Not-so-escapist reading

"… Or else I'll just switch to Nikolai Gogol ; I've always wanted to read The Overcoat."

Thus I innocently ended my last post, which was – I'm sorry to say – a longish time ago. And true to my word, I picked up Gogol's Peterbrugskie Rasskazy – Petersburg Tales – in its Hebrew version, Sipurim Peterburgyim – translated by Nili Mirsky(1) the cover showing a surreal pair of feet/boots, courtesy of Rene Magritte. My eldest is tremendously fond of Gogol, and confers this book as a gift on people she loves, hoping they'll appreciate it as much as she does.

I reached page 12, which is in fact but the 6th page since the story only begins on page 7… And I got stuck. Not because it was tremendously detailed, meandering, and slow, god forbid… but because I had some questions and wanted to discuss the story with my mom. She said "with pleasure, I've always wanted to read The Overcoat!" and so I Googled and found a few versions in English. And that's where my troubles began.

"כל הרשויות והשירותים למיניהם – אין רגזנים מהם בעולם"
"There is nothing more irritable than departments…", says Translation A. Oh yeah? "There is nothing more irritable than all kinds of departments," says Translation B; while translation C goes further and says "There is nothing in the world more readily moved to wrath than a department,…" and translation D says "For all these departments… all estates of government service – are the most bad-tempered lot."

And I can't help but wonder: What does it say in Russian? Which of these is closest to the original? Which version should I continue reading?... Whom shall I consult? I do have several Russian-speaking friends. Would they have a copy of the book handy? Shall I trouble them to look it up? And if they do, will they be able to explain to me the nuances of the original Russian?

If I were a university student, writing a paper on literature or translation, I'd happily read the entire versions A, B, C and D. But I'm a Working Person, or at least I'm trying to be one, things are rather slow at the moment; I don't do lengthy research just for the fun of it.

I did compare one more paragraph, the one describing the clerk, the owner of the overcoat:

קטן קומה, מחוטט במקצת, אדמוני במקצת, ולמראית עין אף סומא במקצת, קרחת לא גדולה על מצחו, קמטים משני צידי לחייו, וגון פניו מה שקרוי מוכה-טחורים... מה לעשות! אשם בזה אקלימה של פטרבורג.

Translation A:
See http://etext.library.adelaide.edu.au/g/gogol/nikolai/g61cl/index.html
"...short of stature, somewhat pock-marked, red-haired, and short-sighted, with a bald forehead, wrinkled cheeks, and a complexion of the kind known as sanguine. The St. Petersburg climate was responsible for this."

Translation B:
See http://www.geocities.com/short_stories_page/gogolovercoat.html
"...short of stature, somewhat pockmarked, rather red-haired, rather blind, judging from appearances, with a small bald spot on his forehead, with wrinkles on his cheeks, with a complexion of the sort called sanguine. How could he help it? The Petersburg climate was responsible for that."

Translation C:
See http://www.horrormasters.com/Text/a0857.pdf
"...he was short, somewhat pockmarked, with rather reddish hair and rather dim, bleary eyes, with a small bald patch on the top of his head, with wrinkles on both sides of his cheeks and the sort of complexion which is usually associated with hoemorrhoids… no help for that, it is the Petersburg climate."

Translation D:
From Nikolai Gogol, Plays and Petersburg Tales, Translated by Christopher English
Published by Oxford University Press, 1998, All rights reserved.
"He was shortish, somewhat pockmarked, with somewhat reddish hair, apparently with somewhat less than perfect eyesight, with a somewhat baldish pate, wrinkles on both sides of his cheeks and endowed with what might be called a haemorrhoidal complexion… Well, it can't be helped! St. Petersburg's climate is to blame."

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The only reason I did not give the names of the translators of versions A, B and C is that none were in sight. Which I find very unfair.

I suppose in the final analysis it doesn't much matter which version I read. I could choose whichever flowed more naturally and be done with it. Then I could finally discuss it with my mom. All she was willing to say at this point was, that she enjoyed the first half, but lost patience with the story when it turned into a ghost story. The only ghost stories she has patience for are those along the lines of Oscar Wilde's The Canterville Ghost .

One of these days I will finish reading this slim volume. I know I will. And then I hope to come back to you with a report.

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(1) ניקולאי ו. גוגול, סיפרוים פטרבורגיים, מרוסית: נילי מירסקי. הספריה החדשה, הוצאת הקיבוץ המאוחד / ספרי סימן קריאה, 1992

2 comments:

Miriam Erez said...

"wrinkles on both sides of his cheeks"? I'll take "wrinkled cheeks". Ever seen anyone with only one wrinkled cheek?

A bald forehead? Aren't most foreheads "bald"? And it's a far cry from a bald patch on his head, which I'm betting is what the Russian said.

Nina R. Davis said...

I suspect that translations A, B, and possibly C are amateurish. D is supposed to be professional... You'd expect reputable publishing houses to hire good, professional translators, especially for classics. And to have their work edited. But who knows.

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