Thursday, 31 July 2014

Visiting Ventnor with Ivan Tourguenoff

The Isle of Wight has been luring me for some time - not just because it was named the UK's Dinosaur Capital in 2013, but because in 2011 I read Sarah Young's wonderful blog post  called 'In Herzen's Footsteps: A Visit to Ventnor'. Sarah describes how a chain of chance discoveries led her to spend a weekend in the same early Victorian villa where Alexander Herzen's family party stayed in 1854 and again in 1855 (renting the entire house both times).
Almost in passing, Sarah mentions that Ivan Turgenev also stayed in the picturesque coastal town of Ventnor in 1860. He would plan much of the plot of Fathers and Sons (published two years later) during his three-week holiday, and the setting for his story Prizraki (Phantoms, 1863) is based on nearby coastal scenery. For the last three years, therefore, I have been anticipating visiting Ventnor for my own spot of Turgenev tourism.

One of Sarah's major sources for her post is a 1973 SEER article by Richard Freeborn, succinctly titled 'Turgenev in Ventnor'. (Freeborn enjoyed his Turgenev research so much he based a murder mystery novel on it (reviewed here)). This article is a fascinating account of the minutiae of Turgenev's visit; how Herzen's directions ('haphazard to the point of lunacy') almost ensured that Turgenev never found the island, let alone Ventnor; and how the latter became in summer 1860 a virtual hive of Russian tourists and émigrés, including the influential journal editor Mikhail Katkov, the critic Vasilii Botkin,  numerous liberal-minded aristocrats, and Turgenev's personal house-guest, the writer Pavel Annenkov. Turgenev may or may not have been bored in Ventnor, despite the charms of 'freshly mown hay', 'bottle-green waves [...] seaweed-striped sand' he described in letters cited by Freeborn. But he certainly drifted into serious political and social debates with his compatriots.

Me at Rock Cottage

These debates may or may not have helped to define the social antinomies later personified in Fathers and Sons. Annenkov, in his Literary Reminiscences, records that both men were asked by their landlady to leave the first villa they occupied -  'clean and pretty' Rock Cottage on high ground between the beach and the town - because of Annenkov's insistence on smoking strong tobacco. Freeborn ingeniously tracked down corroboration of this move in the relevant editions of the weekly Ventnor Times for August and September 1860. The move that Annenkov reports genuinely did happen; we also learn that the Times ingeniously misspelled Turgenev's surname twice. He was Mr Tourguenett when staying at Rock Cottage, but Mr Tourguenoff after the move to Belinda House on the Esplanade.

The view from Rock Cottage

There is very little I can add to Sarah Young's and Richard Freeborn's accounts, besides reporting on both of Ivan Turgenev's Isle of Wight dwellings. Neither had much luck after their most famous visitor moved out: Rock Cottage on Belgrave Road was destroyed in a German bombing raid, although rebuilt on the same spot with the same name, while Belinda House, according to Freeborn, was rendered unsafe for habitation by subsidence, and is now also rebuilt (renamed Cedar Lodge). We viewed Rock Cottage 2.0 without difficulty; we expected to be similarly edified by Cedar Lodge.  We assumed it would be even easier to find because of the blue plaque it bears commemorating Turgenev's visit. So much the greater was our surprise when neither plaque nor house materialized. Without Sarah's photo of the plaque, posted on her blog, we would have assumed that it never existed. After a fruitless search, we repaired to the Spyglass Inn for consolatory cod and chips. Fortunately, a second chain of chance discoveries - a book sale at a bus stop, and a local historian's advice - later put me in touch with the Curator of the Ventnor Museum (closed when we visited). His email clears up the mystery of the missing plaque:

In answer to your query [...] the house Ivan Tugenev [sic] stayed in is on Ventnor Esplanade and is now occupied by a modern timber style bungalow called "Cedar Lodge".  It is located at the Western end of the Esplanade just beyond a turning called Alma Road.  You could not find the plaque because The Heritage Museum have it as it was damaged in last winters storms. Now awaiting repair.  When it was in position on the property it was on the side of the building and not so easily seen. This was at the request of the owner.

One wonders about this bashful proprietor. True, minds do exist (mine among them) for whom finding Turgenev's holiday lets in Ventnor is at least as exciting as locating Julia Roberts' mansion in Beverly Hills (and also less likely to be patrolled by uniformed security). Yet it's somehow hard to imagine daily crowds of gawking 'Bazarov Trail' tourists with 'Rudin Rules!' T-shirts forcing the freeholders of Cedar Lodge to adopt evasive measures.

In their position, I'd be less publicity-shy: I'd start a business offering Turgenev teas, Sportsman's Sandwiches, and frogs' legs à la Bazarov. As a dinosaur on the Isle of Wight, I must be entitled to some return on my capital...

Picture credits Cutter's Last Stand
Useful sources (both available through JSTOR)
  • Richard Freeborn, 'Turgenev at Ventnor', The Slavonic and East European Review, 51:124 (July 1973), pp. 387-412 
  • James B. Woodward, 'Turgenev's "Phantoms": A Reassessment', The Slavonic and East European Review, 50: 121 (Oct 1972), pp. 530-545  

Friday, 25 July 2014

If It Squelches Like A Snipe, It's... Anna Karenina

2014 will witness a high-tension face-off between two competing purveyors of Russian culture. No, they're not overpriced coffee franchises, Kofe-Haus and Shokoladnitsa; they don't involve any part of Pyotr Pavlensky's anatomy; and they certainly aren't Putin and Medvedev. In autumn 2014, Oxford and Yale University Presses will launch new translations of Tolstoy's Anna Karenina by translators Rosamund Bartlett and Marian Schwartz respectively. You can admire both books' websites here and here. (Not that the Dinosaur is prejudiced, but Rosamund Bartlett's version is already available on Kindle).

Millais' portrait of Louise Jopling (1879)
While I look forward to a readathon with both translations in the near future, I already enjoyed a direct introduction to Rosamund Bartlett's when she spoke at the University of Exeter's humanities seminar last month. Rosamund has been working intensively on Anna for the last three years, ever since finishing her 2010 biography of its author, Tolstoy: A Russian Life. When she spoke to us, she was less than 24 hours away from her final proofs check (and able to reveal the cover image, pictured right, a portrait of the British artist Louise Jopling; entirely unrelated to Anna, although Jopling did have three husbands). From that unique perspective, Rosamund shared many of her insights and discoveries about Tolstoy, who is virtually a member of her family by now, and also about his translators. I was fascinated to learn just how many translators Anna Karenina has had, from the Harvard graduate and fellow Tolstoy biographer Nathan Haskell Dole in 1886, to the extraordinary story of Kirill Zinofieff's and Jenny Hughes' collaboration on their 2008 version, which Zinofieff had begun and abandoned over half a century previously with his late wife, the translator April FitzLyon. Zinofieff was 98 and clinically blind during the manuscript revision for Oneworld Press; his friend Hughes, knowing no Russian, learned the Cyrillic alphabet in order to be able to 'read' the Russian original aloud to him word by word (this podcast gives their story). Intriguingly, of the 13 separate translations to date, three were produced wholly or partly by husband-and-wife teams - a useful reminder that the original Anna, scrawled by Tolstoy and fair-copied by Sofia Andreyevna, was also a product of conjugal teamwork. Perhaps the message is that you don't have to be married to translate Tolstoy, but it helps?

 Here, with Rosamund's permission, is the family tree of Anna Karenina's Anglophone translators:

  1. Nathan Haskell Dole (New York: Thomas Y. Crowell, 1886)
  2.  Constance Garnett (London: Heinemann, 1901)
  3.  Leo Wiener [Anna Karenin] (Boston: Estes, London: Dent, 1904)
  4. Rochelle S. Townsend (London: Dent, New York: E. P. Dutton, 1912)
  5. Louise and Aylmer Maude (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1918)
  6. Rosemary Edmonds [Anna Karenin] (Harmondsworth: Penguin, , 1954)
  7.  Joel Carmichael (New York: Bantam Books, 1960)
  8.  David Magarshack (New York: Signet Classics, 1961)
  9.  Margaret Wettlin (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1978)
  10.  Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky (London: Allen Lane, 2000)
  11.  Kyril Zinovieff and Jenny Hughes (and, arguably, April FitzLyon) (London: Oneworld Classics, 2008) 
  12. Rosamund Bartlett (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014)
  13. Marian Schwartz (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2014)
Rosamund's talk also threw light on the degree of finesse required to translate Tolstoy correctly - a quest for accuracy that, in the past, has drawn her into correspondence with beekeepers and birdwatchers. She drew our attention to a short passage from Levin's snipe hunt in Part 6, Chapter 10 of the novel. Here the sticking point, or rather squelching point, is the precise sound made by a snipe flushed by hunters. Russian possesses the onomatopoeic verb chmokat’ for this phenomenon (social butterflies will be familiar with the throaway endearment chmoki, meaning 'kisses' in the sense of lip-smacking - rather like the English air-kiss 'mwah').  The problem is that Tolstoy uses exactly the same verb to describe what Bartlett calls 'the sucking sound made by Levin’s heel as he extracts it from the bog', thus emphasizing Levin's temporary confusion between his own noise and the bird's alarm call. Previous translators have exerted themselves to find a suitably onomatopoeic verb for the snipe's call plus a completely different verb for Levin's boot, thus losing Tolstoy's deliberate ambiguity. Here is the original passage:  

Ближе и ближе подходили собаки, минуя одна другую, каждая ведя свою нить; ожидание бекаса было так сильно, что чмоканье своего каблука, вытаскиваемого изо ржавчины, представлялось Левину криком бекаса, и он схватывал и сжимал приклад ружья.

Бац! Бац! — раздалось у него над ухом. Это Васенька выстрелил в стадо уток, которые вились над болотом и далеко не в меру налетели в это время на охотников. Не успел Левин оглянуться, как уж чмокнул один бекас, другой, третий, и еще штук восемь поднялось один за другим.

Here is Rosamund's translation:

The dogs were getting nearer and nearer, keeping out of each other’s way as they followed their own trail: the expectation of snipe was so intense that Levin thought the squelching sound of his heel as he pulled it out of the bog was the call of a snipe, and he clutched the butt of his gun and held it tight.
‘Bang! bang!’ rang out above his ear. It was Vasenka shooting a flock of ducks that had been circling over the marsh and just then flying towards the sportsmen far out of range. A snipe squelched before Levin had time to look round, followed by a second and a third, and then about eight more rose one after the other.
A Norfolk snipe. Is it squelching, whirring, or creeching?
This is Constance Garnett's version:

the expectation of snipe was so intense that to Levin the squelching sound of his own heel, as he drew it up out of the mire, seemed to be the call of a snipe... Before Levin had time to look round, there was the whir of one snipe....

And here are the Maudes, Rosamund's immediate predecessors at OUP:

the expectation of snipe was so intense that the squelching sound of his own heel, as he drew it out of the rusty mud, sounded to Levin like the call of a bird... Before Levin had time to look round, he heard the whirr of a snipe...

And finally the formidable Pevear and Volokhonsky:

the expectation was so intense that the sucking of his own boot as he pulled it out of the rusty water sounded to Levin like the call of a snipe... Levin had barely turned to look when a snipe creeched...

This goes to show that translators can try too hard and, by their versatility, impede the flow of their source texts. 

The Dinosaur wishes Rosamund Bartlett and Marian Schwartz well with the imminent launch and promotion of their books, and looks forward to reviewing both by Christmas. Two Tolstoy
translations, tandemocracy... well, it's been clear ever since Sochi that Russian culture emphasizes doing important things in pairs.


Wednesday, 23 July 2014

After (Before and During)

A man crosses snowy Moscow to reach a psychiatric hospital. Amnesia is gradually erasing his personality, funneling his future into the black hole of early dementia. To fortify his ebbing consciousness, he starts a Memorial Book (Sinodik). In the Orthodox tradition, this was a list of the dead to be prayed over. But despite the narrator's Christian faith, his Memorial Book is inspired not by religion but by a gruesome childhood obsession: the ominous Book of the Disgraced (Sinodik opal'nykh) where Ivan the Terrible inscribed the catalogue of his own cruelties. In our time, this is often the only historical record of Ivan's atrocities and of the thousands of lives he erased. As the historian S.B. Veselovsky noted, Ivan's 'extreme measures' were deliberately intended to extirpate victims as if they had never existed: to '[strike] the soul for all eternity' by giving no chance for repentance before execution, refusing Christian burial, feeding corpses to dogs, killing whole families. Not even memories survived: 'in order to deprive the person of hope for the salvation of his soul, he was deprived of memorialization'.* The Book of the Disgraced was Ivan's late-career policy reversal, an attempt to salvage these lost souls and, perhaps, with theirs, his own. For our man in the Moscow asylum, menaced imminently by oblivion, his own Memorial Book is in no way a light-hearted, or sentimental, or even an individual record. First and foremost he dedicated it to 'people who [...] died before their time, leaving nothing behind except in my memory'. This book is not P.S. I Love You. It is a project for collective resurrection, for the rebirth of generations scythed down, if not by tyrants, by time itself.

Russian novels, eh? All of the above develops in the first nineteen pages of Vladimir Sharov's Before and During (Do i vo vremia, 1991), now translated into English for the first time by Oliver Ready. Already Sharov (an old Dinosaur acquaintance) has melded madness, faith, politics, historical and personal tragedy. Even his narrator's career - as a children's writer in the late Soviet period - dimly echoes that of Daniil Kharms, the brilliant satirist who starved to death in a mental ward in 1942. Before and During is a darkly brilliant book which sometimes ironizes, sometimes genuinely challenges conceits woven through modern Russian history and culture: fleshly resurrection, holy foolishness, erotic utopia and the sexualization of terror. As his Memorial Book grows, the narrator finds himself transcribing the life stories of every inmate in the asylum. Senile Party apparatchiks and institutionalized geniuses queue up patiently to be recorded, never interrupting each other's stories, understanding 'that the life of one man is just a tiny piece, that to survive, to be saved, they had to become one whole'. Sharov has much restrained, culturally specific fun by materializing the sacred trope of collective unity in grotesque sexual incidents. Stalin, half-drowned, copulates transcendently with his birth mother. A Georgian ex-bandit conceives a son (not coincidentally, Stalin's father) in his final paroxysm on the scaffold. Vladimir Solovyev promised his followers eternal life if they had the right kind of sex; Nikolai Fyodorov and Lev Tolstoy promised their followers eternal life if they had no sex at all; naturally, all three are recurring characters. Madame de Staël has sex with everyone and twice gives birth to herself. De Staël, whom I  always thought of as an influentially incidental historical figure (remember her working a room in Pushkin's unfinished Roslavlev: 'The guests' attention was divided between the sturgeon and M-me de Staël'), here takes centre stage. Not only does she use opium to drug and technically rape an illegitimate half-wit, Nikolai Fyodorov, exploiting his romantic obsession with her (she subsequently bears him three idiot sons); in a later incarnation, she abuses her special relationship with Stalin to manipulate him into ordering the Great Purges. At the novel's end, she and Fyodorov both inhabit the narrator's ward, still deadlocked between desire and consummation, passion and betrayal. History is retold as a sexual act: Scriabin explains to Lenin that 'Russia [...] is already pregnant with the Revolution', a seductive transsexual siren who transfixes its victims with the phallic principle of terror. I couldn't find a flaw in Oliver Ready's translation; he copes well with Sharov's rolling alternation of sonority and absurdity. Personally, I wouldn't translate Stalin's coital murmurs of 'Mama... mamochka' as 'Mummy, mummy'. But a jarring endearment was hardly the most grotesque aspect of that particular scene.

To make sense of Sharov, it helps to think about Tolstoy - another writer whose bafflement with erotic love shaped both his life and his most famous works of fiction. In Before and During, Sharov suggests that Tolstoy's estrangement from his wife intensified when the children she bore disappointed him: 'Tolstoy was waiting for [...] his wife to give birth to followers. But she didn't know how to give birth to disciples, only children, so then he walked out on his own family'. In so doing, he failed to realize that his eldest son Lev Lvovich was actually his own twin, a perfect copy of himself: 'Lev Nikolayevich had the good fortune to be resurrected without dying, to be given two lives, both very long - but he failed to appreciate this gift'. Because they don't acknowledge their shared identity, both Levs die unfulfilled, equally if differently baffled. Another such failed resurrection affects Fyodorov, De Staël's great love in Before and During. Historically, he is credited with a utopian theory that sons will achieve the material resurrection of their fathers and forefathers, provided they abstain from procreation and other bodily lapses. Fate punishes the fictional Fyodorov for his hypocritical (albeit unconscious) sexual liaison with De Staël by making their three sons both illegitimate and witless: 'The task, the mission of the sons was the resurrection of the fathers, but Fyodorov's sons, who'd never seen him and knew nothing about him, would never be able to resurrect him'. In his last major novel, the aptly named Resurrection (1889-99), Tolstoy renewed his attack on Eros, switching between male and female perspectives to tell the story of a nobleman, Dmitrii Nekhliudov, who seduces and abandons his aunts' ward; as a result, she becomes a prostitute. Ten years later he accidentally causes her to be condemned for a crime she did not commit, then seeks redemption by following her into Siberian exile.

Although Resurrection contains some of Tolstoy's most lyrical evocations of sexual love (Nekhliudov's yearning for Katiusha as ice breaks on the river! Pregnant Katiusha chasing Nekhliudov's carriage - what is it about Tolstoy, women and trains?), most of the novel attacks Russia's political, legal and social structure, not forgetting some criticism of agricultural economy, with an occasional broadside against Orthodoxy. (The book's raison d'être as a fundraiser for the Dukhobors' flight to Canada has been well-publicized.) These rodomontades are oppressive, occasionally tendentious, but sincere. Idealistic, mercurial Nekhliudov reflects Tolstoy's perception of his own spiritual evolution from self-indulgent rake to penitent philosopher. And yet it would be disingenuous to suggest that Resurrection was written wholly, or even primarily, as social critique. This is a novel about a man's love for a woman: the insolence of office and the law's delay are merely tropes for the frustrations and failures of passion. The Song of Solomon famously uses erotic metaphors to represent religious faith; Tolstoy is doing the reverse. His blasts against Church and state, political and legal bodies veil his preoccupation with more intimate forms.

Nekhliudov consummates his relationship with Katiusha very early in the novel, but when they meet again, he discovers that spiritual unity with the woman she has become is much harder to achieve, even when he offers marriage. As he criss-crosses Russia, lobbying on her behalf and following her convoy into Siberia, he simultaneously pursues possession of the woman he loves, body and soul: a quest that is hopelessly impeded by their previous sexual connection. Similarly, in Sharov's novel De Staël and Fyodorov begin their relationship with a tumultuous affair (unconsciously, on one side), followed by a long estrangement. Their ultimate reunion falls short of reconciliation: Fyodorov will not compromise his chastity, nor will De Staël renounce her sexuality. Admittedly Sharov reverses the polarities in their relationship, making De Staël the socially powerful pursuer. But Sharov's Fyodorov and Tolstoy's Nekhliudov share other personality traits, including their notorious holy-foolishness. Nekhliudov even worries that his rapacious brother-in-law will cite his eccentricities as grounds to have him sectioned and administer his estate. (The asylum looms again). Like the unworldly, ranting Fyodorov, Nekhliudov is a conversation killer. In Resurrection, when everyone is conventionally lamenting the tragic outcome of a duel between two drunken officers during which one (an only son!) is fatally wounded, Nekhliudov points out the double standard. An officer gets slapped on the wrist for committing manslaughter in the name of his regiment, but a peasant, although provoked to murder by poverty and injustice, can expect exile for life under brutal conditions. 'He spoke what was in his mind. At first Countess Katerina Ivanovna tried to agree with her nephew, but then she fell silent. So did everyone else, and Nekhliudov had the feeling that by telling this tale he had committed something verging on an indelicacy' (Part II, Chapter 17).  Resurrection  recounts many indelicacies and awkward silences left in Dmitrii Nekhliudov's wake. And yet - despite the tendentiousness shared by novel and hero - both confront the psychological gap between sexual knowledge and spiritual intimacy. So do the characters in Sharov's Before and During. Neither Sharov's novel nor Tolstoy's offer a cure for this rift, this shortfall between souls, but both find tentative faith in the collective - not only by memorializing extinct lives but by choosing to love others (for Tolstoy's Nekhliudov, in a strictly philanthropic sense).

Despite Tolstoy's political crusades and Sharov's grotesque invented histories, both novels are really about the same thing: the ineffable despair latent in human love. Our destiny is to despair of love, and to love, despairing. At least, in Russian novels...

*S.B. Veselovsky cited by Alexander Yanov in The Origins of Autocracy: Ivan the Terrible in Russian History (University of California Press, 1981), p. 253.
Illustrations by Alexander Smirnov are from the 2009 edition of Do i vo vremia (Arsis, 2009).