Translating the Untranslated Anton Chekhov

In News by Dennis Abrams

Anton Chekhov's stories and plays remain beloved and there's a treasure trove still to be mined for translation.

Chekhov’s stories and plays remain beloved and there’s a treasure trove still to be mined for translation.

The Anton Chekhov Foundation is working to produce English translations of 528 of the author’s earliest, still untranslated works.

By Dennis Abrams

Given the love (there really is no other word to describe it) that so many readers worldwide have for the works of Anton Chekhov, it might came as a surprise to many that nearly 528 of his earliest works have never been “systematically translated into English.”

But now, as reported by Russia Beyond the Headlines, these stories, dating from 1880-1888, are going to be translated by the Anton Chekhov Foundation.

This project, which will allow readers to trace Chekhov’s progression as a writer and artist (while providing students and scholars a valuable resource) is the result of a successful week-long festival held in 2010 to raise funds for the White Dacha museum in Yalta, where the author lives in the last years of his life. “We were overwhelmed by the response,” Elena Michajlowska, a trustee of the foundation told RBTH, “particularly given that the festival’s program was based on the short stories and early comic vaudevilles rather than the well-known plays.”

The idea to go back to Chekhov’s very origins and create a chronological anthology came from Rosamund Bartlett, founding director of the Anton Chekhov Foundation and well-known Russian translator, whose new translation of Anna Karenina was recently published by Oxford University Press.

Bartlett believes that it is essential that the project be both inclusive and democratic. As she explained to RBTH: We wanted to involve as wide a range of people as possible. So we have retired academics and students who are still learning Russian, alongside professional translators.”

For Bartlett, it is vital that the project is both inclusive and democratic. “We wanted to involve as wide a range of people as possible,” she explains. “So we have retired academics and students who are still learning Russian, alongside professional translators.”

The project is also international in scope, with participants from countries ranging from Bulgaria to Australia to China. There is also a Facebook page dedicated to the project, where readers can ask translation questions and share ideas.

And the project has proved so popular with translators that all of the stories designed to appear in Volume 1 were assigned in just weeks. “We expected it to take us some time to promote the project,” Michajlowska said, “but in the end we had to disappoint people because there are only 58 stories – but they’ll get first pick for Volume 2.”

As George Butchard described the launch for RBTH, there was a “palpable sense of excitement,” as translators “compared notes on which story they had chosen and discussed the best strategies to tackle Chekhov’s minimalist style.”

“This embodies all that is good about the translation community,” said Helen Hagon, a professional translator from the UK. “People from all corners of the Earth and of varying levels of experience will all be working independently yet together, hopefully supporting and encouraging each other along the way.”

About the Author

Dennis Abrams

Dennis Abrams is a contributing editor for Publishing Perspectives, responsible for news, children's publishing and media. He's also a restaurant critic, literary blogger, and the author of "The Play's The Thing," a complete YA guide to the plays of William Shakespeare published by Pentian, as well as more than 30 YA biographies and histories for Chelsea House publishers.