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Translation as Collaboration

Translation as Collaboration: Virginia Woolf, Katherine Mansfield and S.S. Koteliansky

Claire Davison
Copyright Date: 2014
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    Translation as Collaboration
    Book Description:

    This study focuses on the considerable but neglected body of works translated by S. S. Koteliansky in collaboration with Virginia Woolf and Katherine Mansfield. It provides close-readings and broad cross-cultural contextualisations to assess the influence that translating from Russian had on the individual writers, as well as its resonance within the dynamics of modernist writing. Claire Davison shows that, read as an oeuvre, their various co-translations shed light on how their own creative vision was evolving, particularly through explorations of voice, consciousness, gender and polyidentity. And their co-translating ventures enriched their responses to the great classics but also invited innovative dialogues with other genres: critical essays, biography and early-twentieth-century writing from Russia.The focus here is on co-translation as praxis. Looking specifically at the immediate post-revolutionary and post-war years, when political, ideological and aesthetic interests were so intertwined, the book examines the cultural and historical dynamics of translation, which reveal a clear interface between literary creation, textual production, publishing networks and the literary translator.

    eISBN: 978-0-7486-8282-9
    Subjects: Language & Literature
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Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents (pp. v-v)
  3. Acknowledgements (pp. vi-vii)
  4. Note on Spelling, Translation and Transliteration (pp. viii-viii)
  5. Abbreviations (pp. ix-x)
  6. Introduction: Reading the Russians, or Translation as Explanation (pp. 1-20)

    Reading the Russians as a gateway to a vibrant, cultural world was a dominant feature of the early twentieth-century cultural imagination and identity. In Virginia Woolf’s words, writing to Janet Case in 1922:

    But don’t you agree with me that the Edwardians, from 1895–1914, made a pretty poor show. By the Edwardians, I mean Shaw, Wells, Galsworthy, the Webbs, Arnold Bennett. We Georgians have our work cut out for us, you see. There’s not a single living writer (English) I respect: so you see, I have to read the Russians […] Orphans is what I say we are –...

  7. Chapter 1 Unknown Languages and Unruly Selves: Thinking through Translation (pp. 21-51)

    Discoveries tend to fall into two categories: the Eureka moment – finding what you set out to find – and the serendipitous one, inadvertently stumbling across something totally unexpected, without necessarily realising what it is you have found. Thepoeticsof co-translation definitely belongs to the second category, as literary revolutions tend to: in the words of Gertrude Stein as Toklas, ‘Naturally one does not know how it happened until it is well over beginning happening’ (Stein 1933: 25). In the case of the Koteliansky–Mansfield–Woolf translations, there is sufficient textual proof to suggest that in the ‘translating laboratory’...

  8. Chapter 2 ʹRepresenting by Means of Scenesʹ: Translating Voices (pp. 52-82)

    While the first chapter suggested how the texts encountered in co-translation may have triggered a sense of strange recognition in Mansfield and Woolf that echoed in refracted forms in their own poetics, the present chapter moves away from such ‘necessary possibilities’ to focus on translation as a theatricalisation or multiplication of borrowed voices. It picks up on the various masks and disguises which make the boundaries between characters and speakers increasingly porous, with the translator-as-ventriloquist ‘teetering on the verge’ of ‘tidy structures’, enabling words from the page to become patterns in performance (D. Robinson 2001: 11, 132). From this perspective,...

  9. Chapter 3 ʹThe queerest sense of echoʹ, or Translating Imprudent Movables (pp. 83-110)

    What happens when ‘strangeness kindles’? The intriguing notion comes from Woolf’s reading notes onThe Possessed: ‘all this strangeness can kindle at last into something [wild] & poetic’ (Rubenstein 2009: 173). The passage Woolf is referring to evokes a rush of compassion felt by Mavriky Nikolaevitch Drozdov when he sees Liza running outside:

    He saw the woman for whom he had such reverent devotion running madly across the fields, at such an hour, in such weather, with nothing over her dress, the gay dress she wore the day before now crumpled and muddy from her fall. He could not utter a...

  10. Chapter 4 Editorsʹ Choice: Craftsmanship and the Marketplace (pp. 111-140)

    Koteliansky’s co-translations read as richly evocative sites conjuring up the complex play of identification, theatricalisation and negotiation in the borderlands between languages, and they clearly allowed each writer individually to feel they were uncovering a new aspect of Russian literature. The collaborative ventures invite very different approaches too, as a 1919 letter from Mansfield to Koteliansky suggests:

    Would it not be possible to prepare a book [of Chekhov’s letters in translation] for the American & say that you will give it to him for £50 down on delivery of manuscript? It is an unheard of bargain. If I help – I...

  11. Chapter 5 Biographical Writing in Translation, or Variations on the Meaning of ʹLifeʹ (pp. 141-170)

    There is but a slight shift in scale from the tangents and montage of facts in the composition of a single life-story to a sense of how modes of composition, philosophies of being, and thinking through translation could converge in a sharpened sense of biography’s power to capture the dynamic pulse of life in the making. S. P. Rosenbaum observes that in Bloomsbury circles, the very Tolstoyan question, ‘What is art?’, would be met by the quintessentially Bloomsbury quip, ‘What isn’t?’ (Rosenbaum 1987: 9). The same could presumably be said of the equally Tolstoyan question, ‘What is life?’, such as...

  12. Conclusion: Only Inter-connect? Translation, Transaction, Inter-action (pp. 171-178)

    Looking for Woolf, Mansfield and modernist aesthetics in Koteliansky’s co-translations can resemble the same sort of will-o’-the-wisp quest that Woolf evokes when trying to seize Mrs Brown; their objective truth must remain ‘a dancing light’, ‘and illumination’, ‘gleams and flashes’ from which the critic tries to build a solid, coherent narrative (EVW 3: 387–8). In fact, this dancing play of possible truths that can never be pinned down is very much consonant with the two writers’ reception of Russian literature. Despite her archetypally English name, Mrs Brown emerges in Woolf’s essay as the ‘compelling embodiment of the enduring impact...

  13. Bibliography (pp. 179-188)
  14. Index (pp. 189-198)