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War and Peace and Everything Nice

Filed under: Pick of the Issue   Tagged: , , ,

For some reason, this little unsigned entry in the April 29, 1920 issue of Life magazine (which I just received after a successful eBay auction—I win all my auctions because no one else is ever bidding on what I want) reminded me of James Wood’s piece last week on the new translation of War and Peace.
The Constant and the Inconstant

The characters that one knows in books are more real and unchanging than those one knows in real life. Indeed, those one knows in real life are so unreal that a comparison of them with the ones in books is quite startling. The best friend you have had suddenly develops some quality that you have never suspected, and thenceforth he is quite a different person from what you deemed him. You yourself are often quite dissimilar from what you thought you were yesterday. You survived an unexpected test which you would never have believed possible or you yielded in a manner so absurd that you can scarcely credit it.

But David Copperfield is always the same. Elizabeth Bennet, Lear, Faust, Père Goriot, Ulysses—it makes no difference where you range—they are constant ones.
This is also a very good time to revisit David Remnick’s memorably fine essay on translation from 2005, in which Remnick conducts a thorough investigation into several of the translators Wood mentions, including Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky. Anyway, I have other Picks of this Issue, to be added to this post soon, for anyone who checks in several times a day. (Confidential to those people: I love you.)

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