Irinarkh Vvedensky, Intrusive Translator.

I happened on a passage in The Oxford Handbook of the Victorian Novel which I thought was interesting enough to post here. Julie Buckler, after describing how familiar Russian readers were with even minor British authors, since from Pushkin’s time on they were made available almost immediately in the “thick journals” that provided the intellectual fodder of the Russian intelligentsia, points out that “this relatively comprehensive coverage” was “mitigated by haphazard and freewheeling translation practices” — translations “were abridged in seemingly unsystematic or even perverse fashion,” often “rendered in haste in return for poor pay.” A “more responsible and even artistic concept of translation” only arrived with the modernist period. Then she writes:

The single most prolific Russian translator of Victorian prose fiction was Irinarkh Vvedensky (1813–55), who provided Russian readers with a steady stream of English novels in the 1840s to 1850s, more than 5,000 printed pages in total. Vvedensky began with The Vicar of Wakefield in 1845, and during the period 1847–52 translated Dombey and Son, The Pickwick Papers, David Copperfield, The Haunted Man, Vanity Fair, Jane Eyre, and Caroline Norton’s Stuart of Dunleath. Posthumous assessments of Vvedensky’s work fault him for making an extraordinary number of mistakes in translation and for the liberties he took with the original texts. Vvedensky himself considered this free approach to foreign texts a legitimate method for attuning himself to the author’s spirit, and firmly believed that a truly worthy ‘translation’ should not be strictly faithful. In an 1849 letter to Charles Dickens that appeared in his translation of Dombey and Son, Vvedensky wrote, ‘I understood you as an Englishman and at the same time, in my thoughts, I had you move to Russian soil, and made you express your ideas as you would if you lived under Russian skies.’ Vvedensky liked to insert his own commentary and additions throughout, in phrases and even entire sentences he rendered in a literary idiom similar to the foreign author’s own style. He was also fond of adding pithy Russian-style proverbs as folksy authorial interjections at the end of specific passages (‘It’s easy enough to solve someone else’s problems!’). Vvedensky represents a complex figure in the Russian literary landscape of the mid-19th century. He took liberties with the texts he translated that would not be tolerated today, but he also raised Russian consciousness about the degree to which prose translation could be a literary art rather than a mechanistic operation.

I doubt Dickens would have approved, especially since he didn’t get any royalties.


  1. How do you pronounce “Vvedensky”?

  2. Pretty much like it’s written: vvi-DEN-skee, with an extra-long v at the start.

  3. Russian has initial geminates? I didn’t know that.

  4. Yeah, there are minimal pairs like вести ‘to lead, take, bring’ and ввести ‘to bring in, introduce.’

  5. I’m guessing this is what happens when a preposition/preverb в is applied to a word starting in в — so a morphological process rather than a morphotactic one like in Italian. Does this happen for к and с too?

  6. Hat: this Russian minimal pair is so close in morphological structure + meaning to the Latin verbs “ducere/inducere” that I assume this is an instance of Latin influence upon Russian. Was it direct, or via some other language? I assume you or somebody here knows…

  7. January First-of-May says

    Does this happen for к and с too?

    Definitely happens for с (a minimal pair is судить “to judge” vs. ссудить “to loan”, though I’m not sure that this is actually the same root), and I think the prefix к is simply too rare (it definitely happens with the preposition к, as in к королю, but I’m not sure that’s what you’re thinking of).

  8. So are there initial geminates without a morpheme boundary in the middle? And is there one in Vvedensky?

  9. Googled and learned that Vvedensky is a clergy surname, from Vvedenie (literally “Entry”) – liturgical feast called in Western Christian tradition The Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary and in the East known as The Entry of the Most Holy Theotokos into the Temple.

    The Greek name is Εἴσοδος and Latin is Praesentatio.

    Clearly Vvedenie is translation from Greek, not Latin.

  10. it definitely happens with the preposition к, as in к королю, but I’m not sure that’s what you’re thinking of

    If that’s pronounced with initial /k:/, it’s exactly what I’m thinking of. (How do you even do that at the start of an utterance? Long unvoiced stop, I mean).

  11. You do it exactly as how you’ll do any geminates. It’s just inaudible in the absolute beginning of an utterance.

  12. David Marjanović says

    So are there initial geminates without a morpheme boundary in the middle?


    They are quite common in Swiss German, though, where the triple contrast in the plosive inventory of short lenes : short fortes : long fortes (all of them voiceless) has become a double one of short lenes: long lenes: long lenes (still voiceless) in all positions.

  13. Ah! That’s why I’m never able to hear any difference between the Swiss plosives!

  14. Speaking of regional differences in German, I’ve always had difficulty hearing the difference between ä and e and I’m pretty sure that’s because my first German teacher spoke with an accent where there wasn’t a difference — what region would that be?

  15. As far as I know, merging long ä and e (in general, with some possible exceptions for words that would otherwise be homophones) is widespread in German, not confined to any particular accent. Merging short ä and e is of course universal (unless there is some accent that I’ve never heard of?).

  16. Identity of short e and ä is part of the standard pronunciation. Long e and ä are pronounced [e:] and [ε:] in the official standard, but, as Eli says, this distinction is not maintained by most speakers, who have [e:] for both (I’m one of those people who distinguish both). In my experience, people either have the distinction or they don’t; if people who don’t distinguish them want to make clear which of a couple of homophones they mean, they normally spell them (e.g. Nebel “Nebel mit e”, Näbel “Nebel mit ä”). They sometimes may use a “dictation voice” and say “Näääbel” to make the distinction clear, but in my experience they don’t introduce the distinction in normal speech in order to avoid homophony.

  17. David Marjanović says

    Long e and ä are pronounced [e:] and [ε:] in the official standard

    I’d rather say “in the stage pronunciation”. There simply is no pronunciation standard for other purposes; TV newsreaders from different parts of Germany don’t sound the same.

    Short e and ä do seem to have merged everywhere outside of Upper German dialects, where it can get complicated (ä has two historical sources, and Swabian, as I read recently, has merged one but not the other with e…); also, the spelling is more morphological than etymological. In other words, if no related forms with a survive, e will be spelled instead of etymological ä.

    Long e and ä seem to have merged everywhere except along the Rhine (possibly its whole length), where long ä can be a wide-open [æː]. (Completely threw me when I heard that for the first time, from someone from Frankfurt. Imagine someone speaking RP or GA suddenly switching to a full-blown Scottish accent if you’ve never heard a Scottish accent before.) Speakers with this distinction carry it over into Standard German; because the distinction is also made in the spelling, some others imitate it, but usually only get to [ε:], and inconsistency is common. I don’t know if [ε:] for long ä is native anywhere. ([ε:] for other things is native to a range of dialects.)

    I use [æː] only as the name of the letter ä (there are many people who avoid even that and say “Umlaut A”) and for reading not-too-unstressed Latin ae aloud. Other than that I don’t make the distinction in Standard German. Plenty of homophones, like Ehre “honor” and Ähre “ear of cereals” to use an example that once came up on Wikipedia.

    My dialect mostly keeps Middle High German vowel qualities, but length is gone. This means that ä (originally short; long or short in the modern standard) from one of the two sources is generally [e], surprisingly enough. There is no [æ], however.

    On the way to Standard German, the vowel qualities were redistributed according to the new lengths (following the lengthening of vowels in short stressed syllables and in monosyllabic words, and the shortening of vowels in monosyllabic words ending in too many consonants). Consequently, [e] and [ε] have mostly the opposite of their distribution in MHG or in my dialect. I’ll stop here, or I’ll spend the next hour making everyone as confused as the Central Bavarian e Confusion (mittelbairische E-Verwirrung).

  18. I always enjoy your excursuses on the vagaries of German As She Is Spoke!

  19. Even the most careful teachers of German as a foreign language do not (from what I have seen) try to teach any distinction between ä and e. Since for many (or most) native speakers they are completely merged, there is little practical value in trying to teach the remaining distinctions that exist in some dialects.

  20. I’d rather say “in the stage pronunciation”.

    Well, the taught-to-foreigners pronunciation is not the same as the stage pronunciation, though it’s close. As Brett notes, e and ä are the same, long or short.

  21. David Marjanović says

    the remaining distinctions that exist in some dialects

    The separate long ä is perfectly standard, too, in much of Germany. Standard German simply doesn’t have just one sound system – not unlike Standard English, just without the oceans in between.

  22. @David Marjanović: I wasn’t meaning to suggest that the distinction was nonstandard; German certainly has multiple standard dialects, as you say.

  23. He took liberties with the texts he translated that would not be tolerated today

    Do people imagine that close translations are more faithful? In a way, translation may have become more difficult because of the demand for literal accuracy because translators are faced with the challenge of forcing every single phrase into English, even when the English doesn’t need it (see post on On Being Translated Back to Myself).

  24. David Marjanović says

    Ah, Standard German doesn’t function as a dialect sociologically, and it’s a bit too much of an artificial concoction to count as one, too, as far as I’m concerned. So that’s what got me confused.

  25. Ксёнѕ Фаўст says

    I use [æː] only as the name of the letter ä (there are many people who avoid even that and say “Umlaut A”)

    This resembles the status of final ę for most Polish speakers: either it only retains its nasalization in the letter name (i.e. “ę”) or is only consistently nasalized in this particular case. I must add that when it’s nasalized it’s not just a nasalized [ɛ] but a closing diphthong along the lines of [ɛɤ̃].

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