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Actes du colloque de la S.F.E.V.E. à l'université de Provence, les 18 et 19 janvier 2008. Thème : « Représentations victoriennes et édouardiennes des quatre éléments »

No Smoke without fire? Mrs Garnett and the Russian Connection

Claire Davison-Pegon
p. 61-74

Résumé

This article charts the career and astonishing output of the translator Constance Garnett, whose English-language version of the Russian classics at the turn of the nineteenth century contributed directly to the “Russian fever” that took hold of the reading public. Mrs Garnett’s own political engagements are evoked, so as to understand better the profile of a translator who, while most famous for her renderings of Turgenev, Dostoevsky and Tolstoy, was also translating more directly incandescent material. Her 1908 translation of an eye-witness’s account of the Potemkin mutiny is particularly studied here. Throwing light on the historical and ideological context of the translations, it becomes clear that Mrs Garnett’s subsequent reputation owes more to her era than former commentators may have allowed. It also becomes clear that, far from lingering in the byways of history, the translator is very directly caught up with both the preservation and the re-appropriation of the past.

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1“No smoke without fire” holds the popular dictum, a typically canny blend of the glaringly obvious, the highly contestable and the primly smug: where there’s ill repute there must be foundation in truth. The sense of self-evident popular wisdom is consolidated by the fact that the saying is common to all the languages of Europe, and doubtless to many beyond, providing one of those rare moments for translators when one language slips into another with perfect ease.

2My concern here will indeed be the translator, the erstwhile inhabitant of the obscure bypaths of literary and intellectual history, concealed by a convenient smokescreen of transparency: publisher’s oversights, authors’ ingratitude, readers’ indifference and history’s blind spots. Paradoxically, this effacing of the translator’s identity tended to go hand in hand with two highly contradictory caricatures: minor Prometheus figures, they were expected to transmit some of the “sacred fire” of the author’s original inspiration. And convenient Aunt Sallies, they were first in the firing line when some or other later translator or critic disparaged their efforts, generally in view of promoting their own.

  • 1 Heilbrun, The Garnett Family, 165.
  • 2 See May, The Translator in the Text, 37.
  • 3 Both Nabokov and Wilson were particularly venomous critics of Mrs Garnett’s translations. See for e (...)
  • 4 See for example the samples analysed in Turton, Turgenev and the Context of Russian Literature 1850 (...)
  • 5 Phelps Gilbert, «Russian Realism and English Fiction”, 284.
  • 6 Obolensky Dimitri (ed & tr.), The Penguin Book of Russian Verse, 272. In Russia, as across Europe, (...)

3Perhaps one of the most striking cases of such making and breaking of a reputation, when a translator as a “great revealer”1 first fires the imagination of generations of readers, before being turned to ashes by later specialists, is that of Constance Garnett. It has become a commonplace to bear witness to her astonishing translation work bringing the near complete works of Turgenev, Gogol, Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Chekhov, and, Herzen to the English-speaking world. But hindsight has inclined commentators to be impressed by the quantity rather than the quality of her work.2 Some eras were less kind. The revisionist tack was fired particularly by Nabokov, who lost no opportunity to rail the incompetence of a laborious drudge.3 And he must know, presumed the trusting public, for he was Russian himself. A whole hoard of British and Soviet scholars notwithstanding, who reread the Garnett translations in the light of later renderings and almost consistently declared them to be superior, it became conventional to sneer.4 And so it was that the ardent intellectual and radical thinker was neatly re-categorised as a genteel Victorian lady-wife, who had dampened and dulled Russian literature for whole generations of English readers. Yet for contemporaries, she had opened up the way to Russian fever (“that last flare-up of the Romantic decadence”5) that took hold of the British intelligentsia particularly from 1912. And this Russian cult drew on a passionate interest in the explosive socio-political context in late Tsarist Russia, so that Turgenev, Tolstoy and Dostoevsky were taken up by a readership anxious to understand better the context of the emancipation of the serfs, the assassination of Tsars, the much-publicised growth in nihilism and terrorism and then the revolutions of 1905, February 1917 and October 1917. “I see a vast and silent conflagration raging far over Russia” announced Blok in his 1906 collection of verses.6 And it was not only the British intelligentsia turning to the country’s literature to understand better what sort of cataclysm was smouldering beyond the Urals: British shipping, banking and industrial interests too were anxious to know what the smoke on the horizon might mean.

  • 7 This was the challenge launched and the example set by Jean Delisle and Judith Woodsworth’s 1995 vo (...)

4My intention here is to look into factors that contributed to the Garnett myth, to bring certain features of her life and career to the fore and throw a glance at one work in particular that proves to be of astounding contemporary and historical relevance. The trail will take us from the heart of Bloomsbury London—the Old Smoke—, via the spas of Baden, the shores of Odessa and the Black Sea and back, in the hope of showing the construction of a history of translation and a translator can reveal new angles of approach to a nation’s intellectual life.7

Smokescreens and Firebrands

  • 8 See for example the obituary written by Edward Crankshaw in The Listener, and Heilbrun’s The Garnet (...)
  • 9 David Garnett, The Golden Echo, 140.
  • 10 Letter quoted by Richard Garnett in Constance Garnett: A Heroic Life, 73, announcing a visit from V (...)

5Astonishingly long-lived (1861-1946), Constance Garnett certainly came to prefer the gentle byways of Surrey to the bustle of London’s highlife. Obituaries spoke of a providence and legend, an “all but anonymous giver” “shy and scholarly”, “a product of the Victorian Age [who] shared the prejudices and pruderies of her time”.8 Yet biographies and studies paint a different picture indeed, of a salaried librarian, a Fabian, an international socialist, an intrepid traveller and a staunch, open-minded defender of women’s rights. David Garnett’s upbringing was curiously politicised; in his words, “I had been brought up to accept acts of political murder and violence with sympathy bordering on admiration; I had known and respected at least two eminent assassins”.9 She and the younger Garnett family evolved in the free-thinking and radical circles in 1880 - 90s London, in regular touch with its political émigrés, and conversant with the family and the writings of Marx and Engels. Edward was meeting Russian political exiles in London through his father at the British Museum and his sister Olive and the Rossettis (who devoted themselves in those years to writing, printing and circulating their broadsheet, “The Torch”) and then invited the most fervent and eccentric of these figures to his wife in the country (“I have met a man after your own heart, a Russian exile, and have asked him down for the weekend” he wrote to her in 1891.10 In early 1892, it was meeting Stepniak that set the course of Constance’s career. Indeed, the Russian political exiles and revolutionaries operated in a curious and very efficient way, appealing to the liberal-minded middle-classes for funds for famine relief, the underground press and anti-autocratic networks, while both surfing on the wave and feeding the fashion of Russian nineteenth-century literature as a way to give a respectably intellectual veneer to their cause, thus providing a smokescreen for their more virulently political aspirations. Meeting a Cambridge classics scholar meant Stepniak could both indulge his own passion for literature, and also enrol a potential translator. And thus, until his accidental death in 1895, he worked in alliance with Constance, helping her through the first stages of learning Russian, and then reading her translations to approve their accuracy. And when he recommended she travel to Russia (1894) to improve her language skills, it was also to enable him to smuggle funds and letters back home and to acquire new manuscripts for circulation. This was no devious exploitation of a naïve lady’s benevolence, however. Letters, diaries and family documents show Constance took on the role of go-between for London exiles and Russia-based revolutionaries with conviction.

  • 11 Donald Davie in Davie (ed.), Russian Literature and Modern English Fiction, 22.
  • 12 See Hollingsworth, who describes Stepniak’s aim to «reconcile Europe to the bloody measures of the (...)

6In his own works, Career of a Nihilist and Underground Russia, the cautious ex-assassin, Stepniak, shows clear Turgenevian influences, and the author he chose to launch Constance Garnett’s translating ventures was the “gentle giant” Turgenev. The author was, in fact, already well known in Britain, had visited the country more than once, collaborated with the first translator of his works into English from Russian, and had even been something of a “darling of the late 19th century literati”.11 Such a partial but favourable slant evidently fitted Stepniak’s propagandist purposes,12 but he was also keen to give a sharper ideological focus to the novels. This meant making the underlying political tensions more explicit, something Stepniak planned to do in prefaces he would write himself. The project fuelled a series of conflicts, however in which the translator both mediated and got caught in the cross-fire. The publisher, Heinemann, feared the name and reputation of Stepniak would damage sales, and favoured the safer championship of James or Gosse. The Garnetts suggested Stepniak provide the prefaces, but with his name veiled, or that Edward write the introductions instead, a solution that Constance resisted. In the end, it was Edward’s solution that carried, and what was to become the first full edition of Turgenev’s novels from Russian into English was published between 1894 and 1899 earning the translator warm and promising reviews indeed. One ardent admirer of Mrs Garnett’s translations of Turgenev was Conrad. In this case, the opportunity to write the Russian author clearly into the mainstream of English literature provided Conrad with a convenient compromise between his genuine admiration for the writer’s works, and his visceral loathing of all things Russian. But ideological inclinations aside, his praise for the Garnett translations is warm indeed:

  • 13 F. R. Karl, The Collected Letters of Joseph Conrad, vol. 1, 236.

Thanks, It is admirable. I am not speaking of Turgenev. But surely to render thus the very spirit of an incomparable artist one must have more than a spark of the sacred fire. The reader does not see the language—the story is alive—as living as when it came from the master’s hand/ reading with the delight of revelling in that pellucid flaming atmosphere of Turgenev’s life which the translator has preserved unstrained, unsullied with the clearness and heat of original inspiration.13

Smoke and Red Fire

  • 14 Edward Garnett, Turgenev, 4.
  • 15 Preface republished as the chapter on Fathers and Children in Garnett’s Turgenev, 111.

7The publisher’s economic calculations and then Stepniak’s untimely death settled the question of the prefaces, but Edward Garnett’s introductory essays provided fine analyses of both the novels’ craftsmanship and artistry and their political relevance, that were perhaps unmatched in Britain until Berlin’s studies in the 1950s. However, misty and effete Turgenev’s novels may have appeared in Britain, it remains a fact that for most Russians at the time of the novels’ publication, and indeed ever since, these works are also tensely political mapping out the paths of radicalism in Russia, and laying bare the signs of social ferment. As Edward Garnett wrote in 1917, “that Turgenev’s pictures of contemporary Russian life should have excited such angry heat and raised such clouds of acrimonious smoke many will find surprising.”14 And introducing Fathers and Children, Garnett likewise foregrounded the novelist’s incisive political foresight, showing how the novel touches on “the fast-increasing antipathy between the old order and the new, [which] like a fire, required only a puff of wind to set it ablaze”.15

  • 16 Letter to Herzen, June 4, 1867, quoted by Berlin in Russian Thinkers, 289.
  • 17 In a letter to Catherine Carswell in November 1916, for example, Lawrence refers to Turgenev as “a (...)
  • 18 Quoted by R. Garnett in Constance Garnett: A Heroic Life, 167.

8A fine example of Turgenev’s art is Smoke, set almost entirely in the genteel town of Baden, offering a bitingly satirical portrait of generals, bureaucrats, politicians and coquettes taking the waters and engineering careers. Like Fathers and Children, the novel provoked bitter controversy and lasting literary battles, as Turgenev wrote telling Herzen, “They are all attacking me, Reds and Whites, from above and below, and from the sides, especially from the sides.”16 But whether because the tone is too subdued, the colours too mellow, the conventional surfaces themes (unrequited love, ambition, youthful ardour) too familiar or the physical substance of the books too lightweight, the late Victorian—early Edwardian readers of Turgenev valued them as genteel, very respectable period pieces. And it may be by assimilation that Mrs Garnett became incorporated into the same myth,17 to which Conrad’s lavish praise unwittingly contributed: “The truth of the matter is that/ Turgenev for me is Constance Garnett and Constance Garnett is Turgenev”.18

  • 19 A surprising blend the paradox of which is best captured in the title to Olive Garnett’s diary, Tea (...)

9We have here an interesting subspecies of a translator’s invisibility. In this case, it is more a case of metonymically transferred identity. And if Turgenev can reveal something about the “ideal translator” he found in Constance Garnett, why shouldn’t other authors she translated likewise reflect indirectly on the translator? We now slip forward a decade, from the drawing-room niceties19 of 1890s propaganda to the public meetings of 1900s militancy.

  • 20 In David Garnett’s words, “Constance’s opinion of the Bolsheviks, formed after inspection, saved me (...)

10In 1904, Constance and David returned to Russia, and could follow, through the smokescreens of state censorship, the catastrophic news of Russia’s naval defeats in Japan. In 1905, Bloody Sunday the Potemkin mutiny and widespread fire-raising further unsettled the autocracy, prompting a short-lived softening of the regime and parliamentary elections. But Nicolas II did not have the makings of a constitutional monarch. The years following the 1905 revolution saw London’s role as capital of long- and short-term exile reinforced, notably in 1907 when the Social Democrats held their three-week congress in Southgate, bringing Lenin, Trotsky, Stalin and a host of others to canvass for support and attempt a last arbitration between Mensheviks and Bolshevists. Constance Garnett attended parts of the congress, and even turned down the invitation to act as Lenin’s translator, and it was both this direct experience of the Bolshevik will to power and the indirect accounts of Tsarist and Bolshevist inflexibility coming from Russia, that enabled her to build up her own very strong (and Turgenevian) picture of where the revolutionary energies might lead.20 The increasingly politicised turn of these years can be felt in the translations she undertook, sometimes with no publisher in mind but in the hope of securing editorial interest: a new history of the Russian revolutionary movement by Deutsch; testimonies by political prisoners; The Revolt of the “Potemkin” by one of the participants; and a powerfully anti-militaristic short story by Tolstoy.

  • 21 Dates given first or alone are those of the Julian calendar, then used in Russia, which is thirteen (...)
  • 22 The Times was certainly favourable to the rebels in the early days of the uprising, but impatience (...)

11The Potemkin manuscript is what will interest us here. It is a magnificently readable account in the style of a boys’ adventure story of the mutiny (June 14th-25th)21, the political tensions, the first hours of exaltation after the infamous episode of the maggoty meat, the gradual demoralising of the mutineers, and their eventual surrender in Romania, with the added thrill of the author’s personal tale of capture, imprisonment and escape as an epilogue. It was written in the last months of 1905, Constance translated it in 1907 and it was published in 1908. The dates are essential. News of the uprising and the riots in Odessa just before made front page news in the British press, from June 29th/16th) well into July. Sharp exchanges in Parliament (June 29th/16th) were provoked by the affair, although for economic and diplomatic reasons of course. By the mutiny’s rather shambolic last days, however, information was filtering essentially through state-controlled networks.22 Not to mention the fact that while the British press was certainly less censored than the Russian, there was no vested interest in defending the rebels’ cause, particularly in the politically sensitive domain of the Black Sea. Constance Garnett’s translation made available the first full study in English written by an eye-witness, Constantine Feldman, a student and a member of the university’s Social Democrat cell, but who sailed out to join the Potemkin on the second day (June 15th) of the mutiny.

  • 23 Feldmann, The Revolt of the Potemkin, 102.

12Feldmann’s tale is one of burning passions and incandescent forces. Arriving on deck, his Social Democrat comrades ensured him that “the passions of the sailors were kindled”, and “the treacherous shots fired at the sailors [had] added fuel to that fire.”23 He describes in vivid detail the sense of tense foreboding as wreaths of smoke appear on the horizon and the crew waits to find out if it is fellow insurrectionists or Tsarist counter-forces sailing towards them. The near apocalyptic vision of Odessa, disappearing in flames after the Cossack forces mercilessly put down the insurrection is starkly described from the point of view of the sailors, watching helpless from the deck, not knowing wondering whether to open fire and bombard the port would weaken the government forces or on the contrary, decimate the rebels and the innocent:

  • 24 ibid., 70-1.

A terrible spectacle lay unfolded before our eyes. A vast glow of red light lighted up almost the whole bay. Wherever one turned one’s gaze, it met gigantic tongues of flame. They leapt higher and higher, and spread ever wider and wider, like beacons flashing the tidings of the all-devouring vengeance of the old regime.
This was not the red fire of the revolution; it was the white flame of the reaction...! Frenzied cries rose over this sea of fire.24

  • 25 ibid., 157- 8.

13In the mutiny’s central phase, Feldmann co-authored the petitions sent out to ports liable to supply provisions, to Social Democrat units supposed to be reinforcing the rebels’ actions, and endearingly, to the French consul in Odessa, who, they believed, as a “representative of free France would extend his powerful protection to a movement for freedom anywhere” once he knew that in every town and hamlet, the fire of the people’s fury and indignation has flamed up.25

From Smoke to the Smother

14Feldmann’s account opens with a study of the inflammatory political and professional context, situating the mutiny as both a spontaneous eruption and an inevitable uprising; he closes on the lessons to be drawn from the failure to trigger revolt in the rest of the Black Sea fleet, and even across Russia, for revolutionary networks had theoretically been awaiting such a godsend. It is already a precious source for historians, considering all that it describes and contains. But it also proves to be a disturbingly evocative and troubling document in terms of the danger signals it emits, the interpretations it inspired, and the ultimate fate of both the book and the author, and it is thus to these questions of the revolutionary backfires that we shall finally turn.

  • 26 See for example S. Kanatchikov’s pamphlet, “The Revolt on the Armoured Cruiser Potemkin”, tr. W. Wh (...)
  • 27 Accounts differ as to how and when Feldmann died. According to the latest research, it was during t (...)

15First, the Tsarist clamp down after the uprising was predictably harsh on the mutineers. The sailors’ leaders were arrested and hanged, and dozens more executed or sentenced to hard labour. No documentary accounts circulated freely during the late Tsarist regime. Things inevitably changed after 1917. Thanks to Eisenstein, the mutiny was raised to near cult status. And intriguingly Feldmann himself plays a cameo role in the film, proof that he enjoyed at least short-lived favour with the new regime. But in fact, despite the avant-garde techniques the film promoted, it was also one of the first productions to test the uplifting fables of Socialist realism, taking the spellbound viewer from the repelling close-ups of maggoty meat observed through the monocle of the disdainful doctor, via the crazed prayers of the inflamed priest through to the unsullied joys of brotherhood and class solidarity. Subsequent rewritings of the mutiny, bringing in Lenin as a fellow firebrand, playing up the passions of unequivocal anti-Tsarism, and playing down (or writing out) the shambles of doubt, despair and revenge, and finally setting the affair clearly as a trailblazer leading directly and inevitably to the October revolution, became staple parts of 1930s and 1950s history in particular.26 And this was all the easier to achieve seeing that Feldmann had vanished,27 his account itself was unavailable in Soviet Russia, while naval archives remained inaccessible until the 1960s and press, government and Tsarist reports were sealed up until the 1990s.

  • 28 No full-length study of the mutiny was published in English until Hough’s work in 1960. Much more r (...)
  • 29 Garnett, The Golden Echo, 115.
  • 30 See Feldmann’s conclusion, p. 197-202.

16Constance Garnett’s translation thus became all the more significant as time passed. British and American historians had to make do with the few documents at their disposal, Soviet historians rewrote and re-scripted the stages of the mutiny, and the various actors in the revolt either settled abroad or were tempted back to join the new regime only to perish as Mensheviks or other traitors in the purges.28 The one book, meanwhile, safe-guarded in translation and in the British library, continued to tell the same, one-sided but unexpurgated account of 1905. And its inglorious, unteleological nature was self-evident from the start. As David Garnett noted, “[Feldman’s] story was one of almost inconceivable incompetence and ignorance and naval gunnery on the part of the mutineer.”29 If for Soviet historiography, the mutiny was the result of the appalling tyranny of the admirals and the heroic march of the downtrodden once fired by revolutionary ardour, Feldman’s account makes more sober reading, underlining the gulf separating the political hardliners and the browbeaten, discontented sailors. His evocation of endless committee meetings suggests farcical power struggles between comrades, rather than between comrades and deposed officers, arguing endlessly over titles and labels, at the expense of pressing questions like what they could petition the towns for before orders arrived from central government. Similarly, Feldmann’s conclusions hint at the incompetence of the Social Democrat land networks, more inflamed by Marxist theory than the pragmatics of exploiting the sort of popular insurrection they had themselves been intent on triggering.30

  • 31 According to her grandson, Richard, “the failure of the spring revolution was the great lost cause (...)
  • 32 Richard Garnett evokes for instance a particularly moving letter (he refers to it as her political (...)

17It is thus all the more interesting that Constance Garnett should have been engaged on this text, just as she encountered the figureheads of Russian revolutionary socialism at the Brotherhood Church in Southgate. The internecine quarrels she observed, however, within her translations, during the congress and as reported by the renewed waves of émigrés, certainly meant that while she rejoiced at the February revolution and the forming of the Kerensky government in 1917, she shuddered at the Bolshevik take-over later in the year,31 and would henceforth speak out boldly in favour of caution and clairvoyance, often defying all dominant political trends, when for reasons of expediency, provocation or quixotism, statesmen and intellectuals rallied too unquestioningly to the call of Moscow.32

18As we have seen, there is much to be gleaned by taking the translator out of the shadows into the arena of political and aesthetic debate, allowing a host of secondary questions, associations and reactions to take on new meanings. It would certainly appear likely, once one considers Mrs Garnett’s genuine engagement in the burning issues of the day, that Nabokov’s acerbic back-biting has more to do with political animosity than sincere linguistic outrage. Conveniently for him, his caustic sneers at the expense of a supposedly fireless translator found a more willing audience than any ideologically-argued dismissal might have done. And the general and prolonged climate of anti-Victoriana in Great Britain worked as an effective echo-chamber, only too receptive to suggestions that a Victorian woman translator was inevitably staid, prissy and dull. But it is to be expected, nevertheless, that if we dispel the smokescreens from around the translator and assert their importance in the protection and transmission of past history, so sometimes they will become unwitting champions or scapegoats of trends, ideologies and tastes. In Mrs Garnett’s case, this continues to be the case. A recent publication by the International Federation of Translators pays tribute to Mrs Garnett’s fruitful career, affirming:

  • 33 Delisle & Woodsworth (eds.), Translators through History, 285.

Thanks to Garnett, Anglo-Saxon readers became familiar with most of the great Russian writers of her time. She translated the novels of Dostoevsky and Turgenev, the complete works of Gogol, as well as titles by Tolstoy, Chekhov and other Russian authors. During the first half of this century, her translations gave a wide audience to the dissident voices of novelists, poets, and dramatists who opposed the institution of the socialist regime.33

19No publication that I have been able to trace bears out this last claim, making it more likely that Mrs Garnett is now, for the third time, becoming a figurehead of a cause that has elected her as its paragon, irrespective of what her life and works may purport. Is this perhaps the price of glory? Which is another way of saying, “There’s no fire without smoke”.

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Bibliographie

Bascomb Neal, Red Mutiny: Mutiny, Revolution and Revenge on the Battleship Potemkin. London: Weidenfield and Nicolson, 2007.

Berlin Isaiah, Russian Thinkers. London: Hogarth, 1978.

Crankshaw Edward, “Work of Constance Garnett”. The Listener (January 30 1947): 195-196.

Davie Donald, Ed. Russian Literature and Modern English Fiction. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1965.

Delisle Jean and Judith Woodsworth, Eds. Translators Through History. Geneva: John Benjamins Publishing Company (Unesco), 1995.

Feldmann Constantine, The Revolt of the Potemkin. Tr. Constance Garnett. London: Heinemann, 1908.

France Peter, Ed. The Oxford Guide to Literature in English Translation. Oxford: U of Oxford P, 2000.

Garnett David, The Golden Echo. London: Chatto & Windus, 1953.

Garnett Edward, Turgenev. London: Collins, 1917.

Garnett Richard, Constance Garnett: A Heroic Life. London: Sinclair-Stevenson, 1991.

Heilbrun Carolyn, The Garnett Family. London: Allen & Unwin, 1961.

Hollingsworth Barry, “The Society of Friends of Russian Freedom: English Liberals and Russian Socialists, 1890-1917”. Oxford Slavonic Papers, ns, iii., 1970.

Hough Richard, The Potemkin Mutiny. London: Hamish Hamilton, 1960.

Johnson Barry C, Ed. Tea and Anarchy! The Bloomsbury Diary of Olive Garnett 1890-1893. London: Bartletts Press, 1989.

Karl Frederick, R., and Laurence Davies. The Collected Letters of Joseph Conrad. vol. 1, 1861-1897. Cambridge: U of Cambridge P, 1981.

May Rachel, The Translator in the Text: On Reading Russian Literature in English. Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1994.

Nabokov Vladimir, Lectures on Russian Literature. 1982. London: Picador, 1983.

Obolensky Dimitri, ed & tr. The Penguin Book of Russian Verse. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1962.

Phelps Gilbert, “Russian Realism and English Fiction”. Cambridge Journal, VIII, 1949-50: 284-5.

Phelps Gilbert, The English Novel in English Fiction. London: Hutchinson University Library. 1956.

Turgenev Ivan, Smoke, 1867. Tr. Constance Garnett. 1896. New York: Turtle Point Press, 1995.

Weissbort Daniel & Astradur Eysteinsson, (eds). Translation - Theory and Practice, A Historical Reader. Oxford: U of Oxford P, 2006.

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Notes

1 Heilbrun, The Garnett Family, 165.

2 See May, The Translator in the Text, 37.

3 Both Nabokov and Wilson were particularly venomous critics of Mrs Garnett’s translations. See for example Nabokov’s comments in Lectures on Russian Literature. His lesson plans and annotated texts are packed with disparaging sarcasm. In The Garnett Family, Heilbrun describes Nabokov’s tendency to «damn Constance Garnett’s translations with a vehemence that could only be justified had she violently abridged, or grossly distorted, the works”. (192, n. 4)

4 See for example the samples analysed in Turton, Turgenev and the Context of Russian Literature 1850-1900, and May, The Translator in the Text, 24-27.

5 Phelps Gilbert, «Russian Realism and English Fiction”, 284.

6 Obolensky Dimitri (ed & tr.), The Penguin Book of Russian Verse, 272. In Russia, as across Europe, at the turn of the century, the dominant element in the symbolic representation of impending chaos was almost consistently that of fire. Wagner’s Valhalla no doubt fed the trend.

7 This was the challenge launched and the example set by Jean Delisle and Judith Woodsworth’s 1995 volume, Translators Through History, marking a new trend in translation studies.

8 See for example the obituary written by Edward Crankshaw in The Listener, and Heilbrun’s The Garnett Family. 163.

9 David Garnett, The Golden Echo, 140.

10 Letter quoted by Richard Garnett in Constance Garnett: A Heroic Life, 73, announcing a visit from Volkhovsky. Richard Garnett’s biography proved invaluable for tracing the activities of Constance Garnett, particularly in her formative years.

11 Donald Davie in Davie (ed.), Russian Literature and Modern English Fiction, 22.

12 See Hollingsworth, who describes Stepniak’s aim to «reconcile Europe to the bloody measures of the Russian revolutionaries, to show on the one hand their inevitability in Russian conditions, on the other to depict the terrorists themselves as they are in reality, i.e. not as cannibals, but as humane people, highly moral, having a deep aversion to all violence, to which they are only forced by governmental measures”, 48.

13 F. R. Karl, The Collected Letters of Joseph Conrad, vol. 1, 236.

14 Edward Garnett, Turgenev, 4.

15 Preface republished as the chapter on Fathers and Children in Garnett’s Turgenev, 111.

16 Letter to Herzen, June 4, 1867, quoted by Berlin in Russian Thinkers, 289.

17 In a letter to Catherine Carswell in November 1916, for example, Lawrence refers to Turgenev as “a sort of male old maid”. See Constance Garnett: A Heroic Life, 277.

18 Quoted by R. Garnett in Constance Garnett: A Heroic Life, 167.

19 A surprising blend the paradox of which is best captured in the title to Olive Garnett’s diary, Tea and Anarchy.

20 In David Garnett’s words, “Constance’s opinion of the Bolsheviks, formed after inspection, saved me from the fate of being brought up as a young Communist.” (The Golden Echo, 118)

21 Dates given first or alone are those of the Julian calendar, then used in Russia, which is thirteen days behind the Gregorian calendar. When double sets of dates are indicated, the Julian and Gregorian are being indicated side by side.

22 The Times was certainly favourable to the rebels in the early days of the uprising, but impatience and cynicism soon took over. The Daily Telegraph and others reported the false news of the mutiny’s defeat after four days. See Bascomb, Red Mutiny and Hough, The Potemkin Mutiny.

23 Feldmann, The Revolt of the Potemkin, 102.

24 ibid., 70-1.

25 ibid., 157- 8.

26 See for example S. Kanatchikov’s pamphlet, “The Revolt on the Armoured Cruiser Potemkin”, tr. W. Wheeldon, Moscow: Cooperative publishing society of foreign workers in the USSR, 1932. A copy is preserved in the Tait Collection, University of Stirling Archives. The pamphlet reworks extracts from Afansy Matushenko’s memoir.

27 Accounts differ as to how and when Feldmann died. According to the latest research, it was during the 1937 purges. See Bascomb, 293.

28 No full-length study of the mutiny was published in English until Hough’s work in 1960. Much more recent histories of the revolutionary era are mostly sceptical about the lasting significance of the mutiny, beyond its being a huge embarrassment to the Tsar. Soviet histories were, on the contrary, legion, and the uprising continues to stand out in the popular imagination.

29 Garnett, The Golden Echo, 115.

30 See Feldmann’s conclusion, p. 197-202.

31 According to her grandson, Richard, “the failure of the spring revolution was the great lost cause of her life. But she continued to oppose outside interference with the Soviet Union, despite its faults”, 302.

32 Richard Garnett evokes for instance a particularly moving letter (he refers to it as her political testament) sent to Leonard Woolf whose book review published in the New Statesman was particularly scathing about negative reports from Soviet Russia. See Constance Garnett: A Heroic Life, 339-41.

33 Delisle & Woodsworth (eds.), Translators through History, 285.

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Claire Davison-Pegon, « No Smoke without fire? Mrs Garnett and the Russian Connection », Cahiers victoriens et édouardiens, 71 Printemps | 2010, 61-74.

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Claire Davison-Pegon, « No Smoke without fire? Mrs Garnett and the Russian Connection », Cahiers victoriens et édouardiens [En ligne], 71 Printemps | 2010, mis en ligne le 07 octobre 2016, consulté le 20 août 2017. URL : http://cve.revues.org/2827 ; DOI : 10.4000/cve.2827

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Claire Davison-Pegon

Université de Provence.
Claire Davison-Pegon est professeur de traduction littéraire et de traductologie à l’université Aix-Marseille, où elle enseigne la littérature britannique et la traduction et dirige des séminaires de recherche en traduction littérature, écritures modernistes et en littératures comparées. Ses propres travaux portent notamment sur l’écrivain-traducteur et sur les traductions inter-sémiotiques, surtout entre la voix, la musique et le texte littéraire. Elle a également publié plusieurs traductions éditoriales.

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Cahiers victoriens et édouardiens est mis à disposition selon les termes de la licence Creative Commons Attribution - Pas d'Utilisation Commerciale - Pas de Modification 4.0 International.

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