In Their Time: The Riddle Behind the Epistolary Friendship between Ernest Hemingway and Ivan Kashkin

By Levin, Elizabetha | The Hemingway Review, Spring 2013 | Go to article overview

In Their Time: The Riddle Behind the Epistolary Friendship between Ernest Hemingway and Ivan Kashkin


Levin, Elizabetha, The Hemingway Review


Hemingway is one of the most beloved American authors in the Russian-speaking world. This success has depended to a great extent upon his early translator, Ivan Kashkin, whose work preserves Hemingway's original honesty and simplicity in Russian (a language spoken by more than 150 million people). This essay examines the lifelong relationship between Hemingway and Kashkin. The history of their correspondence, combined with the juxtaposition of their private lives, provides new insights into their personalities and into their times.

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We are citizens of an age, as well as of a State.

Friedrich Schiller

The age demanded that we sing And cut away our tongue.

Ernest Hemingway

Hemingway did not speak Russian and he never visited the U.S.S.R.; nonetheless, by the 1930s he had smashing success there (Brown 143). It is widely accepted that he owed his fame in Russia to his translator and epistolary friend, Ivan Kashkin, an able critic and trainer of a unique school of translators. What is less known is that Kashkin was also a poet and one of the earliest Hemingway biographers. His 295-page critical-biographical study, Ernest Hemingway, was published in Moscow in 1966, three years prior to Baker's seminal biography, Ernest Hemingway: A Life Story.

Kashkin's Ernest Hemingway uses many of the same terms that are part of the public and private epistolary debate in which he engaged Hemingway. The reader inevitably becomes an active participant in the conversations between the biographer and the much-adored writer, whom Kashkin used to call lovingly "my Hemingway." Kashkin believed that there should be a meaningful connection between a translator and his author, and he was convinced that "[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]" [one should translate only those works and only of those authors that one cannot resist one's urge to translate, the urge which is motivated by one's own initiative and inclination (1)] (Dlia 2). In particular, Kashkin felt as if there was a mystical bond between him and Hemingway. By stressing parallels and resonances between their inner worlds, Kashkin excelled in presenting Hemingway's most appealing literary and social aspects to Russian readers.

For many decades, Kashkin taught at institutions of higher education in Moscow. In addition to promoting Hemingway, he and his school contributed the vast majority of the translations published in the influential Soviet magazine International Literature (Gal). Kashkin's translations of Geoffrey Chaucer, Robert Frost, Carl Sandburg, and Erskine Caldwell were appreciated for their creative reproductions of each author's individual style. His research studies on Joseph Conrad, Robert Louis Stevenson, and William Faulkner were known for their brilliant philological qualities. Together with Mikhail Zenkevich (one of the early acmeists (2)), Kashkin introduced Russian readers to the finest works of T. S. Eliot, Archibald MacLeish, and Hart Crane. The poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko feels that Kashkin's role in Soviet literature cannot be overestimated because of a creative act of bravery. During the years of terror, when Russia was separated from the West by the Iron Curtain, Kashkin and Zenkevich published The American Poets of the XX Century (1939), an anthology intended to reunite separated cultures of two opposing social systems (Yevtushenko).

Despite Kashkin's wide spectrum of interests, his name was closely associated with Hemingway's. His life-long attraction began with Hemingway's first publications. As early as 1927, Kashkin published translated selections from The Sun Also Rises (1926) in Moscow magazines, becoming the first to translate any of Hemingway's works into Russian (Venediktova). In 1934, Kashkin translated two of Hemingway's short stories and edited a volume of selections from his writings. During 1935-1936 a full translation of The Sun Also Rises appeared, followed by A Farewell to Arms, both translated by members of Kashkin's school. …

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