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It's not necessary for me to repeat the high praise heaped upon ANNA KARENINA, which although slow-going in spots is nonetheless highly recommended by practically everyone, a world class read. But an argument is handy among those who would argue the merits of various translators and translations. Below are four of them with four representative passages from the opening paragraphs of this novel:
Constance Garnett (1901, with many revisions by others, many available for sale here, also for free online):
"the wife had discovered that the husband was carrying on an intrigue with a French girl,..."
(Introducing Prince Stephan Arkadyevich):
" -- Stiva, as he was known in the fashionable world -- "
"He turned over his stout, well-cared-for person on the springy sofa,"
Louise and Aylmer Maud (1918), available here as an Oxford World Classic:
"His wife had discovered an intrigue between her husband and the former French governess,..."
" -- Stiva, as he was called by his set in Society[note cap. "S"] -- "
"He turned his plump, well-kept body over on the springy sofa,"
David Magarshack (1961), Signet(Mass Market) Paperback [and this version]:
"The wife had found out that the husband had had an affair with the French governess,..."
"(Stiva, as he was called by his society friends),"
"He turned his plump, well-cared-for body on the springy sofa,..."
Peavar/Volokhonsky, 1991 (Penguin Classic and [same pagination, fancier cover] Oprah's Pick):
"The wife had found out that the husband was having an affair with the former French governess . . . "
" -- Stiva, as he was called in society -- "
"He rolled his full, well-tended body over the springs of the sofa,..."
The first thing to say is that these four quotations have a great deal more in common with each other than not. Nonetheless, there are differences: note that only two of the four mention that the object of Stiva's affection was a former employee. Despite several layers of revision, Garnett's translation, nearly a century old, at times slips into archaism: note the reference to high society as the "fashionable world," a term for which modern readers could be excused for construing something along the lines of couture, high fashion in clothing. Both the Garnett and the Maude version maintain the euphemism "intrigue" for "love-affair," while the two more recent translations keep to the more contemporary and less euphemistic "affair." In the Magarshack translation (1961), the use of the pluperfect in "the husband had had an affair" is technically correct, even today, but the P&V version with its "was having" just rolls by better to me.
Overall, though, of the four my personal favorite is the 1961 Magarshack translation, also the cheapest (but smallest in trim size). If I had to conduct a group discussion of ANNA KARENINA, though, I would almost cetainly gravitate to the much-better-distributed Peaver/Volokshonky edition because the differences or any presumed demerits, to me, are not as significant as granting the easiest accessibility to a group of individual readers. I could probably muddle through the archaisms in the Maude version -- it is the most reworked and in many respects the most solid, despite its age -- but I know I would have problems with the Constance Garrett.
The important thing to remember is that ANNA KARENINA is a book that demands to be read, and the reader who takes the time to read it fully will be well rewarded in vivid characterization, deft plotting, romance, social insight, and history, despite how one feels about the (sometimes exasperating) agrarian-political theorizing of Tolstoy's stand-in, Levin.