Every once in a while I get a notice from Half.com that something on my wish list has become available in the price range I set; rarely have I been happier to get such a notice than when they told me the Garland Companion to Vladimir Nabokov (published at $65) was available for $20.98 from Labyrinth Books. (No longer, I’m afraid, but maybe another batch will come on the market.) I mention it here not to gloat, but to urge those of my readers who are Nabokov fans (I know there are more than a few) to seek it out at their local library. It’s an absolute treasure trove, almost 800 pages of scholarly articles on every imaginable subject: each of his major works, “Style,” “Teaching,” “Translation and Self-Translation,” and a series on “Nabokov and…” (Bely, Bergson, Blok, Chateaubriand, and over a dozen other writers). And there’s a comprehensive index, so that you can follow a single topic through all the articles, not to mention a detailed chronology and bibliography. Here’s a tidbit from the chapter on translation, by the wonderfully named Elizabeth Klosty Beaujour:
The translation [of Onegin] alone is almost useless to the monolingual reader of English. At most, it is a “version,” which the theoretician of translation André Lefevre argues must no more be called a “translation” than should a “free imitation.” What Nabokov has made is, as he himself boasted, a crib, a pony, an aid to less-than-complete bilinguals who need help in working with the original. Nabokov revised this pony several times to make it still more “ideally interlinear and unreadable” (SL, 482). Because it was not meant to stand alone, it should, as Boyd says, actually have been printed as an interlinear with the original Russian. For as George Steiner has observed, however faithful an “interlinear” may be in principle, in practice it is not a translation but “a contingent lexicon.”
Perfectly true, and I’ve never understood how people can take Nabokov’s later, extremist, theories on translation seriously. His example should be warning enough.