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Translation and the problematics of textual integrity : a comparative analysis of two English renderings of Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Dnevnik pisatelia Danowski, Grzegorz

Abstract

This paper is a comparative analysis of selections from the two English translations of Fyodor Dostoevsky's “Дневник писателя (1873-1881)” — The Diary of a Writer (Boris Brasol, 1949) and A Writer's Diary (Kenneth Lantz, 1993). The selections include the short stories "The Meek One" and "Bobok," the fictional epistle "A Half-Letter from a 'Certain Person,'" the semifictional sketch "A Hundred-Year-Old Woman," as well as two feullietons: "What Does the Word 'Striutsky' Mean" and "The History of the Verb 'Stushevatsia.'" While elements of reader response theory and recent translation studies scholarship provided a basic theoretical framework for this discussion, the latter shaped itself mainly as a comparison of the three primary texts: the Russian and the two English translations. This approach made it possible to amass a considerable database of textual detail upon which to draw for pronouncements regarding the difficulties that may potentially accompany translation from Russian into English in general, as well as the difficulties that seem to originate in the peculiarities of Dostoevsky's style. Although an effort has been made throughout to avoid a purely qualitative comparison of the two translations, this analysis frequently favours Lantz's translation as more accurate and flexible in its approach. Rather than constituting the ultimate object of the present study, whenever made, qualitative judgements provide points of departure for inquiry into the nature of the translator's task—one that often involves the ability and willingness to accept the untranslatable. By considering some parts of “Дневник” in relation to their English translations, this paper demonstrates that the most important aspect of the work is its "one-ness." Although clearly a combination of genres, it is also a separate genre in its own right. As this analysis proves, the formal paradox inherent in the Diary's very design has until recently puzzled, discouraged, and challenged both literary critics and translators. Together with Brasol's and Lantz's translations, this paper is offered as an effort aimed at promoting a better understanding of the Diary within the context of Dostoevsky's other literary and philosophical output.

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