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One more Dead Souls translation

June 3, 2022

Year after year, the most read post on this blog is Translation Comparison: Dead Souls. I didn’t claim to include every published translation of Gogol’s 1842 novel, but it’s been bothering me that I called C. J. Hogarth a trailblazer for what he published in 1915 without mentioning Isabel Hapgood’s 1886 translation. So here’s what Hapgood did with the beginning of part 1, chapter 5:

Nevertheless, our hero was thoroughly frightened. Although his britchka was rolling along at full speed, and Nozdreff’s village had long since disappeared from his sight behind meadows, declivities, and hillocks, he still kept looking behind him with terror, as though in the expectation that a pursuing party would suddenly make its appearance. He breathed with difficulty; and when he tried to lay his hand upon his heart, he found that it was beating like a woodcock in a cage. “Eh, what an experience he has given me! Only think of it!” (121–22)

You can find the Russian and five other English translations in the old post. In this short excerpt Hapgood anticipates quite a bit of what later translators would go on to do. The things that stand out to me as different and a bit odd are “declivities” for отлогости (Hogarth has “hillocks,” Magarshack has “the sloping ground,” English has “hills,” Pevear and Volokhonsky have “slopes,” Rayfield has “sloping hills”) and the final two sentences in quotes. “What an experience he has given me!” strikes me in 2022 as so weak and flavorless compared to the idiom “какую баню задал!” that I wonder if what’s happened is a shift in the stylistic character of the English word “experience” in the last 136 years.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. June 3, 2022 8:17 am

    I agree with you on all counts, and I’ve added a comment to the earlier post pointing to this one. I’m glad people are so interested in translation comparisons!

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