Author Archives: Catherine McAteer

RusTrans Returns… to Dublin!

You may recall, back in July 2019, our PI Professor Muireann Maguire went to Dublin to research Russian-Irish translator and Trinity College Dublin Russian teacher, Daisy Mackin (see blog post). Last week, RusTrans PDRA Cathy McAteer and PhD candidate Anna Maslenova returned to participate in the ‘Who’s Afraid of Translator Studies: Human Translator in Focus’ conference, 12-13 May 2022.

The exploratory aim of the conference, organised by Trinity College’s Literary & Cultural Translation PhD students, can best be summed up by the original call for papers:

‘… to explore translators’ manifestations across a variety of fields … specifically taking into account their humanity, and investigating the human touch in areas where it may not always be apparent […]. Rather than considering the technical, textual dimension to their work, this conference seeks to draw attention to the staging of the translational self, the fictional representations and literary portrayals of translators, their role throughout history and social movements, so as to rediscover translators as people with their own subjectivity and individuality.’ (my emphasis)

The call naturally piqued our interest (as researchers of historical Ru-Eng translators-cultural mediators) so out we flew to The Emerald Isle to learn what fellow scholars and PhD students are working on and to proffer our own contributions.

Day one (actually just a half day), launched with the theme of translator agency and subversive translation with lively presentations on women translators and Charlotte Lennox’s Shakespeare Illustrated (Kiawna Brewster, University of Wisconsin-Madison), the experience of Greek film translators subtitling controversial cinema during the Greek junta (Kyriaki-Evlalia Iliadou, University of Manchester), and empirical research by final-year PhD student and practising Brazilian-German translator Lucia Collischonn (University of Warwick) on exophonic L2 literary translators.

Three poster presentations interspersed the conference and Anna’s came first with her impressive A3 poster detailing the life, career and literary (especially poetic) contributions of Russian-born émigrée translator Nadezhda Zharintseva:

Thursday ended with a bang (see below) with Professor Michael Cronin’s keynote on ‘Translation, Ecology and Deep Time’, immersing us in new, complex territory where translation intersects ecological research. Professor Cronin presented concepts such as terratranslation (where ‘we mistake our world for *the* world’ and ‘posit ourselves as superior to something which we have no access – to something that we lack’ (Deer, 2021)) and nuclear translation, handling hyperobjects – a black hole, for example – and emphasised the need and urgency for Translation Studies to think translationally if we are to conceive of these phenomena.

Friday launched with ‘Human Translators in the Digital Age’, featuring ‘What does it take to be hired as an in-house translator?’ by Minna Hjort, University of Turku, and ‘Visibility of the Translator in Arabic Popular Science’ by Mohammad Aboomar, Dublin City University. Mohammad’s research is dedicated to tracing the English-Arabic translator in science journals – so far, wholly invisible (!) and the reasons yet to be discerned – and Minna, herself previously an in-house translator, is researching the hiring process for Finnish in-house translators with some shock discoveries. Experienced candidates have the potential to earn nearly 6,000 euros a month, whereas their inexperienced counterparts face a monthly salary of 2,000 euros (or less… Minna shared an advert for a Russian-English translator/interpreter offering a salary of 1350 euros/month, with expected 120 days (minimum) travel per year and work at weekends…. Imagine!).

Session three brought ‘Public (im)perceptions of translators’, starting with University of East Anglia’s Dr Motoko Akashi’s fascinating presentation, ‘Celebrity Translators: The Manifestation of their Fame in the Marketing of Foreign Fiction’ in which she revealed Haruki Murakami’s overwhelming success as a brand-forging translator and advocate of his source author, Raymond Carver, so much so that not only does Murakami’s name feature on *every* front cover, but it seems Carver is sold in Japan on account of Murakami’s involvement in the publication. A rare moment of translator eclipsing author, perhaps… but helped by publishing norms in Japan that already recognise the translator as being part of the process and readily put translators’ names on front covers.

Next came Joanna Sobesto (Jagiellonian University) presenting her microhistorical research on the various perceptions of Polish bibliographer and biographer (Tolstoy, Conrad, Dante, Mickiewicz), editor of periodicals, literary critic, translation theorist… and yes, translator too: Piotr Grzegorczyk (1894-1968) whom Joanna described as a ‘servant of greatness’ from the interwar period in Poland. And then Tereza Alfonso, commercial translator but also PhD researcher at Universidad de Salamanca on translators’ agency in the European Union, in which she presented her investigation into so-called ‘eurolect’, distinguishing between the use of official languages of the EU and working languages spoken in EU meetings and on the ground.

Time for…

(And nota bene the beautiful programme design – the pattern is a close-up of the period, hand-printed wallpaper made specially for the Georgian-era Centre for Literary and Cultural Translation (Fenian Street) when it was restored after years of being derelict.)

.. in which Cathy presented her latest RusTrans-funded microhistorical research on recovering forgotten or overlooked female translators of Russian literature in the twentieth century. She focused on the professional careers (the practices, networks, tribulations, and achievements), literary contributions, and socio-political contexts of quietly influential women of words – as translators and cultural mediators – during the Cold War, and connected them to their modern counterparts. (More in Tallinn next week at the History and Translation Network’s inaugural conference!)




Recovering their own translator from the archives, Dr Federica Re (Filippo Burzio Foundation, Turin) and Marco Barletta (University of Bari “Aldo Moro”) followed with an animated joint presentation on Francesco Cusani Confalonieri, translator in the Italian Risorgimento of Walter Scott and E.G. Bulwer-Lytton.

Day two’s poster presentations, ‘Translating One’s Self’ and ‘Silvia Pareschi, Negotiating America through Italian Eyes’ were given by Giulia Laddago (also of University of Bari “Aldo Moro”) and Margherita Orsi (University of Bologna) respectively:




And the very last panel offered insight into the ‘Lives, welfare and working conditions of translators’. University of Bristol PhD candidate Jincai Jiang, presented for the first time (ever) (with humour, aplomb, and excellent slides) on the lives of Chinese subtitlers on Bilibili (China’s Netflix); Bristol and Trinity Dublin alumna, Alicja Zajdel (currently University of Antwerp) explained her empirical research on the working conditions and self-perceptions of audio describers; and University of Vienna graduate researcher Daniela Schlager had the last word of the conference on an elusive, sociological question she hopes her research will answer: ‘Who is a translation expert?’

‘Who’s Afraid of Translator Studies’ delivered a refreshing smorgasbord of theories and insight and exciting scope for ongoing discussion and exploration. We’re grateful to our hosts for the very warm welcome, including abundant tourist information (from the Book of Kells to Bushmills). Our thanks go to the conference organisers and panel chairs, including Andrea Bergantino, Hannah Rice, Danielle LeBlanc, John Gleeson, Nayara Guercio, and of course, to the TCLCTD team, Michael Cronin, James Hadley and Eithne Bowen.

Go raibh maith agat!


Translation Firebird – So much more than just a conference..

Image design and artwork: Dr Cathy McAteer

Readers, our conference finally happened! After two postponements during Covid lockdowns, we got third time lucky on 7-8th April 2022 at St Catharine’s College, Cambridge, with a delegation of national and international speakers – publishers, editors, translators, literary agents, cultural ambassadors – ready to discuss the past, present, and most crucially, the future of Russian and Slavonic literary translation.

With some delegates unable to join us in person, our team spent a fortnight during March 2022 conducting recorded interviews. Speakers in the US, UK, Russia and Georgia shared thoughts, experience and wisdom about literary specializations. Ultimately, our two-day conference delivered a mix of pre-recorded talks, live discussions and keynotes, stimulating panel presentations, and vibrant follow-up debate. Inevitably, there were two shadows. The first was cast by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which dominated everyone’s thoughts. The second, Covid’s legacy, which meant we were unable to throw the event wide open to the public. For those of you who couldn’t come and join us in Cambridge, we have done our best to bring you the highlights here and over on our YouTube channel where you can catch some of the recorded interviews that delighted on the day.

Translation Firebird kicked off with Professor Muireann Maguire’s concept of ‘The Curse of the Firebird’, namely, the Western tendency to orient all Russian writers by the nineteenth century, dubbing them the latest Dostoevsky or the new Tolstoy for the benefit of readers. The curse is twofold in effect: pretentious straplines intimidate as many readers as they attract (who likens The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo to Hjalmar Soderberg? Exactly), while guaranteeing that only  ‘serious’ literature gets translated. Publishers feed prior expectation that Russian literature will prove difficult, and thus it becomes the elephant on the coffee table. More perils of being a firebird: people are scared to engage with Russian authors, especially now. How do we bring a wider range of Russian authors to a wider audience? And how do you introduce any new Russian authors when key publishers have ceased Russia-related operations for the time being for obvious reasons, before other Slavonic literatures have become widely available in translation?

The exuberant and utterly engaging Viv Groskop gave the first keynote of the conference. As an International Booker Prize juror, she confirmed our suspicions that, out of 137 titles, sadly no Russian or Ukrainian title made it to the final Booker list this year (although a Polish title did, and one (Korean) finalist studied Russian). Furthermore, in a space of seven years when 700-800 titles appeared in translation, only *three* have been by Ukrainian authors. Two of those were by Andrei Kurkov, writing in Russian. So, there’s a need to consider the role the International Booker Prize can play in deciding which books reach a world audience. Viv confirmed that cultural gatekeepers (editors, reviewers, etc.) are always operating at the level of stereotype but there is still a lot going on beneath the surface that we, as readers, can help bring out. Yes, people are worried about ‘cancel culture’, Russians are worried about the suppression of their heritage, the stats are reassuring: Kurkov sales are up 800%, while sales of Tolstoy are up too … 30%.

Next we had a series of pre-recorded interviews, featuring Robert Chandler, Natasha Perova and Reilly Costigan-Humes and Isaac Wheeler (the last two spoke jointly about translating Ukrainian literature). Then, the inimitable Marian Schwartz, who spoke candidly and wittily in-person about the life’s work of a literary translator. In a nutshell, ‘the only way to make being a literary translator work is to be busy all the time’, a view shared by fellow translator Andrew Bromfield, who could not be with us in person, but kindly recorded his views on the trials and tribulations of a literary translator. Marian treated us to the milestones in her career, from Verbitskaya to Tsvetaeva and Berberova to perhaps her most important achievement of all:

‘In 2014, I got the call to translate the untranslated Solzhenitsyn [The Red Wheel] … Doing Solzhenitsyn was like my career coming full circle since I started with the dissidents. So for me, it has worked out. […] Now with the war everything’s changed again. There will be important things to translate from Russian – I don’t know what they are yet. We’re back to politics and morality.’ The firebird flies again?

The publishing-bookselling industry panel followed – Eric Lane (Dedalus), Peter Kaufman (Read Russia/Russian Library), Thomas Wiedling (literary agent), and Anete Klucnike (Foyles) – with excellent presentations on the here and (right) now of selling translation rights, publishing, procuring Russian literature for sale in London, the cost of books, the difficulties of importing books amid sanctions and newly-imposed travel restrictions. We heard sage opinions: ‘publishing, even literary publishing, is a fashion industry. You can always see what is in fashion’ (Eric), ‘publishers want the cliché – Russian but not too Russian… just let me have something that is different from French’ (Thomas Wiedling), and ‘Read Russia but not Russian Propaganda, Read Russia, not Putin’ (Peter Kaufman).

And the grand finale to Day 1 was 2020’s Read Russia Translation Prize laureate Antony Wood speaking about the achievements of his own publishing house Angel Classics. Started in 1982, Angel was the only imprint at the time solely devoted to literary translations.

Day Two began with a two-part keynote presentation on ‘publishing’s infinite constraints’ from Will Evans, founder of Deep Vellum publishing house and advocate for Russian literature (a canon ‘I’ve loved since I read Gorky by accident when I was 14’). In Part One: И жизнь хороша и жить хорошо Will explained, ‘For the past 21 years I’ve been living with Putin. “What does Putin want?” Literature tells us we shouldn’t be surprised at Putin’s move today. It is up to us as publishers, writers, translators, to respond and illuminate.’ And illuminate is what Will did in Part Two of his often hilarious lecture: Все идет по плану. There are ‘1 million books published each year in the US; 500,000 self-published. 80-90% of the remaining 500,000 come out from the big 5, now the big 4. Mega-conglomerates. As a result of rapid consolidation in the ’80s there’s a lot missing’. And what’s missing takes us back to the oft-cited 3 percent. As Will summarised, ‘this includes all translations, including reprints. If you distill the 3% number down to only new translations: only about 500 out of 500,000  – that is a .1% problem. How we as readers discover books’. But Deep Vellum is a publisher of our time, publishing the US edition of Andrei Kurkov’s Grey Bees. It is now the ‘fastest-selling book in Deep Vellum’s history. Kurkov has become the voice of Ukrainian writers. He’s been here, he’s the head of PEN Ukraine, he straddles the RUSS/UKR divide. Deep Vellum publishes a lot of Russian authors, like [Alisa] Ganieva who left because they were against the war. Ulitskaya wrote against the war and her Facebook page was shut down. […] Gorbunova was arrested at a protest for holding a sign that said нет. We are living in history’.

Following Will, we went to the world of literary translation commissions, starting with Lisa Hayden’s recorded interview in which she extolled the gory virtues of her RusTrans-supported translation of Alexei Salnikov’s The Department, followed by a live panel with translators Sian Valvis, Huw Davies and Sarah Vitali, all recipients of RusTrans bursaries and all candid in their accounts of pitching their new projects to publishers (a not entirely happy process).

We followed up with an entire recorded panel on the realities, practicalities and aspirations associated with translating from non-Russian languages/cultures (Dagestani, Kazakh, Uzbek) with Carol Apollonio, Shelley Fairweather-Vega, and Hamid Izmailov (which can be viewed in full here). And then it was back to hybrid presentations with a recording from Natalia Poleva, the foreign translation rights’ executive at Russian publisher EKSMO, and more in-person advice from translators James Womack, Arch Tait, Bryan Karetnyk, and Max Lawton on pitching translations and working with publishers. Our penultimate panel was dedicated to translation technologies and how IT can promote and publicise literature in translation (we heard from innovators like Ruth Ahmedzai Kemp, Tina Kover, Sarah Gear and Will Evans); and the last panel went to translators Oliver Ready (contrasting the reception of accepted classics, such as Dostoevsky, vs contemporary classics like Vladimir Sharov) , Antonia Lloyd-Jones (on the mass-market appeal of Polish crime fiction) and Olivia Hellewell (on how to fund the translation of Slovenian literature).

The final word came from Peter Kaufman in his poignant keynote: Publishing Russian Literature and Culture in a World Gone Mad.

With our special thanks to translator and former ALTA President Annie Fisher for transcribing the whole event!


Translator William Barclay writes about the dark appeal of Bulat Khanov’s short novel Ire, which he is translating with support from the RusTrans project, and his strategies for framing and packaging it for prospective Anglophone publishers. You can read an extract from his translation-in-progress here.

Bulat Khanov

Packaging Bulat Khanov’s Ire

A quick scan of the books stuffed into the various shelves around my home reveals that three well-known authors crop up most frequently: American master of the macabre Edgar Allan Poe, atmospheric English author Daphne du Maurier (Cornwall is my home, after all), and last, but certainly not least, Russian literary giant Fyodor Dostoevsky. A few decades ago, as a self-absorbed undergraduate student of Russian, the appeal of the latter’s works, with titles like Crime and Punishment, The Devils, The House of the Dead and Notes from Underground, seemed immediately obvious. I devoured almost all of them over one summer break in anticipation of studying a Dostoevsky module that autumn, so you can imagine my dismay when a last-minute staffing change meant the name of the module was switched to Leo Tolstoy two weeks before term started!

I’ve never regretted it, though, and, given my taste for what I’d call ‘psycho-lit’, it was fairly inevitable that, when the opportunity to be part of the RusTrans project arose, I chose something in a similar vein. Bulat Khanov’s Ire, with its existential depiction of troubled, dissatisfied academic Gleb Veretinsky, leapt out at me. What was there not to like about a contemporary novel entitled Gnev (which simply translates as Anger or Rage)? (Though I have chosen to call it Ire to capture better the lingering, simmering condition exhibited by the book’s protagonist.)

Of course, what I like doesn’t necessarily translate into what a prospective Anglophone publisher is looking for. At the outset, Khanov’s Russian publishers Eksmo acknowledged to me that, for now, Russian readers still prefer post-modernism to realism in their novels, but I am not sure the same necessarily applies to the Anglophone market. I have therefore sought to frame and package my pitches to publishers in ways designed to tap into a number of prevailing cultural narratives: mental health, toxic masculinity, violence inflicted by men against women, and the prevalence of pornography in mainstream society. To some degree, Khanov’s work shines light on all these issues, and, I believe, in doing so he adds an important, and relatively young (the author has just turned 30), male voice to the debate. Discussions in the UK media around toxic masculinity are sometimes notable for the glaring absence of contributions from, well, toxic males, to explain their own understanding of their behaviour. I listened to one, rather unenlightening radio debate about the free availability of pornography in the internet age, for example, in which balance was sought by pitting female sex workers against feminists, while male consumers of the product were reduced to mere context, a silent voice – perhaps too ashamed to participate, perhaps unwilling to be judged. Khanov’s portrayal of Gleb Veretinsky offers a bold, unflinching exposé of one such heterosexual male: an amusingly sardonic, high-minded academic on the one hand, and a porn-addicted, (mostly) horrible husband on the other. As Khanov states simply in Chapter 6, ‘Gleb Veretinsky was a dopamine addict, used to deriving satisfaction in the simplest of ways.’ The porn addiction seems to be an integral part of his developing psychosis, his impatience with his wife Lida and his exasperation with the world around him. He is used to quick fixes, and there aren’t any. In fact, as suggested to me recently by one of the RusTrans team, Veretinsky could be perceived as a modern-day version of Dostoevsky’s existentially unhappy Underground Man and indeed, my 1972 Penguin Classics edition of the English version of that story (translated by Jessie Coulson) opens with the words: ‘I am a sick man…I am an angry man. I am an unattractive man.’ Gleb Veretinsky in a nutshell, perhaps.

Maybe it is the former journalist in me that feels the need to make claims about the novel’s relevance to what’s topical. There is plenty to enjoy besides about Ire: the way the reader is drawn down through the streets of the beautiful city of Kazan and its highly regarded university where ‘trees that had observed meetings and farewells, eavesdropped on thousands of private conversations’ greet Gleb ‘with the whisper of rustling leaves’; the way snippets of local life intersperse with amusingly caustic portraits of pretentious academics, lazy students, painters, even amateur whisky connoisseurs; the way the protagonist bemoans the commodification and bureaucracy of higher education, as well as his irksome relationships with his parents, his in-laws and his ex-girlfriend (who left him for a female lover). Some of the novel’s most engaging passages are Gleb’s periodic pep talks with his straight-talking best friend Slava and the novel is awash with striking cultural references, from frequent quotes by early 20th century Symbolist poets to discussions about contemporary fiction, the benefits of tea drinking and references to rock bands like Oasis, Razorlight and Muse.

And all the while, the protagonist’s ire is bubbling away underneath.

I realise some of the subject matter, and my framing of the novel, will not necessarily sit well with some mainstream publishers. But I’m not sure, either, that I accept the idea that the novel and the issues it invokes are especially ‘fringe’ or ‘edgy’. To me, Ire is a fascinating portrayal of straightforward mental breakdown which confronts an honest truth about the reality of male existence in contemporary society. My attempts to find the right Anglophone home for it are ongoing and I am extremely thankful for the continuing support provided by the RusTrans project team. I hope you enjoy the extract provided.

Read an extract from William’s translation of Ire here.

Conferencing in Cork: Sarah Gear on Reading in Translation

RusTrans PhD student, Sarah Gear, spent two days online-conferencing at University College Cork this week, the theme being ‘Reading in Translation’.  The questions which this event answered (and created!) proved relevant not just to readers and translators of Russian literature, but readers of any age and any language… Read on to find out what she discovered… 

On Monday 17 May, Jennifer Arnold opened Reading In Translation: Approaches to the Study of the Reception of Translated Literature by posing the question ‘who is this reader that everyone seems to be basing translation and publishing decisions on?’ Over the next two days, speakers provided a wide variety of answers as we heard from researchers, bloggers, publishers and translators themselves. It became clear both from these presentations, and through the questions and conversations at the end of each session, that readers of translations are far from a static end-point of the translation process, but an integral part of the dynamic exchange between author, text, translator, critic, blogger, publisher, source and target cultures – not to mention between readers themselves. Indeed, reading communities, whether they are formed through schools, book groups, blogs or social media, were a recurring theme, reinforced by the virtual coming together of so many delegates, all readers of course themselves, for this fascinating exploration of translation reception.

Keynote speaker Leo Tak-Hung Chan addressed the search for the identity of this real reader at the end of the first day, in his talk Rediscovering the “Real” Reader of Translations: From Historical to Empiricist Approaches. Dr. Chan talked about the methodological challenges in charting reader response to texts, and considered the use of microhistories, ethnographic studies, and research on book groups, quoting a wide range of sources, and looking outside of Translation Studies for inspiration. Dr. Chan pointed out that translators are often seen as the closest readers of a translated text, and so it was interesting to hear from translators Anton Hur, Daniel Hahn, and Gitanjali Patel in the evening panel later that same day. All three spoke about their reading habits, and how this informed their work. Daniel Hahn made the interesting point that “We keep translating literary fiction. Most of the time it doesn’t sell well, and that serves us right“, which begs the question of what we should translate, and what publishers could do differently. This question linked in part to my own paper What do We Want to Read? Adventures in Contemporary Russian Fiction, where I talked about the low sales of contemporary Russian literature in translation, and the number of novels translated by the Big Five that fall into the trap of being overtly political, or portraying Russia as ‘bad’  – a trend that has not agreed with the tastes of the online Contemporary Russian Reading Group which I run using Discord (get in touch with me if you’d like to join).

Communal reading and reader reception was discussed in the panel, Researching Reading Groups: A Methodological Approach by Duygu Tekgül-Akin, who talked about her fascinating work with UK book groups, providing some touching insights into British reading culture. Jennifer Arnold talked about her own work in Cork with library-based reading groups, and the effects of selecting translated literature tailored to particular communities – she noted the positive effects of choosing a translation from Polish for a community that had a large number of Polish members. Bethan Benwell also shared experiences of her book-group research, where she tracked the reading of three different Anglophone books across the world, recording the responses of book groups to what she termed ‘diasporic fiction’ and evaluating them in consideration of their locations, taking into account the ‘situated’ nature of their responses.

The theme of communal reading was reprised in the second keynote talk, Book Events, Babbling Beasts and Bestsellers: Researching Shared Reading where Danielle Fuller spoke about ‘mass reading events’. She highlighted the One Book One Community project that she witnessed being run in Chicago, and described the enthusiasm of a teenage book group when the whole city was invited to read Pride and Prejudice. Her discussion of the importance of reading in school communities also underscored the power that literature has to challenge and stimulate young people. This was also a topic highlighted by Gitanjali Patel, who runs Shadow Heroes, a school-based programme of workshops led by translators, which encourages teens to interpret texts not based on the responses they think they are supposed to produce, but on their own reactions as readers.

This idea of reader as collaborator, and ultimately as the ‘producer of meaning’, was beautifully illustrated by Helena Buffery’s discussion of theatre translation, Reading The Future: Rehearsed Readings and Border Crossings. She described the way in which she approached the translation of a script by workshopping it with actors and translation students, using actors’ own experiences to create a ‘collaborative meaning-making process’ and noted that translation problems resolved themselves when they were read by actors, who brought their own meaning to the text.

In contrast to these considerations of group reading responses, Callum Walker gave a fascinating talk, Idiosyncrasies and Commonalities in the Reading Experience of Salient Style: Insights from an Eye-tracking Experiment, about tracking eye movements of individual readers in order to assess the effects of translation decisions on the reading experience – in this case three versions of Queneau’s Zazie dans le Métro. It was fascinating to hear about the link between text complexity and eye movement, and about the variation of response between different readers.

Translation decisions were measured on individuals in a very different way by Katinka Zeven and Lettie Dorst, who presented their work, Daisy Buchanan in Retranslation: Characterization and Reader Reception, on translations of The Great Gatsby, comparing two translations from Dutch written 40 years apart, and asking their readers for their impressions of central female character Daisy Buchanan. They pointed out that just as society changes, so do the novels’ readers; this enabled them to consider the effect of translation strategies on readers’ opinions of Daisy in a study that was temporal rather than cultural. They discussed the effects of retranslations and the difficulties of creating unbiased reader surveys along the way.

With her paper Disoriental: Translation and Reception through the Prism of the Paratexts, Clíona Ní Ríodáin continued to consider the effects of translation strategies on the reader with a discussion of Désorientale by Négar Djavadi, and its translation from the French by Tina Kover. As with the previous talk about The Great Gatsby, Clíona considered paratextual elements and their effect on the reader and reception of the book, and this provoked a lovely discussion with Tina Kover who was attending, about the use and effectiveness of footnotes, italicisation of foreign words, and how this was tied to her understanding about how much ‘hand-holding’ the readers of her translation might need.

The response of reviewers as readers was considered by the next couple of speakers. Malin Podlevskikh Carlström, with her talk Receiving the Intertextual: The Reception of Tatyana Tolstaya’s Kys’ in Sweden and the United States, discussed the critical responses to translations from Russian into both English and Swedish of Tatiana Tolstaya’s The Slynx. She explained how the domestication of major intertextual elements of the Russian text in the Swedish translation affected the nature of the reviews it received. Following this, Tiffane Levick, with her paper Fact or Fiction? Reading and Receiving Life on the Fringes, talked about the presentation of authors themselves, discussing the translation of Faïza Guène’s Kiffe kiffe demain in both American and British editions, and explaining that the presentation of Guène as peripheral, stressing her Algerian parents, and placing emphasis on the fact that she was from the banlieue of Paris, influenced the way her novels were presented in translation, ultimately encouraging both textual and paratextual foreignizing strategies.

This idea of manipulating literature via translation to conform to national stereotypes was taken up in different ways by Marjorie Huet-Martin and Owen Harrington Fernández. Marjorie, in her paper Translating for ‘Cultural Outsider Readers’: the Case of Ian Rankin’s Rebus Novels, discussed the ways in which Scottish culture was brought over into French in translations of Ian Rankin’s Rebus novels, provoking the conference’s first footnote conversation. Owen, with his talk Censored Interactions in Translation: A Model, discussed the sanitising of translated literature for children, using the example of Elvira Lindo’s Manolito Gafotas, translated from the Spanish, and considering how it was made more acceptable to an Anglophone audience.

As a counterpoint to the search for a definition of the reader of translations, Laura Linares pointed out in her paper, Who Reads the Periphery, that finding readers is not always the main aim of a novel in translation. Describing the scenario of supply-driven translation of Galician fiction, she talked about the revolution of print on demand, and the efforts of independent Small Stations Press to translate and publish Galician literature. Laura explained that their main initial concern was often not to find an actual reader per se, but to legitimise the Galician language and culture through the sheer fact of Galician novels existing in English.

The conversation titled Reading Outside Your Comfort Zone between Helena Buffery, Ann Morgan and Helen Vasallo was an inspiring one about reading from different cultures. Through their blogs, Ann’s A Year of Reading the World and Helen’s Translating Women, Helen and Ann talked about the enthusiasm of other readers, writers, and translators for the projects, and the pure curiosity that drives them. Both women saw their projects as a way to push back against what Helen called the ‘eurocentrality of translated literature’ which is obsessed, she said, with the ‘cult of the familiar’; Ann agreed, citing what she termed the ‘genrefication of national literatures’ as a major obstacle to discovering new and innovative voices from across the world. From this conversation, it became obvious that readers, whoever they are, are not a passive audience, but a dynamic community that can effect change by reading more widely, and demanding more diverse books from publishers.

This theme was nicely echoed by a roundtable titled Blogging the World, chaired by Jennifer Arnold, with book bloggers Stuart Allen (Winston’s Dad), David Hebblethwaite (David’s Book World) and Marcia Jarnell (Lizzy’s Literary Life), who talked about their reading habits, and the reasons behind their decisions to read and blog about more translated literature. Among many other subjects, they talked about being part of the International Booker shadow jury, and the act of collecting books vs. reading them (something I am also definitely guilty of) and of simply being guided by what interests them when it comes to selecting books, rather than specifically seeking out either translated, or non-translated titles.

Tying all of this together, the final discussion, The Publisher and the Reader, heard from independent publishers Tice Cin from Tilted Axis, Maddie Rogers at Peirene Press and Emma Wright at The Emma Press. These three women provided a fascinating insight into how publishers take their readers into account, and the motivation behind their publishing decisions. Reprising the subject of community reading, Maddie spoke about the Borderless Book Club she runs, and its success over the past year, as well as its importance as a model and route to interest more and more people in literary translation.

Growing from this dynamic, wide-ranging, and thoughtfully organised two-day forum was a renewed understanding of the varied and complex nature of readerships, and of the dynamic role readers can and should play in the reception of translated literature. As Jennifer Arnold stated in her closing comments, hopefully this conference, and the conversation it has started, will act as a springboard for sharing more information and research about reader reception of translation, and pave the way for more research in this fascinating area.




(Blog)Post-horses of Enlightenment: RusTrans Goes to Glasgow!

Sarah Gear, RusTrans PhD Student

This December, RusTrans took a momentary break from the madness of advent to attend a lively conference at the University of Glasgow.  I (Sarah) spent my weekend at ‘Translation as an Act of Cultural Dialogue’, a conference held in honour of Pushkin’s 220th anniversary, organised by Drs Jamie Rann and Andrea Gullotta (Glasgow) in partnership with Institut Perevoda and the All-Russia State Library for Foreign Literature. We spent the conference listening to and taking part in discussions about Russia-Scotland literary relations, poetry, drama, and the importance and enduring relevance of Pushkin.

 Irina Kirillova

This is the first year the conference has been held in Glasgow – up until now it has taken place in the small Scottish border town of Moffat – a theme taken up by the first speaker, Professor Irina Kirillova, who answered the first question of Why Moffat? (it is indeed a very small town!) and went on to talk about the genesis of this conference and its importance in helping maintain cultural relations between Russia and Scotland. Professor Kirillova then gave the floor to Scottish poet and translator Dr Tom Hubbard, an attendee of the preceding Moffat conferences, who gave a fascinating paper on translating Pushkin’s poem Autumn into both English and Scots, focusing on Edwin Morgan’s English translation, along with Alistair Mackie’s Scots version. It is interesting to note that both of these poets decided to add a little embellishment of their own at the end of each of their translations. Tom talked about the similarities in sound between the two languages – the Scottish ‘ch’, for example, being the same as the ‘х’ in Russian – and also reminded us about the Edwin Morgan conference to be held next year in Glasgow, celebrating this prolific Scottish poet and his translations into Scots and English from many languages, Russian included.

Tom’s Russian counterpart, poet and translator Grigory Kruzhkov (whom Tom later delighted in teaching some Scots words) spoke next, about Yeats and the poet Nikolai Gumilev. He took us on a journey through Gumilev’s time in London in 1917, and talked about his meeting with W.B. Yeats – it appears he was the only Russian to meet the Irish poet. Gumilev went on to translate Yeats’ nationalist play Countess Cathleen.

Aleksandr Livergant (l) and Grigory Kruzhkov (r)

Matters came right up to date with the next talk by translator Christine Bird, who discussed her translation of Andrey Ivanov’s play, С училища, which is set in Minsk, and the challenges of bringing Belarusian dialect and swear words into English while maintaining the necessary tone – a topic that provoked lively debate about the (il)legality of putting such words on a PowerPoint presentation in Russia – and a discussion about how to carry over the shocking nature of such words, when in Scotland they have rather less power, perhaps due to their wonderfully expressive overuse…

In keeping with the theme of theatre, translator, art manager and curator Maria Kroupnik talked about the good work carried out by Class Act, a Scottish theatre initiative (transported from Scotland to Russia) that works with young children in both Scotland and Russia, with the aim of demystifying the theatre and showing kids that it is open to all, and not just a select few.

Just before the lunch break, Aleksandr Livergant, translator and long-time editor of Innostrannaya Literatura, presented on the British edition of his magazine that came out in October 2018. This came with a large feature on Scottish poets, tracking their history from the 17th century to the present day, and taking in the most famous Scottish Makars, or national poets with a varied collection of translations from Walter Scott, Burns, Hugh MacDiarmid, Norman MacCaig, Alistair Reid and Edwin Morgan, who, it was good to learn, has had his own poems translated also.

Following this, we braved the pouring rain (as a one-time resident of Glasgow I can say that Glasgow certainly lived up to its rainy reputation this weekend) and made our way to a street-food market nestling under the Gothic arches of Glasgow University. Taking shelter from the wet, we safely installed ourselves in a snug canteen in the vaults where we enjoyed lunch (while listening to carols from the university choir) and discussed the morning’s events.

Aleksandr Livergant

The afternoon session was chaired by poet and children’s’ writer Marina Boroditskaya along with Glasgow’s own Andrea Gullotta, and focused on the importance of interpretation. Aleksandr Livergant resumed the floor to talk about Nabokov’s translation of Evgenii Onegin, and the role that writer and critic Edmund Wilson played in this – trying to persuade Nabokov to work on something shorter! Indeed – the project took Nabokov 20 years to complete, and resulted in non-favourable reviews from Wilson himself.

(l-r) Irina Kirillova, Marina Boroditskaya, Grigory Kruzhkov









Dr Jamie Rann then took the conference in a deliberately surreal direction, with a discussion of Zaum poetry and Pushkin’s treatment by the Soviet avant-garde. He talked about Aleksei Kruchenykh and his experiments with sound, and Dmitrii Prigov, who rewrote all of Onegin by hand, substituting either the word безумный (mad or insane) or неземно (unearthly) for each adjective in the poem. He also talked about the Transfurists (also known as Neo-futurists, poets like Sigei, Aksel’rod, Nikonova-Tarshis) who wanted to create an international language that wouldn’t require translation – an interesting idea in a room full of translators! In essence, this discussion of Zaum brought a fourth language to the room – English, Russian and Scots being already represented.

Andrea Gullotta (l) and Jamie Rann








The University of Edinburgh’s Dr Alexandra Smith considered more canonical translations of Onegin. She discussed Nabokov and the fact that he felt that he had to translate Onegin in order to be seen as legitimate in America, and discussed his sometimes fraught relationship with Wilson. She talked about Stanley Mitchell’s 2008 translation for Penguin Classics, and also covered Charles Johnston’s 1970s translation, which it was felt provided the most natural (if not the most accurate, if we were to ask Nabokov) translation. Johnston claimed that its aim was simply to recreate the same magical feeling that he had experienced when reading Onegin for the first time in Russian. Dr Smith demonstrated that, in accordance with Lawrence Venuti’s theories on invisibility, each translator brings their own background and cultural knowledge to a translation.

Dasha Kuzina from Institut Perevoda then discussed the importance of Pushkin, and the fact that his revered status can really daunt Russian school children (who are often drilled in his verse and personal mythology from a young age) and deter them from engaging with and enjoying his work. Her solution to this is to introduce Pushkin as a real person to them – as someone who made mistakes and who lived a real life, and describe him as someone they can relate to, rather than a revered, unassailable museum piece.

After a quick coffee break, the talk left Pushkin in peace for a while to consider some other intriguing aspects and questions around Russian literary translation with a presentation from Dr Olga Allison of the University of Glasgow. Olga considered whether differences could be seen between translation choices made by male and female translators, which she did by examining different translation solutions offered for some of Lewis Carroll’s puns.

Svetlana Gorokhova, Library for Foreign Literature




After that it was my turn, and here I moved even further away from Pushkin to consider contemporary Russian literature. I looked briefly at current translation trends, and talked about the fact that it is the smaller presses who are taking all the risks when it comes to publishing contemporary writers. I then went on to consider whether a writer’s politics affects if they are translated or not, by whom, and how their politics influences their reception in the US and the UK. To do this, I compared the reception of Day of the Oprichnik by liberal writer Vladimir Sorokin with Sankya by nationalist Zakhar Prilepin.  Day of the Oprichnik has been much better received in the UK and US than Sankya, even to the point that it has entered into the literary canon via Penguin Classics, and this difference comes despite the success of both novels in Russia (in fact – Sankya could in many ways be seen as more successful). It seems that liberal authors are deemed safer to publish and promote by the big five publishing houses than nationalist writers. I ended by asking the question which will feature throughout my PhD research, namely whether we are prepared to read nationalist writers in the West, and indeed, whether we should.

Liudmila Tomanek, an independent scholar, then talked about the importance of preserving polyphonies with relation to Svetlana Alexievich’s war time accounts (many of which have, as a point of interest, been published by Penguin Classics) and Dr John Bates of Glasgow University brought us back to Pushkin when he considered the relevance of Pushkin scholarship in Poland in the 1950s, and asked to what extent academics at that time towed the party line.

The day was rounded off with a documentary by Michael Beckelhimer, Pushkin is Our Everything, that took us from Pushkin as he really was (and as described by Dasha Kuzina earlier in the day) to how he has been used by successive political regimes to represent Russia and what it means to be Russian – all themes that RusTrans can relate to! He concluded that Pushkin’s importance in Russia is vast, and he envied the fact that Russia, unlike his native America, possesses such an important poet.

Stop anyone on the street, Beckelhimer says, and they will be able to recite you a bit of Pushkin.

A huge thank you to Polina Avtonomova from the Russian State Library for Foreign Literature, and Dasha Kuzina from Institut Perevoda for providing me with photos of the event. You can read more about the conference on the Library for Foreign Literature website here.

Penguins Progress!

I have purloined a Penguin title for this blog post (and no, there isn’t an apostrophe missing, it really is Penguins Progress) because it best reflects the full immersion in all things Penguin experienced at the University of Bristol’s Special Collections Penguin Archive at the end of June. Wednesday 26 June saw the inaugural gathering of researchers and enthusiasts, all sporting a variety of Penguin research backgrounds and interests, and representing a number of institutions. This was the first Penguin huddle to be held at Bristol University since the AHRC Penguin Conference in 2010 which celebrated 75 years of Penguin. Nearly a decade has passed, therefore, and we all felt it was time, once again, to share our collective knowledge about the labyrinthine ways of the archive and to discuss any new discoveries about Penguin’s place in commercial, publishing, literary, artistic, and socio-political history based on our research.

Our host from Special Collections for the day was the ever efficient and knowledgeable Hannah Lowery (seen below) the oracle when it comes to what is in the archive.

Our event organiser was University of Bristol English department’s Bex Lyons, scholar of Penguin’s medieval classics, accompanied by fellow departmental medievalist Leah Tether, classicist Robert Crowe (UoB) and art historian David Trigg (UoB). Arthurian scholar Sam Rayner joined us from UCL, where she also heads up UCL Publishing, and so too did Bath Spa’s Katharine Reeve (Publishing Subject Leader) and Laura Little (Course Director for MA Children’s Publishing). Joining me in representing the University of Exeter was Vike Plock, from the English department, and we were very fortunate indeed to be joined by James Mackay and Tim Graham, trustees from the Penguin Collector’s Society, whose knowledge of all things Penguin never ceases but to stagger!

Even Penguin researchers have to acclimatise to the climate-controlled atmosphere of Special Collections (do take extra layers if you’re thinking of going some time), but having done so, we established our common (and divergent areas) of research interest. Tackling an archive the size of Penguin’s can be difficult. It helps, therefore, to meet other researchers who might have happened upon snippets of useful information on their archival travels, files and letters which have long been filed away in an unrelated or incongruous area. For my part, for example, it’s helpful to know now – thanks to Dave Trigg – that Allen Lane popped up all over the place, wherever the topical fancy took him (not just Russia, but Europe, the Middle East, India, North and South America). On the subject of America, I now also know that Lane produced one other short-lived periodical – Transtlantic  (1943-1946) – similar in concept to the Russian Review (1945-1948), but this time celebrating the US’s involvement in the Second World War and designed ‘to assist the British and American peoples to walk together in majesty and peace’ (Yates, 2006, p. 149). (Against a backdrop of paper rationing, though, this periodical was eventually sold for the nominal sum of 5 shillings, whereas the Russian Review was simply discontinued for having sold poorly from the outset. My thanks to Tim Graham for confirming the existence of this US-oriented periodical.)

We exchanged up-to-date information about permissions, archive use, online archive cataloguing (immensely useful when trying to find a needle in a haystack), and newly donated Penguin material. (Thank you, Hannah, for your overview!) We also turned our thoughts to Penguin’s next anniversary milestone, 90 years, and how we might be able to mark the occasion with a suitable celebration. (Given that my own area of research is Penguin’s Russian Classics, I can’t help but be tempted to combinesomehow Penguin’s 90th celebration in 2025 with the 100th anniversary of Elisaveta Fen’s emigration to the UK!)

The afternoon session consisted of presentations showcasing discrete aspects of the Penguin archive. Vike Plock presented her research on Penguin’s publication in 1944 of Virginia Woolf’s The Common Reader, aptly titled given Penguin’s commitment to serve exactly that ‘the common reader’ and of particular interest to me, the only Russianist in the room, because it includes Woolf’s essay ‘The Russian Point of View’ (‘we have judged a whole literature stripped of its style’, an ideal prompt, if ever Penguin needed one, for restoring some of this stripped style in a new series of re-translations, aka Penguin’s Russian Classics).

Vike Plock introduces Penguin and Virginia Woolf

My paper was perfectly timed to follow, therefore, with a presentation on the Penguin Russian Review, Penguin’s subsequent shift to commissioning Russian Classics translations, their impact on audience reception and canon formation, and less obviously, the ongoing question for me of whether any overt link actually existed between Penguin/Lane and sympathy towards Russia and the USSR. (Articles included in the Russian Review were noticeably pro-Russia, and Russian literature was robustly represented in the Penguin Classics series, but in each case, market forces ultimately appear to trump idealism: the Review folded, and ‘non-sellers’ in the Russian titles were shelved (Lermontov’s A Hero of Our Time, for a time, and Saltykov-Shchedrin’s The Golovyov Family), regardless of their perceived standing in the Russian literary canon.)

For panel two, Sam Rayner revealed the twists and turns of archival research in her pursuit of information regarding Penguin’s commissions of Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur. She described similar red herrings, dead ends and disappointments to those I have also experienced in my hunt for archival confirmation. Our mutual conclusion is: never make assumptions about commissions (they might not proceed according to plan, they can be messy and inconclusive), and never expect the last conclusive letter to be there, very often, it is not!

Penguin and Malory

Bex Lyons concluded the panel, and the workshop, with her paper on Women and Penguin in the Twentieth Century, a wonderful look at the women who played a role in Penguin’s success and who left their mark, be they Eunice ‘Frostie’ Frost (Lane’s ‘literary midwife’) or nearly forgotten wives of translators who also made their contributions, behind the scenes, to their husband’s timely submissions.

A very productive workshop. Once more, Penguins do, indeed, progress!

The Merry Month of May…

Well, it is now that I have my rare, 1948 copy of this lovely Penguin Russian Review! But more on that later.

After April’s heady BASEES whirlwind (see last month’s conference blog post), May has been a month for a bit less gallivanting and a lot more researching. Whilst travel has been involved, it’s been for the sake of more solitary pursuits, i.e. archive trawling. I have been back to the Penguin archive at University of Bristol’s Special Collections, working through folders which relate to the Penguin Classics Black Cover series (post-Medallion, post-1962). And, more precisely, I have reacquainted myself with a translator whom I’d always admired, but had no idea he had been such an active Penguin translator: Ronald Wilks. This is the book – bought c. 1985, with a £3 book token – which made me realise for the first time that Ronald Wilks had arrived on the Penguin scene. (And, incidentally, it’s the book that got me hooked on Russian literature.)

What I didn’t realise was that Wilks would go on to enjoy an incredibly long tenure as one of the Penguin freelancers, far longer than the more readily known names at Penguin’s Russian Classics like David Magarshack and Rosemary Edmonds. Wilks’s first Penguin translation (Gorkii’s My Childhood) was published in 1966, and his last (Dostoevskii’s Notes from Underground and The Double) in 2009. In the interim, Wilks also translated: Gogol, Chekhov, Saltykov-Shchedrin, Tolstoi, and Pushkin. Some titles sold better than others. In a letter from 1972, Wilks expresses astonishment at how well his translation of Gorkii’s My Childhood is selling (nearly 100,000 copies sold in the space of 6 years), but this is matched by equal dismay in 1989 at the poor sales figures for his translation of Saltykov-Shchedrin’s The Golovyov Family (out of an intended print run of 6,000 copies in 1987, only 5 copies – yes, single figures, 5! – had been sold by September 1989). Ah, the high and lows of translation!

On the whole, sales figures are not easily located in the Penguin archive (there does not appear to have been any orderly system in place for recording and filing such statistics), but from these two examples, it might be possible to deduce some tentative conclusions about the reading habits of the mid- to late-twentieth-century Penguin Russian reader. Whilst the greats (Dostoevskii, Tolstoi) continued to sell as before, there is new interest in and a move towards the modern Russian classic (Gorkii). Wilks’s translations of Gorkii’s trilogy (published between 1966-1979) could be regarded as a pivotal point in the Penguin list, a gateway to the Soviet literature which would soon be commissioned for translation. Having previously doubted that Solzhenitsyn’s One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich would amount to anything more than a ‘dead duck’ (Lane, 1963) in terms of its lasting literary merit, by 1971 Penguin was energetically pursuing publishing rights for the subsequent Solzhenitsyn novels. In addition to Gorkii and Solzhenitsyn, the 1970s saw authors like Bulgakov, Nabokov, Brodskii and Voinovich arriving on the Penguin list, but as vintage or modern classics, rather than Penguin Classics (traditionally the domain of pre-20th century works). Having trained its Anglophone readers to cope with consonant clusters, Russian names, the table of ranks, provincial regions indicated by the capital letter only (N.—), and Russian realia (samovar, verst, kopeck, smetana), Penguin introduced a new optional genre alongside its classic canonical offerings: Soviet literature.

This decisive move tempts a natural question: whether or not Penguin was (and always had been) politically motivated or – considering Cold War events like the 1968 Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, high-profile defections, Solzhenitsyn’s expulsion from the USSR in 1974 – was Penguin simply good at opportunistically tapping into what its readership would be curious to read next? After years of scouring archived correspondence, I have yet to find incontrovertible evidence of Allen Lane’s political views on Russia and the Cold War. He was certainly left-leaning and he visited Moscow in 1957, but this alone is not enough to support a notion that political motivations might be behind the Penguin Russian Classics venture. It has been necessary, therefore, to resort to the more complex process (the archival researcher’s well-trodden path) of piecing together isolated fragments of evidence (or even just hints) extracted from letters, memos, reviews, press articles which are stored in the archive (but again, there is no single folder conveniently titled ‘Allen Lane’s political preferences vis-à-vis Russia’). I’m now in the process of interpreting these hints and fragments, and fashioning them into a more informed, meaningful conclusion. One such fragment, for example, is the aforementioned Penguin Russian Review (this copy – the only one they had – was purchased at the excellent Marijana Dworski Books, and the beautiful postcard came with the book).

Not many people know or recall that Penguin published The Penguin Russian Review between 1944-1948. More often than not, people assume I’m referring to its namesake, the American Russian Review, which was founded slightly earlier in 1941. (This point is, in itself, of interest – was Penguin aware, for example, that this older journal already existed, and if so, was it hoping to gain some mileage by adopting the same name for its UK version? A question I hope to investigate during my forthcoming archive trip.) As publications go, the Russian Review series was a relatively short-lived affair, but for the purposes of this enquiry, it holds valuable insight into Penguin’s approach to Russia and the Soviet Union. Each issue (mine has 138 pages) contains contributions by Russophiles and/or Russian specialists on subjects ranging from economics, Russian literature, and geography to art, history and politics. It is perhaps particularly noteworthy that no other post-war nation qualified for a Penguin review in which to celebrate their ethnography and attempt to re-build post-war European relations.

In this particular issue (no. 4 and the last one in the series, dated January 1948, five months before the Berlin Airlift), the opening editorial commentary offers a concise summary of the near deadlocked state of post-war Anglo-Russian relations. Having painted a picture of British political intransigence towards the Russians, the anonymous editor provides a Penguin appeal for understanding: ‘People are finding it harder than they expected to make head or tail of the Russians, so hard that many have decided it is useless to go on trying. We have to go on trying all the same’ (1948, p. 7). The editor does not apportion blame for the impasse, nor is there an effort to applaud Soviet foreign policy, however the aspiration for future, bilateral harmony is clearly conveyed and Penguin volunteers itself as a vehicle for fostering just such a hope: ‘What we are trying to do is to present Russians in the round – to provide, as it were, the raw material for a practical political understanding at some future date, to remind our readers perpetually that the Russians are people with lives, traditions and outlooks of their own’ (1948, p. 8).

This same aspiration came to be shared by subsequent translators from the first cohort of Penguin’s Russian Classics, Elisaveta Fen and David Magarshack, both of whom had emigrated to the UK from post-revolutionary Russia and expressed their own concerns (independently of each other) that a bad translation could do untold damage to international perceptions of Russia and the Russians.

I will be using the rest of May to investigate more fully Penguin’s relationship with Russia through the medium of translation and ethnographic articles, and in June, I’ll be able to take my unanswered questions to a mini-conference (aka a Penguin huddle, as I like to call it) in Bristol, where Penguin specialists and scholars from all over the country will be sharing their inside knowledge of that ultimate (Emperor) Penguin – the Penguin archive. Watch this space!

Penguin archive, Special Collections, Bristol

Touching Base(es)

So, April’s big event for RusTrans was BASEES! Muireann and I were out in full force, along with about 500 other Slavonic and East European scholars, for the annual BASEES conference (12-14 April) in sunny, spring-like Cambridge. This year saw a break from Fitzwilliam College; the conference took place at Robinson College for the first time. Delegates arrived from universities representing all parts of the UK, from further flung institutions (Russia, US, Germany, Italy, Czech Republic, Poland, Hungary, Baltics, Serbia, Croatia), and from further still, India, Pakistan and China! Areas of specialism this year covered literatures and cultures (into which category came our own RusTrans interests: Russian literary translation and translators), sociology and geography, history, politics, film/media, languages and linguistics, and economics – in other words, a dazzling pick-and-mix of panels, something for everyone. This was not only an incredible feat of organisation (hearty thanks and post-conference congratulations to Matthias Neumann, Chris Jones and any other organisers) but, for one weekend only, Robinson College was a veritable one-stop-shop for all things Slavic.

Over the course of the conference, there were nine sessions, each one consisting of up to 15-18 panels, plus: three keynote roundtables, the BASEES AGM (see below), the BASEES women’s forum (which saw the launch of Eurasian, East & Central European Studies Women Academic Forum), the Routledge drinks reception, the BASEES conference dinner and passing the baton of BASEES presidency from Judith Pallot (University of Oxford/University of Helsinki) to Matthias Neumann (University of East Anglia), awards for academic achievement (congratulations to Steve Smith for winning the Alexander Nove Prize, Melissa Feinberg for the George Blazyca Prize, Catherine Gibson for the BASEES Postgraduate Prize, and from the BASEES Women’s Forum, Claire Shaw for the Book Prize, Sarah Marks for the Article Prize, and Sasha Rasmussen for the Postgraduate Paper Prize) and even a film screening! All this to a background noise of scholars energetically networking with friends old and new and in an array of languages, buying books and/or negotiating book deals, discussing the finer points of panel presentations, sharing research, making plans for possible research opportunities, and hatching future conferences (incidentally, BASEES will be in Cambridge again next year, but Glasgow in 2021). The all-round sound of information exchange… amazing!

Muireann and I launched into the conference on Friday afternoon chairing our own separate literature panels; an entrée of Demons, The Idiot and Brothers Karamazov for Muireann, and for me, a panel on literary and cultural reception in Eastern Europe with Krystyna Wieszczek’s (University of Southampton) opening paper ‘Censorship, Book-Smuggling and Clandestine Prints: George Orwell’s Polish Reception’, followed by Susan Reynolds’s (British Library) paper ‘Three Poets, Two Centuries, One Literature: Vrchlicky and Capek’s Anthologies of Modern French Poetry’. Both papers prompted detailed discussion on archives, translators, translation strategy – a perfect start, therefore, to my conference.

Friday evening saw a packed auditorium for the keynote roundtable (below) on ‘The Criminal Justice System in post-Soviet Russia’ with Mikhail Khodorkovsky (Open Russia), Mark Galeotti (European University Institute), chaired by Judith Pallot and interpreted by Josie von Zitzewitz (University of Cambridge). The hour-long discussion about Russia’s past, present and future – as seen through the eyes and experiences of Khodorkovsky and as researched by Galeotti – attracted a swathe of questions from a fascinated audience, in both Russian and English.

Muireann and I started out on Saturday with another dose of Dostoevsky at the panel entitled ‘Virtual Sequels, Subtexts, and Unreliable Narrators’ convened for the BASEES 19th-Century Study Group. This panel featured: Inna Tigountsova from QMUL presenting ‘Birds in Fedor Dostoevsky’s “Poor Folk” and J.W. von Goethe’s “The Sufferings of Poor Werther”,

Sarah Hudspith (above middle) from University of Leeds with ‘Ippolit’s “Necessary Explanation”: Success or Failure’, Alexander Burry (below) from Ohio State University with ‘”The Stone Guest” as Subtext in “The Brothers Karamazov”’,

and Rolf Hellebust from Dalhousie University speaking on ‘Dostoevsky’s Virtual Sequels’. A series of lively and thought-provoking papers, chaired by Olga Ushakova from Tiumen University and with Muireann as discussant. The panel prompted much discussion and audience engagement.

And then RusTrans had its first, official conference panel ‘Answers in the Archives: Translators and their Microhistories’, made up of Dr Natalia Rulyova’s (University of Birmingham) fascinating paper on Brodsky’s interlinear translators, my paper on the Penguin Russian Classics translators (see below), and Muireann’s paper on Daisy Mackin, the Irish translator of Russian literature for An Gum. Three papers which all drew on original archival research and interviews in order to construct translator microhistories, and which resulted – pleasingly – in much interest and animated discussion from the audience.

And so, we had our fair share of information exchange, hearing and discussing the latest views on Russian literary translation but also introducing the RusTrans project to scholars who have been following our recent RusTrans tweets and social media updates and were keen to know more. Time well spent.

The finale for day two (and the last port of call for me before dashing for the last train home) was another keynote roundtable (below) ‘Witnessing the Collapse of Communism in Central and Eastern Europe and the Disintegration of the Soviet Union’ with former diplomatic correspondent for the BBC Bridget Kendall (University of Cambridge), the historian Timothy Garton Ash (University of Oxford), and civil rights campaigner and politician, Jens Reich. Prompted by chair Matthias Neumann, all three interviewees offered their very personal reminiscences of a key moment in European history, and in their careers, to a packed and evidently appreciative auditorium.