Review of Two New Translations and a Study of Pushkin's «Tales of Belkin»
Alexander Pushkin. Tales of Belkin. Translated by Josh Billings. Brooklyn, NY: Melville House, 2009. 128. ISBN-13: 978-1-933633-73-2. Paper.
Alexander Pushkin. The Tales of Belkin. Foreword by Adam Thirlwell. Translated by Hugh Aplin. London: Hesperus Press Limited, 2009. xvii + 100. ISBN-13: 978-1-84391-185-2. Paper.
Sang Hyun Kim. Alexander Pushkin’s “The Tales of Belkin”: Formalist and Structuralist Readings and Beyond the Literary Theories. Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 2008.xxvi + 191. Index. ISBN-13: 978-0-7618-4129-6. Paper.
The new translations of The Tales of Belkin by Josh Billings and Hugh Aplin begin with errors in “A.P.’s” “From the Publisher.” Billings confuses the housekeeper-godmother with the village elder, apparently mistaking the Russian word starosta (village elder) for starukha (old lady), and is thus obliged to substitute the feminine pronoun for the masculine in the following passage, creating the first female estate steward on record (italics mine):
I demanded the estate books, denounced the old woman as a cheat… Just as my searching and strident questioning of the cheating old steward was driving her to the edge of embarrassment and forcing her to silence…” (18)
He does, however, translate kuma as “godmother” (16) in the description of this same woman-into-steward, better than Aplin’s “gossip” (4); on the other hand, Aplin renders pluta-starosta more or less accurately as “rogue of a headman” (5). Both might have consulted Alan Myers (World Classics, 2009)—“rogue of an elder” (5)—and Ronald Wilks (Penguin, 1998)—“roguish elder” (5)—for accuracy. In “The Shot,” Billings translates Baratynskii’s “Strelialis´ my” as “we shot” (21), while Aplin has the more accurate “We exchanged shots” (7), better than Wilks’s “And so we fought a duel” (7) but not than Myers’s “We exchanged fire” (7). In Billings, zlobnaia mysl´ becomes plural “vengeful thoughts” (29), while Aplin has the better “a malicious thought” (12). The Melville House edition calls Belkin a “scholar” on the cover, which does not inspire confidence. Of the two, Aplin’s translation is more accurate and retains more of the humor carried by the styles of the speakers that is key in the Tales; that edition contains “A History of the Village of Goryukhino” as well as a two-and-a-half-page fragment of Pushkin’s on being a poet. But neither Billings nor Aplin has surpassed the existing translations.