Magarshack at Penguin.

Russian Dinosaur has an intriguing interview with Cathy McAteer about her research on translator David Magarshack and the Penguin Classics series he worked for; like everybody else, I was familiar with his versions of classic Russian literature (notably Dostoevsky), but I knew nothing about him or about the background of the translations. Turns out he was born in Riga (his dates were 1899–1977, just like Nabokov’s) and emigrated to the UK at nineteen, married the Yorkshire-born and Cambridge-educated Elsie, and approached E.V. Rieu offering his services as a literary translator; I’ll let you get the rest of the story at the link (and I’m looking forward to the book, if McAteer turns her PhD research into one), but here I want to highlight the final bit, since it is based on my request to the Dinosaur for information about pronunciation:

One last quick question (by special request): how would you actually pronounce Magarshack?

CM: This is an interesting one. I only ever hear Brits referring to him as MAGarshack, but of the Russians I know who are familiar with Jewish surnames, they say MagarSHACK. Alas, I do not know how he talked about himself here in the UK, but I guess it’s the same sort of conundrum facing anyone who says NabOkov/PasterNAK/RomAnov amongst British lay listeners..

Russian Магаршак is indeed stressed on the final syllable (it’s one of those Jewish names derived from abbreviations, in this case of Morenu Ha-rab Rabbi Shelomo Kluger), and I presume that’s how the translator said it in his head, but I suppose he bowed to popular pronunciation when he talked with people; was that popular pronunciation indeed MAGarshack? Is that how people who interacted with him at Penguin said it? If you know, I’m all ears.

Comments

  1. Famous translator Самуил Маршак (Samuil Marshak) who did it the other way around, English to Russian (and was a poet in his own right) apparently belongs to the same group of rabbi Kluger followers.

  2. Robert Everett-Green says:

    I remember a biographical paragraph on the back of a Magarshack translation in paperback, which stated he was born “in Riga, Russia.” A souvenir of simpler, more imperial times…

  3. And before those imperial times it was a Free Imperial City of the Holy Roman Empire, and before that a member of the Hanseatic League. The Bartlett book I’ve been posting about has a nice map of the original city and an account of its founding.

  4. When I went through the Penguin Dostoevskys as a student, I pronounced the name (in my head) as MaGARshack. Probably I suspected that wasn’t correct, but in English it sounded slightly more euphonious than the two alternatives. Now I find, in an LH post from 2010, that the Pevear-Volokhonsky duo also pronounce it MaGARshack, but that’s a source that may not be considered authoritative.

    The interview with Cathy McAteer notes that Magarshack had children, and there are several Magarshacks in current London phone directories. Perhaps somebody in the UK could do some basic detective work?

  5. Athel Cornish-Bowden says:

    I’ve never had occasion to say Magarshack, but if I had done before reading your post I would probably have assumed first-syllable stress.

    Nabokov is another matter. He was often mentioned when I were a lad and at that time everyone in England gave him first-syllable stress. Subsequently I’ve heard that second-syllable stress is better: is that right?

    While we’re at it, what about Shostakovich? When I first heard his name it was always with secondary stress on the first o and full stress on the second o (pronounced as [əʊ̯] — not a very Russian sound). More recently I knew someone who insisted that the stress was on the a, but that didn’t sound right to me at all. What is it really?

  6. The algebra book I used in high school was by one שמעון מהרש”ק (pronounced MaharSHACK).

  7. @ACB: If you want to stress the names where the Russians do, it’s Nabókov and Shostakóvich.

  8. @ Kobi: Could this Shimon Maharshak have been the author? “Born 1904 in in Slutsk. Graduated from Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Teacher in the Tel Aviv commercial school “geulah” [redemption]. Published “Algebra,” a three-part text book.”

    Since Slutsk is in Belarus, how was Maharshak spelled in Russian? Probably Магаршак. h>г>g, as usual. On the other hand, dropping the h altogether results in Marshak, which sounds nicer in Russian (I think). Coming across either name for the first time, I’m sure most native Russian speakers would stress the last syllable.

    @ Athel Cornish-Bowden: It’s Shostakóvich in Russian as it was Szostakowicz in Polish: the composer’s paternal grandfather was the son of an impoverished Polish-Lithuanian nobleman.

  9. Subsequently I’ve heard that second-syllable stress is better: is that right?

    Yes, and the same for Shostakovich (-ovich surnames are always stressed on the -o-, with a very few exceptions of Serbian origin).

  10. There are instances of such names undergoing stress shift when they are Anglicized; my grandmother’s last name was MAGorel, but in the old country the name was, of course, magaRIL.

  11. Alexei K. – Most probably this is the same Maharshak. Looking at the phone book I see a fair number of Maharshak and Marshak names in Israel and a small number of Magarshak names. Regarding the spelling I can’t help you as I don’t know Russian.

  12. @D.O.: according to Wikipedia, the name Marshak comes from a different rabbi, one
    Aharon Shmuel ben Israel Kaidanover.

Speak Your Mind

*