How different is the new Oliver Ready translation of Crime and Punishment from other translations? I don’t know! It felt different. Zippy. I read Constance Garnett long ago. Let’s take a look.
There was a momentary silence. Pyotr Petrovich slowly took out a cambric handkerchief reeking of perfume and blew his nose with the air of a virtuous man who has suffered a wound to his pride and who, moreover, is determined to receive an explanation. (IV.2, 277, Ready)
A moment’s silence followed. Pyotr Petrovitch deliberately drew out a cambric handkerchief reeking of scent and blew his nose with an air of a benevolent man who felt himself slighted, and was firmly resolved to insist on an explanation. (Garnett)
Both versions are hilarious. What a nose-blowing. Both are similar, as is typical with translations of novels. Most of the different choices by Ready are in the same direction – “slowly” replaces “deliberately,” “perfume” replaces “scent,” “virtuous” replaces “benevolent,” and so on. Case after case, Ready chooses the word more commonly used today. It is just an update, the language of my time instead of that of a hundred years ago, and as a result I find, however accustomed I am to reading English from that time, that the book is lighter on its feet.
Whether Ready is correcting or introducing errors, I can’t say. But I can see the modernizing. I also find “virtuous” funnier than “benevolent,” but I will bet just because it is closer to my natural English.
A bit of Raskolnikov’s confession to Sonya, a scene of great intensity that would likely stand up to some pretty incompetent translation. Raskolnikov’s mention of a spider invokes his evil dream double Svidrigailov, who is often linked to spiders:
“Nonsense! I just killed. I killed for myself, for myself alone; and whether I’d become anyone’s benefactor or spend my entire life as a spider, catching everyone in my web and sucking out their vital juices, shouldn’t have mattered to me one jot at that moment!...” (V.4, 393, Ready)
“Nonsense! I simply did it; I did the murder for myself, for myself alone, and whether I became a benefactor to others, or spent my life like a spider catching men in my web and sucking the life out of men, I couldn’t have cared at that moment…” (Garnett)
Is “did the murder” a little fussy? Otherwise, the only issue in Garnett is the odd repetition of “men” when “them” would be unambiguous. Is Garnett being a literalist here, reproducing a hiccup in the original? Or is Ready thinking it’s normal Russian and should sound like normal English?
A little more of the spider, from Svidrigailov’s great chapter:
Waking up, flies attached themselves to the untouched portion of veal on the table next to him. He looked at them for a long time and eventually began trying to catch one with his free right hand. He tried and tried, but with no success. Finally, catching himself at this peculiar task, he came to his senses, shuddered, got up and walked straight out of the room. (VI.6, 479, Ready)
Some flies woke up and settled on the untouched veal, which was still on the table. He stared at them and at last with his free right hand began trying to catch one. He tried till he was tired, but could not catch it. At last, realizing that he was engaged in this interesting pursuit, he started, got up and walked resolutely out of the room. (Garnett)
The last line, in Garnett, is bizarre. “Interesting pursuit” sounds like a sarcastic comment from the narrator. I find Ready’s choices – “tried and tried,” “shuddered” – more frightening, a better fit with the nightmarish tone of the dreams (and reality) of the chapter.
Translation of novels are mostly quite similar. The differences between Ready and Garnett are numerous but, choice by choice, small. Taken together the differences somehow lift a bit of the weight off the novel, or add a little more energy.
I sincerely hope that Ready is encouraged by the success of this translation to translate not more Dostoevsky, of which we have plenty, but other old books that have never made it into English.