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FREE Barron's Booknotes-Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky-Free
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STYLE

Unless you're fluent in Russian and are reading the novel in its original language, your impression of Dostoevsky's style will be influenced by the translation you read as well as by the novelist's choice of words and sentence structure. The translator's own style makes a big difference.

For instance, the last sentences of Part One read like this in one translation: -

He did not sleep, but lay there in a stupor. If anybody had entered the room he would have sprung up at once with a cry. Disjointed scraps and fragments of ideas floated through his mind, but he could not seize one of them, or dwell upon any, in spite of all his efforts....

In another, the same sentences read like this:

He did not fall asleep, but lay there in a sort of stupor. If anyone had come into the room, he would at once have leapt screaming to his feet. Scraps and fragments of thoughts swarmed in his head; but he could not fix his mind on a single one of them, he could not concentrate on a single one of them even for a short time, much as he tried to....

A third version says:

He did not sleep, but sank into blank forgetfulness. If anyone had come into his room then, he would have jumped up and screamed. Scraps and shreds of thoughts were simply swarming in his brain, but he could not catch at one, he could not rest on one, in spite of all his efforts....


Perhaps the chief difference between reading Dostoevsky in the original and reading him in translation is that the subtlety of the language is sometimes unavoidably lost. When Dostoevsky calls his protagonist Raskolnikov, he uses the name because the Russian word raskol means split or schism; the name helps define the character. Naming characters in this way is a frequent literary device, but it works only when the reader recognizes the connection.

Similarly, the Russian word for crime, prestuplenie, is literally translated as a stepping across or a transgression. The physical image of crime as a crossing over of a barrier or a boundary is lost in translation. So is the religious implication of transgression, which we use in English to refer to a sin rather than a crime. Dostoevsky wants you to think of Raskolnikov's action as both.

There are other things, though, that translation doesn't affect. Dostoevsky uses different speech mannerisms and sentences of differing lengths for different characters. Those who use artificial language when they speak- Luzhin, for example, sounds like a pompous businessman, while Lebeziatnikov's speech resembles that of a half-baked politician-are identified as unattractive people. Mrs. Marmeladov's disintegrating mind is reflected in her language too. You can learn a lot about individual characters not only by what they say but how they say it.

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FREE Barron's Booknotes-Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky-Free
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