IT has been said that if a translation is faithful it cannot be elegant, and that if it is elegant it cannot be faithful. And George Steiner reminds us of a point that should be obvious but tends to be forgotten in often heated debate about translation: 'There can be no exhaustive transfer from language A to language B', 'no meshing of nets so precise' that every aspect of sense and association can survive the transfer. In this translation I have taken style as the all-important element by which an author is known to his readers, and I have spared no effort to be as faithful as possible to Dostoevsky's style.
The word 'elegant' certainly is not applicable to Dostoevsky's style. He breaks every rule of grammar, syntax, and punctuation; his vocabulary is full of unusual words, to which he even adds one that he introduced into the language, stushevatsya (gently to drop out of existence); in short he stretches his own language to its uttermost limits, exploiting its potential to the full, like a good floor gymnast leaving no comer of the floorspace unused. He can throw in here and there an apparently innocuous word which will baffle experts and make native speakers scratch their heads in puzzlement when pressed for a precise meaning. An instance of this is the word Lyagavy (applied as a nickname), which may be interpreted in either an equine or a canine context. I have opted for the canine interpretation-- Lurcher (see Bk.8, Ch.2). Other translators, including David Magarshack, have opted for an equine interpretation--a horse that kicks.
In trying to follow Dostoevsky's linguistic twists and turns, the translator constantly has to guard against being wrongfooted, being mesmerized by the original, and in the process violating the norms of his target language. It would hardly be helpful to the non-Russian-speaking reader to try to illustrate my point with one of his marathon sentences. One need go no further than the title, the standard English rendering of which is The Brothers Karamazov. This follows the original word order, the only one possible in Russian in this context. Had past translators been expressing themselves freely in natural English, without