Several people sent me the worshipful Kevin Mahnken article from Humanities on the ubiquitous Pevear/Volokhonsky translation team (who have the mightiest PR juggernaut in the history of translation). I am not a fan of theirs (see, e.g., here), and I was glad to see Alexander Anichkin take them on in this Tetradki post, focusing on P&V’s allegedly perfect translation—”It was a very simple matter and there was nothing complicated about it”—of an allegedly repetitive Dostoevsky sentence:
I thought there was something suspicious about it. It can’t be that Dostoyevsky is as repetitive as this. His style is different from the beautifully succinct Turgenev, or the elaborately detailed, thoroughly explorative Tolstoy. Dostoyevsky writes in a semi-colloquial, almost chatty way, as though he is sitting at a tea table and telling a story to a group of friends. At times, it is sloppy, or seems so.
I searched the Russian text of Crime and Punishment to find the phrase that baffled Pevear. (See ‘Dostoyevsky on one page‘) This is how it goes (from Part I, beginning of Chapter VI):
Дело было самое обыкновенное и не заключало в себе ничего такого особенного.
It’s not repetitive at all, it’s a perfectly normal phrase. I’d translate it something like this:
[It turned out that] It was quite simple and there was nothing unusual about it.
My wife, a native English speaker, thinks that ‘and’ is better replaced with a semi-colon. She suggested:
In fact it was perfectly simple; there was nothing out of the ordinary about it.
“Ничего особенного” can mean ‘nothing complicated.’ For example, when you ask ‘Is it a difficult problem?’, you can get an answer ‘Nothing complicated.’ But here, in Dostoyevsky’s context it’s definitely ‘nothing extraordinary, nothing unusual, nothing suspicious’.
When you read the Humanities article between the lines, you can see that every time Pevear, who has ‘only a basic Russian’ as the author mentions, has doubts, Volokhonskaya bullies him into accepting her version.
Publishers have built such a juggernaut of PV’s translations, probably because of ‘live’ copyright, it’s unstoppable now.
Sadly, that final line is hard to dispute, but it’s nice to see someone pointing out an inconvenient truth.