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Minster Folk

March 19, 2012

Margaret Winchell recently translated Leskov’s The Cathedral Clergy, or Cathedral Folk, or Minster Folk, as I know thanks to another review by Barry P. Scherr. There aren’t as many English versions of it as there are of Oblomov, and Scherr feels Winchell’s version is an improvement over Isabel Hapgood’s 1924 translation.

I know Leskov is hard to translate for several reasons, but it’s less obvious that the title Соборяне is itself difficult and a rare word in Russian. Minster Folk is apparently Mirsky’s suggestion to deal with the low-frequency word issue (though Scherr suggests “minster” is overkill). The familiar Cathedral Folk properly hints at the tricky concept of соборность, but could seem to include more people than just the clergy. The Cathedral Clergy is more precise but sounds too normal and too grand, and has no implication of соборность.

That issue reminded me of Irmhild Christina Sperrle talking about how to translate the title “Заячий ремиз.” Should it be “The Rabbit Warren”? “The Rabbit Carriage”? Something else? Leskov is, per Sperrle, fond of strange titles.

It’s strange as a non-native reader to be reminded that not everything is clear to the natives. Everything is a little bit exotic anyway, and you get used to correcting for that and assuming that what seems exotic to you sounds normal to the “real” audience. The word собор is familiar, so соборяне sounds as normal as инопланетяне and rather less odd than, say, баре as the plural of барин.

See Scherr’s review in Slavic and East European Journal 55.4 (2011): 642-44. (If anyone, like me, searched for “Margaret Witchell” instead of Winchell and found surprisingly little, may this post point out the spelling.)

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