27 December 2017
I began with the zero cost Amazon Kindle version of over 1100 pages, translated by Constance Garnett. She died in 1942.
About one sixth of the way I became a little disenchanted by her prose, or interpretation. I thought that there must be other translations. I was right, I found a few. One was by an American couple, well known but I've forgotten their names; easy to look up of course. Another was Rosamund Bartlett's translation completed in 2014. She is an Oxford Don, which I admit impressed me, and I decided to download that from Amazon at a cost of AU$8.43.
Bartlett's version offered about 870 pages.
Finding my place from the original version, I commenced reading the new one from there. I read until about two thirds of the way through that version. By that time I became too irritated to continue and I reverted to the earlier version.
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I changed from the Garnett version because I felt that her translation was written in a slightly older, pre-war, type of English. I felt that, being about one and a half generations younger, my appreciation of the narrative would be improved by a later interpretation. However, after reading Bartlett's interpretation for a large chunk of the book; to attempt to justify the expense; I found I might have been hasty. Her translation became increasingly irritating.
Bartlett's version, although using fewer pages, is far more detailed. Bartlett constantly 'stars' and 'numbers' notations about small details and names. Also she translates each and every one of the highly frequent French sentences, and many German ones also. There are thousands.
As is known, Russian nobility; which, by the way, constituted a very small section of the population; regarded Russian as a vulgar language, therefore all spoke French as a matter of course, often also learning some German and English. Thus to translate Tolstoy one had to maintain the original text. Some, like Garnett, simply copied it without translations; Bartlett, on the other hand, translated the lot. I simply couldn’t continue reading it and simultaneously enjoy the book.
So I reverted to Garnett’s version. I did so for the reverse of the reason that I original changed from her version! I came to believe that since the book was written around 1873, her translation might be closer to the intent of the writer.
Altogether it must have taken me almost a month to read; extraordinary; since I bought the 2014 Bartlett version on November 29th, 2017, but did not complete the book until Christmas eve; about 30 days!
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It is a difficult book to read and follow. One primary reason is the problem of following the Russian naming habits.
Everybody is normally referred to by their formal first name followed by their patronymic, not forgetting that the patronymic is adjusted according to gender. As if that is not enough, when talking WITH close relatives, they then constantly refer to both THAT close relative and OTHER close relatives by the use of endless diminutive forms. These are endless because they are changeable almost at whim.
Finally, do not forget the actual family name. Thus, even with a list of names provided at the beginning of the novel, one is wise to begin with a notepad and writing down all the formal and informal names, patronymics and diminutives as one reads: Because it is truly tough.
It is secondly difficult because the point of the book changes. If you take a current writing course, do not expect this book to follow anything like the modern rules you learn.
Add to that, this book is Russian and that probably says it all. English writers, even as far back as Jane Austen, tend to be cool and rational. Germans, highly philosophical and consistently obtuse (just a personal, unsupportable opinion.) But Russians are emotional, highly so. Add a heavy dose of philosophy, i.e. “why me?” and “why are we here”, and finally entirely smother it by various levels of depression..
Russians and Serbs – does the world need them?
Read the book; I think the earlier one is better. Try to read it earlier in life; I am 76, I would have liked to have read it 40-50 years ago. Many of us probably need it.
And the relief at finishing it is almost sublime.