Canada in the Soviet Mirror: English-Canadian Literature in Soviet Translation

By Black, Joseph; Black, J. L. | Journal of Canadian Studies, Summer 1995 | Go to article overview

Canada in the Soviet Mirror: English-Canadian Literature in Soviet Translation


Black, Joseph, Black, J. L., Journal of Canadian Studies


This paper examines Soviet translations of Canadian writing, concentrating on the translation of English-Canadian literature. The paper surveys a wide range of Canadian authors and discusses in detail Soviet use of the work of Ernest Thompson Seton, Farley Mowat, and David Adams Richards. The publication of Canadian writers in the USSR is placed in the context of the evolving history of Soviet discussion of Canadian culture and literature, and of Soviet attitudes to publication and copyright.

Dans cet article nous analyserons les traductions sovietiques d'oeuvres canadiennes, et plus precisemment les traductions d'oeuvres litteraires anglo-canadiennes. Nous etudierons un grand nombre d'auteurs canadiens et discuterons en detail de l'utilisation sovietique des oeuvres de Ernest Thompson Seton, Farley Mowat et David Adams Richards. La parution d'oeuvres d'auteurs canadiens en URSS est replacee dans le contexte evolutif des discussions sovietiques sur la culture et la litterature canadiennes et des attitudes sovietiques en ce qui concerne l'edition et les droits d'auteurs.

According to Soviet sources, about 320 books by Canadian authors were translated into Russian between 1918 and 1985.(f.1) Beginning in the late 1960s, this long-standing interest was supported by the appearance of a number of Soviet books and articles about Canadian literature, both English and French.(f.2) Much of the translated material is journalistic, consisting primarily of political and social analysis by Canadian "progressive" writers. General Secretaries of the Communist Party of Canada -- Tim Buck, Leslie Morris, and William Kashtan -- were all published regularly, as were left-wing commentators such as Norman Penner, Stanley B. Ryerson, Gary Edwards, Tom Morris, the Rev. James G. Endicott, Stephen Boychuk, John Weir, Ben Swankey, John Boyd, Peter Krawchuk, and Dyson Carter.(f.3) Articles by Canadian communists, for example, were relatively prominent in such publications as Slaviane, organ of the Slavonic Committee of the USSR (1942-1958); For a Lasting Peace, For a Peoples' Democracy! (1947-1956), the main publication of the Communist Information Bureau (Cominform); the World Marxist Review (1958-1991); and the New Times (1942 to the present).(f.4) The remaining translations of non-fiction represent a miscellany of genres dominated by books on sport. Autobiographies of Canadian hockey stars proved very popular, with those of Ken Dryden, Bobby Hull, Gordie Howe, Bobby Orr, and Phil Esposito translated in part or in whole. Books by hockey coach Lynn Patrick, water-skier George Athens, figure skater Toller Cranston, wheelchair athlete Rick Hansen, and Sports College founder Lloyd Percival also found a Soviet audience. What we would like to concentrate on in this essay, however, are the Canadian literary figures who were translated in the USSR and the Soviet commentary on these writers; we begin with some background on the role of literature and on the mechanics of publication in the Soviet system.

Until the advent of Gorbachev's policy of glasnost (generally translated as "openness," but more accurately as "publicity") the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) held a monopoly on the dissemination of all information in the USSR. Since the early 1930s, the exclusive role of both the press and literature was to mobilize all citizens for the fulfilment of tasks set by the CPSU and the Soviet government, which itself was fully dominated by the Communist Party. Although Soviet constitutions consistently proclaimed the freedom of the press and speech (Article 50 in the 1977 or pre-Gorbachev constitution), other articles ensured that such promises would be rendered meaningless. Most significant of these was the famous Article 6, which ordained the CPSU as the "leading and guiding force of Soviet society" and allocated to it the chore of imparting to the Soviet people "a planned, systematic and theoretically substantiated character to their struggle for the victory of communism. …

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