = \

Anyway… Wordsworth is what I had, so Wordsworth is what I read!

I posted my review of Les Miserables at We Love Translations too. Check it out!

When and Why I Read Les Miserables (Vol 1)

I might have read it in high school, but if I did it was probably an abridged version. Time to attack the real thing! My copy is the Wordsworth Classics two-volume edition, translated by Charles E. Wilbour.

Genre: French literature
Date started / date finished: 27-Sep-21 to 19-Oct-21
Length: 494 pages
ISBN: 9781853260858
Originally published in: 1862/1994/2002
Amazon link: Les Miserables (Vol 1)

Which translation of The Plague by Camus should I read?

The book was originally published in 1947 under the French title La Peste. There are three English translations:

What is the BEST translation of The Plague by Camus?

I know some French—but not, like, a lot—and I haven’t read both the existing English translations. Still, you asked, so here’s my answer.

I recommend the Buss / Penguin translation of The Plague:
It’s got a nice afterword by Tony Judt. See below for other reasons.

Buy paperback from Amazon

Continue reading Which translation of The Plague by Camus should I read?

Which translation of Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment should I read?

I read the Garnett translation. I was happy with it, to the extent that “happy” is the right word to describe the experience of reading what I found to be a depressing novel.

What is the BEST translation of Crime and Punishment?

I did some research on the available translations, which I have presented in a long, illustrated post on my other website, We Love Translations, called “Which translation of Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment should I read?”

That post compares in-print translations. I count seven in-print translations of thirteen total, listed here:

# Translator Year Publisher
Frederick Whishaw 1885
1. Constance Garnett 1914 Heinemann
David Magarshack 1951 Penguin
Princess Alexandra Kropotkin 1953
Jessie Coulson 1953 Norton
Michael Scammell 1963 Washington Square
2. Sidney Monas 1968 Signet
Julius Katzer 1985 Raduga
3. David McDuff 1991 Viking
4. Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky 1992 Knopf
5. Oliver Ready 2014 Penguin
6. Nicolas Pasternak Slater 2017 Oxford
7. Michael R. Katz 2018 Liveright (Norton)

I recommend the Garnett translation of Crime and Punishment.

Buy Garnett / Wordsworth paperback from Amazon

Buy Garnett / Wordsworth ebook from Amazon

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