Wednesday, December 09, 2015

Feelin' Levin. (Maudes' version)

Hay harvest. (scrrenshot from 'Anna Karenina', 1967)

A few months ago I compared here the three translations of a passage from Tolstoy's 'Anna Karenina' to show the various devices used by different translators, and a few amusing errors they made in interpreting the text written over a hundred years ago (1877).

The three translations quoted were by Constance Garnett, Richard Peaver/Larissa Volokhonsky and Nathan Haskell Dole. I was rearranging books on my Russian bookshelf and had a look at another version, the 1918 translation by Louise and Aylmer Maude. The couple were Tolstoy's contemporaries and friends. There are books by Aylmer Maude in Tolstoy's library at Yasnaya Polyana. At least there were when I last visited.

This is the passage from Tolstoy with a few words highlighted for comparison:  
Тит освободил место, и Левин пошел за ним. Трава была низкая, придорожная, и Левин, давно не косивший и смущенный обращенными на себя взглядами, в первые минуты косил дурно, хотя и махал сильно. Сзади его послышались голоса:Насажена неладно, рукоятка высока, вишь, ему сгибаться как, —сказал один.— Пяткой больше налягай, — сказал другой.— Ничего, ладно, настрыкается, — продолжал старик. — Вишь, пошел... Широк ряд берешь, умаешься... Хозяин, нельзя, для себя старается! А вишь, подрядье-то! За это нашего брата по горбу, бывало.
And here is the corresponding passage by the Maudes (from the Oxford University Press / Humphrey Milford edition, the World's Classics, 1926):

Titus made room for Levin, and Levin followed him. By the roadside the grass was short and tough, and Levin, who had not done any mowing for a long time and was confused by so many eyes upon him, mowed badly for the first ten minutes, though he swung his scythe with much vigour. He heard voices behind him:
'It's not properly adjusted, the grip is not right. See how he has to stoop!' said one.
'Hold the heel lower,' said another.
'Never mind! It's all right: he'll get into it,' said the old man. 'There he goes...'
'You are taking too wide a swath, you'll get knocked up.' ... 'He's the master, he must work; he's working for himself!'... 'But look how uneven! ... 'That's what the likes of us used to get a thump on the back for.'

There is more to think about than it seems when just reading the passage. What is this освободил место/made room, is it that Tit/Titus had mown a space out for Levin to follow him, or did he just move to the side within a row of harvesters who were about to move through the field in formation? What exactly is смущенный — confused, embarassed, unsettled or disconcerted (Garnett)? Instead of 'had not done any mowing for a long time', Peaver/Volokhonsky write 'had done no mowing for a long time.' Which is a better way of conveying Tolstoy? Or there is no difference? Strunk and White in their 'Elements of Style' recommend putting statements in positive form (Part II, 15). Does it apply here?

The bolded words show, I think, that in Maudes' approach there is a tendency to explain Tolstoy's detail while slightly deviating from the text itself. Tolstoy doesn't say the grass was tough, it is just short by the roadside. Adding 'tough' adds to why it was difficult to cut. Tolstoy's muzhik just says 'Hey, look at the swath!' But what about it? And Maudes add: 'Look how uneven!'

They avoid explaining why it makes it awkward to mow when the grip on the scythe is set too high for Levin. They just say 'it's not right.' Evasive, but the reader understands what is going on.

Read a more detailed analysis in 'Feeling Levin. The Scythe, the Swath and the Hired Men.'

This is the first part of 'Anna Karenina', the 1967 Soviet film version of the Tolstoy's novel. Hay harvest scene begins at 57:10 min. - 

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