Constance Garnett: A Heroic Life

A Translator’s Labor of Love

By Richard Garnett
Russian, 1991

Main Attractions

1.  A Grandson’s Account
2.  Snippets of Personal Letters  
3.  Shares Her Family’s Lives
4.  Explores her full lifespan
5.  Goes through her Education
6.  Discover her Love of Languages
7.  Touches on her Learning Russian
8.  Details of her Translation Work
9.  Other Famous Writers Included
10. A Most Unique Marriage Life

Cuisine & Delicacies
This is a biography that gives a personal account of Constance Garnett’s life.  The writing style is quite straightforward and is organized chronologically through her entire lifespan.  We get many details of her personal life, educational background and political views.  The details of her work in translation are also very straightforward.  So I have to rank it as Hearty Veggie Burger because of the lightness of this read.  If it went more into depth of the translation aspect, giving more details on language struggles she experienced, I could bump it up to the Roasted Chicken Dinner.  So, it’s a light, airy biography rather than a doorstopper providing the nitty gritty of Russian translation woes & wins. 

Why Visit Here

Constance Garnett became one of the most famous of Russian to English translators of the 1800s.  Some of her work is still highly regarded by other translators of Russian literature.  This book includes some of the errors she made and also includes her many successes.  An interesting view she has on translation is the translated work should use the language of the times that the original language and author used.  So if a book was published in the 1800s Russia, it would reflect Victorian English language.  If a book is contemporary, it should use contemporary English language.

Constance’s translations today are widely available because they are in the public domain.  She translated many of the big names of Russian lit of the 1800s and all the well known classics.  She was actively translating & publishing from 1894-1934.  Reading the biography of such a prevalent translator who coined a few new styles could give some insight into the work that translators do even today.

Destination Summary

Her grandson gives a detailed account of Constance’s life from her childhood, through her education and language learning right up until her translation work begins and it concludes with her passing.  During the entire biography, we get insight from her personal letters to loved ones and business associates.  We can see how independent she was and the strength she had to pursue her dreams regardless of outside influences or her own health barriers.  We also see the details of her life with her husband and how she remained the leader of the household.  This book also includes some of her political views and insight into Russia before and during the Revolution.

Off the Beaten Path

The Status of the Translation Profession (In Europe)
A 23 min economic presentation by Anthony Pym

Packing List
✓ Any Translation of your favourite Russian Classic
✓ Photos of London, St.Petersburg & Moscow
✓ Letter Writing Tools: Papers, Stamps & Calligraphy Pen 

Recommended Resources
Alternate Books
✓ War & Peace By Lev Tolstoy (1867) - Constance’s translation of this work secured her position as a respected translation.  It opened more doors for her work & eventually she became one of the authorities of Russian works in English.
✓ Crime & Punishment By Fyodor Dostoevsky (1866) - Constance enjoyed Dostoevsky and held this work for last to release to Britain because she didn’t think the British would enjoy it.   
✓ Ward No. 6 By Chekhov (1892) - Constance loved Chekhov & this work of his.  She wanted to share it with Britain.  It took a couple of decades before Chekov reached Britain in English.

Helpful Links
Samples of her translation for: 
Crime & Punishment