Time with Tolstoy

By JEFFREY GANTZ  |  November 28, 2007

A quick read-through also turned up more errors than one might have expected. In the list of “principal characters,” Anatole Kuragin is identified as Prince Vassily’s elder son; yet both the text and every translation (this one on pages 6 and 224) identify him as the younger son. (Ann Dunnigan, Anthony Briggs,and the Barnes & Noble edition of Garnett make the same odd character-list mistake.) In the very first line, “Gênes et Lucques” becomes “Gênes and Lucques,” the “et” having been translated when it shouldn’t have been; and on page 262, in the rendering of Weyrother’s German-language disposition for the attack on Napoleon’s troops at Austerlitz, we get “we far outflank his left wing with our right” when it should have been “we far outflank his right wing with our left.” (Pevear tells us that the translations of French and German that Tolstoy provides “are occasionally inaccurate, perhaps deliberately so,” but on this occasion Tolstoy was correct.) On page 167, “I was going to ask” becomes “I was going to asking” (there’s nothing odd about the Russian here); on page 816, “prosperity” comes out “propserity” (what happened to spellcheck?). On page 962 we get “Novodevichye Convent” instead of “Novodevichy,” neuter instead of masculine. One could ask why feminine names are masculinized: Princess Drubetskoy rather than Drubetskaya. (No one turns Anna Karenina into Anna Karenin.) A map of Austerlitz would have been nice. And consistency in the use of the indicative or the subjunctive in “as if” clauses. 

The Notes too could be more helpful. When Nikolai returns home at the beginning of 1806, Tolstoy tells us he hadn’t seen his sister for “a year and a half” (page 300) when it was actually just a few months, and when Prince Andrei’s father suffers a stroke, he lies stricken “for three weeks” (page 713) yet dies within 10 days. Tolstoy was prone to such inconsistencies, but neither instance is noted. The Kamenka River that pops up on page 795 could have been identified (it’s a tributary to the Kolocha); when on page 804 Napoleon is told the enemy is attacking his left flank, you might wonder why he rides off to check his right. On at least one occasion, the repetitiveness isn’t Tolstoy’s: the note to “Inside the Kremlin, the bells were ringing for vespers, and this ringing confused the French. They supposed it was a call to arms.” (page 894) reads: “There are five churches and the Ivan the Great bell tower in the Kremlin. The French did not know that and, confused by the ringing of so many bells, thought it was a call to arms.”

What’s most likely to bother readers of this new translation is the decision to leave the French and German in the text and translate it in small type at the bottom of the page. It’s useful to know who’s speaking what language, but couldn’t we have had the French and German translated in the text in italics, or in a different typeface? Why translate just the Russian? It gives the impression Tolstoy wrote in English.

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  Topics: Books , Lev Tolstoy, Richard Pevear, Larissa Volokhonsky,  More more >
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