Constance Garnett’s “flaws were not the figment of a native speaker’s snobbery”

Constance Garnett

David Remnick writes:

Garnett’s flaws were not the figment of a native speaker’s snobbery. She worked with such speed, with such an eye toward the finish line, that when she came across a word or a phrase that she couldn’t make sense of she would skip it and move on. Life is short, “The Idiot” long. Garnett is often wooden in her renderings, sometimes unequal to certain verbal motifs and particularly long and complicated sentences. The typescripts of Nabokov’s lectures, which he delivered while teaching undergraduates at Wellesley and Cornell, are full of anti-Garnett vitriol; his margins are a congeries of pencilled exclamations and crabby demurrals on where she had “messed up.” For example, where a passage in the Garnett of “Anna” reads, “Holding his head bent down before him,” Nabokov triumphantly notes, “Mark that Mrs. Garnett has decapitated the man.” When Nabokov was working on a study of Gogol, he complained, “I have lost a week already translating passages I need in ‘The Inspector General’ as I can do nothing with Constance Garnett’s dry shit.”

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