Russian Language Journal


Stephen Pearl


language, translation, literary work


There is a crucial and underappreciated distinction between the task of translating a hitherto unknown foreign language literary work for the purpose of making it available for the first time to readers in the target language, and that of re‐translating a classic. In the latter case, translators expose themselves to, and indeed invite, not only comparison with previous translations, but also the haunting question of the very raison d’etre of the new translation itself. For this reason, a re‐translation is in a sense as much about the nature and quality of the translation as about the original work itself – something to which most reviewers remain oblivious or indifferent. It is this which adds an extra dimension of responsibility, vulnerability, and challenge to the task, and entails a number of daunting policy choices and judgment calls. This paper gives an account of just some of these, all of which confronted me in translating Oblomov.