Virginia Woolf, The Common Reader.
Virginia Woolf, Night and Day. Translated and Edited with Notes by Natalya Reinhold (Moscow: Ladomir, Nauka, 2014) 502pp.
Natalya Reinhold is one of Russia's most prominent specialists on Virginia Woolf. She was the first to translate Woolf's feminist manifesto A Room of One's Own into Russian in 1992. A few years before that, in 1983, she translated a selection of Woolf's key essays on Russian literature. She conducted the first conference on Woolf to take place on the territory of the former Soviet Union after its fall--an international symposium, Woolf Across Cultures, which gathered in Moscow in 2003. She also edited the collection of papers presented at that conference, which was remarkable for its scope and diversity (Pace UP, 2004). Among Reinhold's latest feats is a Russian translation of Night and Day--the only novel of Woolf's that remained untranslated into Russian until now.
In 2012, Reinhold also translated and edited the first complete Russian version of The Common Reader and The Common Reader: Second Series. Thanks to her, not only the contents of these two volumes are now accessible to Russian readers: she accompanies them with a detailed commentary, "Virginia Woolf and her Common Reader," and has also included a number of other essays. (1) Reinhold is the leading authority on the reception of Woolf in Russia: her article in the collection Woolf Across Cultures (also included in this volume) describes in detail the reasons why the first Russian translations of Woolf's works appeared only in the last quarter of the twentieth century.
The appreciation of Woolf's writings had a delayed start in Russia due to the ideological restrictions of the Soviet regime. As a passionate admirer of Woolf's work, Reinhold is determined to compensate for this delay by ensuring that Russian readers immediately see Woolf in a rich historical context. In her edition of Night and Day, as well as her own essay on the novel, "Virginia Woolf 's Night and Day: Moments of Being," she has included excerpts from Woolf's essays "A Sketch of the Past" and "Old Bloomsbury," as well as Katherine Mansfield's review of Night and Day (none of these texts has been translated into Russian before). Woolf's autobiographical texts will demonstrate to Russian readers how deeply Night and Day is rooted in Woolf's personal experiences, including her Victorian childhood and her later participation in the London intellectual scene. Mansfield's review takes us back to the time when Night and Day had just been published and Woolf's contemporaries were actively debating its value as a novel. It will remind the Russian reader that in her lifetime Woolf had to endure mixed responses even in her own country.
In Reinhold's edition of The Common Reader 1 and 2, we find a similarly wide range of additional materials illustrating Woolf's work as a literary critic. For this edition, Reinhold prepared the first Russian translation of Woolf's major essay "Mr. Bennett and Mrs. Brown" where Woolf famously observed that "on or about December 1910 human character changed." It is hard to believe that this important literary manifesto of the twentieth century was first translated into Russian only in 2012. One may wonder whether this essay, along with Woolf's other critical works, remained unknown to Russian scholars until their first Russian translations. The answer is no: Russian researchers and students of English literature were, of course, aware of Woolf's works, as long as they could read them in the original. What Reinhold has done is to make Woolf's writings accessible to a wide Russian reading public--the Russian common reader.
Most poignant to the Russian reader will be to see translations of Woolf's essays on Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Chekhov, Aksakov, and other, less known, Russian authors. Not only is Reinhold the first to translate these works into Russian: she is the first to present them as one unified whole--as a mini-collection of Woolf's works on Russian literature. These seventeen essays--mostly Woolf's reviews of Russian writers whose works appeared in English translations between 1917 and 1926--are a standing reminder of Woolf's open-mindedness about foreign cultures. They remind us how, in her search for new and original ways in novelwriting, Woolf sought inspiration beyond her home border. These "Russian" essays offer us insight not only into Woolf's thoughts on Dostoevsky or Tolstoy, but also--and maybe even more importantly--into her personal beliefs as a writer.
Translating Woolf's essays is not a straightforward task. Both series of The Common Reader are rich with quotations from a multitude of authors--Chaucer, the Elizabethans, Montaigne, Defoe, Jane Austen, to name but a few. Woolf extensively quotes from their works, letting the style of their writings speak for itself. In this respect, translating Woolf's essays is similar to translating James Joyce's Ulysses: the translator has to re-create a whole choir of voices. Reinhold accomplishes this task brilliantly: for each author that Woolf quotes she finds --where possible--an already existing Russian translation and uses it in order to render Woolf's intertextual references into Russian. As a result of this painstaking work, she introduces the Russian reader not only to Woolf's voice, but also to the entire tapestry of voices present in The Common Reader.
As in any work of an encyclopaedic scope--and that is definitely the scope we find in Reinhold's commentary for The Common Reader 1 and 2--there are some minor oversights. The reason they are worth mentioning is their relevance to the Russian theme in Woolf's oeuvre. Discussing Dostoevsky's tendency to overpopulate his novels with minor and often outlandish characters, Woolf notes in her essay "The Russian Point of View": "The simple story of a bank clerk who could not pay for a bottle of wine spreads, before we know what is happening, into the lives of his father-in-law and the five mistresses whom his father-inlaw treated abominably, and the postman's life, and the charwoman's, and the Princesses' who lodged in the same block of flats [...]." Reinhold interprets this allusion as Woolf's collective reference to several episodes in Dostoevsky's novels Crime and Punishment, The Idiot, and The Gambler. While the images of a "charwoman" and the Princesses could be vaguely inspired by those novels, the image of the "father-in-law and the five mistresses" is Woolf's direct allusion to Dostoevsky's short story "An Unpleasant Predicament." It is also a distorted allusion, as in Dostoevsky's story the five women in question are not anyone's mistresses, but the father-in-law's relatives and lodgers. Woolf referred to these characters in her review of "An Unpleasant Predicament," written in 1919 and titled "Dostoevsky in Cranford." When re-working this piece in "The Russian Point of View," she exaggerated the intricacy of Dostoevsky's plot to the point of absurdity. Here she was following one of her own rules of essay writing: in "The Modern Essay" (1922), she observed that "literal truth-telling" is "out of place in an essay."
To go back to Reinhold's remarkable achievement of translating Night and Day, as well as both series of The Common Reader and several other key examples of Woolf's literary criticism, it needs to be briefly remembered why Woolf's works remained untranslated in Russia for such a long time. As Reinhold herself points out in Woolf Across Cultures, Woolf--along with other modernist authors, such as Joyce and D. H. Lawrence--was classed as "decadent," "highbrow," and thus contrary to the Soviet ideology. To ignore this label and proceed with translating an anti-Soviet author could be suicidal under Stalin's rule. For instance, Valentin Stenich (aka Smetanich), one of the first translators of Joyce in Russia, had been on the black list of Stalin's secret police for many years. Not only did he translate works by experimental authors, such as Joyce, Dos Passos, and Brecht--he was also an aesthete, a dandy, and a non-conformist who did not join the Communist Party even when it became almost compulsory under Stalin. In the end, the secret police accused him of terrorism and plotting against the Soviet government (standard accusations that the regime used when it needed to exterminate somebody). Stenich was sentenced to death and shot in 1938. There were no volunteers to risk their lives by translating the supposedly anti-proletarian Woolf in the Soviet era. Enthusiasts of English literature waited until the country reached relative ideological freedom. The first novel of Woolf's to be translated into Russian was Mrs. Dalloway, which came out in Moscow in 1984. It was followed by Russian translations of Flush (1986), To the Lighthouse (1988), Jacob's Room (1991), Orlando (1997), The Waves (2001), The Voyage Out (2002), Between the Acts (2004), and The Years (2005). Reinhold's translation of Night and Day is the final step in making Woolf's novels accessible to Russian readers.
Having established the historical significance of Reinhold's editions of Woolf, it is also important to address the problem of translating Woolf into Russian. From her work with Koteliansky, Woolf knew very well how difficult it is to reproduce a literary text in a different language. In "The Russian Point of View," she observed that in translation, literature gets "stripped of its style" and as a result, "nothing remains except a crude and coarsened version of the sense." Exactly how much of Woolf's style does Reinhold manage to preserve in her translations? This question is difficult to answer, as translation is always a process of interpretation, where personal understanding of words and their connotations comes into play. Reinhold is a sensitive and skilful translator whose command of both English and Russian is indisputable. A proof of this is her rendition of the title of Woolf's second novel. In her afterword to the translation, she points out that "night and day" has several meanings, one of which is "all the time, constantly." She perceptively links this meaning of the title to Woolf's quotation from Dostoevsky in Chapter 10 of Night and Day: "It's life that matters, nothing but life--the process of discovering--the everlasting and perpetual process, not the discovery itself at all." Reinhold explains that in Russian this sense of perpetuity is conveyed by a similar expression, but with a reverse word order--Den' i noch (literally "day and night"), and so this is the title under which the Russian reader will know Woolf's novel.
Another proof of Reinhold's translating skill is that the reader of her version of Night and Day is instantly swathed in the atmosphere of Edwardian London. Reinhold's translation of Night and Day is reminiscent of Galsworthy's The Forsyte Saga in the way it allows the reader to imagine the smells and sounds of Edwardian streets and households. It also has a similar narrative rhythm --measured and continuous, which corresponds with the novel's title. In Night and Day, Woolf still pays a lot of attention to the "fabric of things" (to use her expression from "Mr. Bennett and Mrs. Brown"), so Reinhold is right to preserve these stylistic parallels with Galsworthy--the writer whom Woolf later described as the most factual of the Edwardians.
Before proceeding to a word-by-word analysis of Reinhold's achievement, it needs to be mentioned that there are two main methods of
translation. One can be called poetic: it leaves everything that is unexplained or subtly implied in the original similarly ambiguous. The other method is more explanatory: it is used when the translator wants to bring hidden meanings of the original to the surface and make the author's intentions more outspoken. In her translations of Woolf's works, Reinhold frequently uses the second method. Her choice is justified in two ways. Firstly, some of the meanings that Woolf leaves between the lines in her writings would be completely lost in a Russian translation, unless they were made more pronounced than they are in the original. Secondly, some of the meanings in Woolf's texts (particularly in Night and Day) refer to customs and practices of Edwardian England: they need an overt translation, because otherwise they would mystify the modern-day Russian reader, due to cultural and historical differences.
Reinhold's use of the explanatory method of translation, even though justified, still results in the inevitable transformation of Woolf's style. Woolf's prose--her novels as well as her essays--is highly poetic: even in the more traditional Night and Day, she leaves many meanings unspoken. To take the first line of the novel: "It was a Sunday evening in October, and in common with many other young ladies of her class, Katharine Hilbery was pouring out tea." Woolf leaves it up to her reader to imagine what happens on an October evening in terms of outdoor luminosity. She also leaves it assumed--rather than openly stated--that Katharine Hilbery's social status is a prominent one. Compare this sentence to the version of Woolf Reinhold presents to the Russian reader: "The end of Sunday was approaching, it was getting dark--in respectable homes at this October time young ladies usually pour tea--and Katharine Hilbery was busy precisely with this: a family tea-party." It is not entirely fair to judge a translation by rendering it back into the original language, but this is the only way to let the English reader imagine the transformation that Woolf's style goes through when translated into Russian. The problem is not that her prose becomes more wordy, although it is a fact that to convey the same idea, the Russian language uses more words and is less economical than English. The problem is more about the pace of Woolf's narrative: in translation, it becomes more diffused.
This is particularly noticeable when it comes to Woolf's similes. We can see this if we compare the penultimate sentence of Chapter 1 in Night and Day to its Russian translation:
It was like tearing through a maze of diamond-glittering spiders' webs to say goodbye and escape [...]. To say good-bye and leave was equal to the attempts of the fly, who got caught by a spider, to free itself from the maze of the web, woven into a shining, diamond-shaped polyhedron.
Reinhold inevitably has to re-phrase the whole sentence, because Woolf's text would not make sense to the Russian reader if translated literally. However, it may be suggested that in order to preserve the poetic subtlety and economy of Woolf's prose, some meanings can be left implicit--or even left out--in Russian translation.
Another example is the enigmatic closing sentence of Woolf's essay "The Russian Point of View," and its Russian translation: "But the mind takes its bias from the place of its birth, and no doubt, when it strikes upon a literature so alien as the Russian, flies off at a tangent far from the truth." Compare this to what it approximately sounds like in Russian: "But perhaps this is the reaction of a foreigner, for whom it is difficult to abandon the prejudices absorbed with mother's milk, and so his evaluation of a literature as distant and alien as Russian most likely misses the target, without touching its true essence." In Reinhold's translation, Woolf's statement sounds less tentative than in the original. Throughout her essays on the Russians, Woolf is careful not to present either her--or anyone else's--opinion on Russian literature as the only authoritative one. The word "foreigner," absent in Woolf's statement, immediately defines the speaker as an outsider in relation to the world of Russian letters. In the original, there is only one word, "alien," that points to this divide between the speaker and the Russians; in the translation, there are three such words--"foreigner," "alien," and "distant." The presence of gender in Russian nouns is another problem that translators of Woolf encounter. This is particularly significant in Woolf's case as she often provides either a proudly female or a neutral first-person plural (as in "we") perspective in her literary essays. Throughout "The Russian Point of View," Woolf speaks on behalf of "us," her fellow English readers, irrespective of their gender. In Reinhold's translation, the words "foreigner" and "his evaluation" define the speaker of the essay as male, and since it is the closing sentence of the essay, it casts a certain strange light on Woolf's gender-neutral discussion of Russian literature.
The transformations that Woolf's style undergoes in Reinhold's translations are largely inevitable and are caused by the syntactic and morphological differences between English and Russian. What is truly miraculous and exemplary of Reinhold's skill as a translator is how she manages to convey the irony and sarcasm ubiquitous in Woolf's literary criticism. A perfect example of Woolf's sharp wit is "Mr. Bennett and Mrs. Brown," where she describes Edwardian novels as "the most dreary, irrelevant, and humbugging affairs in the world."
She proceeds to paint a scathing portrait of the English reading public as "a very suggestible and docile creature," who is ready to believe that women have "tails" and men have "humps." Reinhold masterfully recreates these sneers in her Russian translation of the essay: she makes Woolf's language even more colloquial and idiomatic than it is in English. For example, in the Russian translation the English reading public does not stop at saying, "No; she [Woolf's Mrs. Brown] is a mere figment of your imagination": she goes on to say, "Do not hold your breath, I will not believe [in Mrs. Brown]--forget it!"
To conclude, despite the difficulties of rendering English texts into Russian, Reinhold succeeds in preserving the heart and soul of Woolf's writings. English readers can rest assured that in Reinhold's versions of Woolf's novels, "[l]ife is not a series of gig lamps symmetrically arranged; life is a luminous halo, a semitransparent envelope surrounding us from the beginning of consciousness to the end." Translating Woolf in Russia is more than a literary act: it is an act of healing the cultural memory of an entire country. Reinhold's translations are worthy contributions to this process.
(1) The additions are "Tolstoy's 'The Cossacks'"; "More Dostoevsky"; "A Minor Dostoevsky"; "A Russian Schoolboy"; "Tchehov's Questions"; "Valery Brussof"; "A View of the Russian Revolution"; "The Russian View"; "The Russian Background"; "Dostoevsky in Cranford"; "'The Cherry Orchard'"; "Gorky on Tolstoy"; "A Glance at Turgenev"; "Dostoevsky the Father"; "A Giant with Very Small Thumbs"; "The Novels of Turgenev"; "Uncle Vanya"; "Mr. Bennett and Mrs. Brown"; "A Letter to a Young Poet"; "A Room of One's Own."
Darya Protopopova, UCL--Institute of Education
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|Title Annotation:||Night and Day|
|Publication:||Woolf Studies Annual|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Jan 1, 2015|
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