TRANSLATION IN THE SECOND HALF OF THE 19TH CENTURY
The second half of the 19th century saw a great increase in the volume of translated literature. During this period there was a gradual decline in poetry and a rise of prose. Beginning about 1860, Russian culture was dominated by a group known as the "intelligentsia," a word that the English borrowed from the Russian but which means something rather different in its original Russian usage (‘raznochintsy”).110 They did not speak or read foreign languages, which required a greater number of translations. The quantitative increase led to a qualitative decrease. Most translations of that period were very far from the original texts, as they rendered only the outline of the source text rather than its style.
This period witnessed a change of status for translated literature. In the early 19th century, translation was regarded as part and parcel of the author’s original creative work (it is not by chance that Gnedich, famous for his translations, was portrayed among great Russian authors in Novgorod’s monument to the thousandth anniversary of Russia.) While in the early 19th century foreign literary works were adopted by Russian literature, the situation changed drastically in the late 19th century: translated literature was shunned from the original fiction. Translated works began to be regarded as foreign literature related to Russian literature only by the new language expression they acquired. The second half of the 19th century separated the translator and the author, by subordinating the former to the latter.
One of the most outstanding poets and translators of the time was Afanasy Fet,whowrote delicate love lyrics and translated classics (Horace, Virgil, Ovid, Catullus) and German poets. According to K. Chukovsky, Fet the translator and Fet the poet are absolutely incomparable.111 Fet the poet is superb. He is superior to Fet the translator. As a translator, Fet took great care of the poetic form, nearly neglecting the sense, so that some of his poems could be understood only with reference to the source text. Fet himself did only word-for-word translations, justifying his position by comparing the translation with a picture: even the worst picture will better familiarize a person with Venus de Milo than can any verbal description. Such is the translation. It might sound clumsy in another language but it should cause the reader to feel the force and magnitude of the original.112
Why is it possible that Fet, such a splendid lyrical poet, could be so clumsy and tongue-tied in translation? Scholars explain this by Fet’s agnosticism, that is, his philosophical belief that nothing can be known in depth, that only perceptible phenomena are objects of exact knowledge.113 This attitude of the poet is reflected both in his impressionist poetry where he represented only his own impressions of the intangible world, and in his translations where he reproduced the unattainable content of the source text. Thus Fet, who literally showed in translation somebody else’s feelings, was opposed to Zhukovsky, who gave voice to his own, subjective feelings in translation.
In contrast to Fet’s were the translation principles of Irinarkh Vvedensky, known for his free translation of C. Dickens and W. Thackeray. Vvedensky called translators, first and foremost, to read the source text carefully, to associate themselves with the author and, then, to move the author to our community and answer the question: in what form would the author express his ideas if he lived with us, in this country?114 When translating, he would typically add pages which had nothing to do with the source text. While criticizing Vvedensky’s work, K. Chukovsky said that his translation was in fact a sneer at Dickens, uncontested by the Russian educated public.115
Another translation method was characteristic of Alexei K. Tolstoy, who introduced pragmatic requirements into translation. “We should not translate words, and sometimes not even sense; what is important is to convey the impression.”116 Translation should have the same impact upon the reader as has the original text.
Tolstoy’s principle was developed by a revolutionary democrat M. Mikhailov,who denied literal translation and even thought it possible to make form substitutions to produce the same effect upon the reader as does the source text. Similar ideas were shared by V. Kurochkin.