Thursday, May 17, 2018

Crime and Punishment Hardcover – September 7, 2016 by Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoevsky (Simon & Brown)

The two popular translations of ‘Crime and Punishment’ before the 1993 translation by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky, were by Constance Garnett and David McDuff. The Pevear/Volokhonsky translation became my favourite – until Oliver Ready’s translation came along. Not knowing a word of Russian, I declare my favourite only by the enjoyment I derived from reading the book in English.

Many things may indeed be lost in translation, and many others get misrepresented but we may not know. The result of reading only the English versions is that one’s choice is largely subjective. Compared to the Garnett version, the Pevear/Volokhonsky translation seems very modern – until Ready’s came along. Little things like changing ‘had not’ to ‘hadn’t’ renders Ready’s version not only a little more modern but also more informal. That is not to say that the atmosphere of old Russia is lost. Ready uses ‘fibs’ for ‘lies’ (Pevear/Volokhonsky) in one passage.

Ultimately, the reader has to decide for himself which style he enjoys more. Here is a comparison from one of my favourite passages (there are many) from the book. I set out first the Pevear/Volokhonsky version then the Ready version:
“What do you think?” Razmumikhin shouted, raising his voice even more. “You think it’s because they’re lying? Nonsense! I like it when people lie! Lying is man’s only privilege over all other organisms. If you lie- you get to the truth! Lying is what makes me a man. Not one truth has ever been reached without lying fourteen times or so, maybe a hundred and fourteen, and that’s honourable in its way; well, but we can’t even lie with our minds! Lie to me, but in your own way, and I’ll kiss you for it. Lying in one’s own way is almost better than telling the truth in someone else’s way; in the first case you’re a man, and in the second – no better than a bird. The truth won’t go away, but life can be nailed shut; there are examples. (Pevear/Volokhonsky)

‘Now what are you thinking?’ cried Razumikhin, raising even more. ‘That it’s their lies I can’t stand? Nonsense! I like it when people lie. Telling lies is humanity’s sole privilege over other organism. Keep fibbing and you’ll end up with the truth! I’m only human because I lie. No truth’s ever been discovered without fourteen fibs along the way, if not one hundred and fourteen, and there’s honour in that. But our lies aren’t even our own! Lie to me by all means, but make sure it’s your own, and then I’ll kiss you. After all, lies of your own are almost better than someone else’s truth: in the first case you’re human; in the second you’re just a bird! The truth won’t run away, but life just might – wouldn’t be the first time.

Ready’s version has a table of chronological events and a fresh, inspiring introduction that will help the first-time reader understand and appreciate the context of ‘Crime and Punishment’

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