Bartlett To Give Talk on Tolstoy’s Karenina

By Emilie Munson

Today, April 25 eminent scholar of Russian literature and history, author and translator Rosamund Bartlett will visit the College. Bartlett most recently published a biography called Tolstoy: A Russian Life, which was long-listed for the Samuel Johnson Prize — the UK’s most prestigious non-fiction award. Her next book release, scheduled for 2014, will be an important, new translation of Anna Karenina. Eagerly awaited by the literary studies and Russian departments, Bartlett will present a lecture titled “Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina in Context: The Cultural and Political Dimensions” at 4:30 p.m. in Robert A. Jones ’59 Conference Room.

Fulton Professor of Humanities and Director of the Department of the Program in Literary Studies Stephen Donadio, who is responsible for inviting Bartlett to Middlebury, described Bartlett’s future presence at the College as “an extraordinary opportunity.”

Bartlett is a life member of Wolfson College, Oxford, in England and a Fellow of the European Humanities Research Center at Oxford. She was awarded the Chekhov 150th Anniversary Prize in 2010 by the Ministry of Culture of the Russian Federation. She has written biographies of other important 19th century authors such as Anton Chekhov, and also translated other notable works, like a collection of Chekhov’s letters, into English. Oxford’s new edition of World Classics will feature Bartlett’s translation of Anna Karenina and the translation has already been named a selection of the Oprah Winfrey Book Club.

In her lecture at the College, Bartlett will discuss some of the challenges of translating Tolstoy’s masterpiece into English. Furthermore, she will describe the influences of Tolstoy’s life, which she researched for her new biography, and Russian history on Anna Karenina.

“I’m certain that what she will have to say to us about the larger implications of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina — and the difficulties that that work presents to the English translator — will be fresh and memorable,” said Donadio.

Literary studies major Brita Fisher ’15 is excited about learning of the implications of translation on meaning in Anna Karenina.

“Since I cannot speak the language, I have to read all Russian works in translation, which of course removes some of their power, since language and meaning are often intertwined,” Fisher said. “I love hearing [such] scholarship on literature, especially since it always opens up new ways to see texts.”

There have been many past translations of Tolstoy’s famous Anna Karenina, including the current translation of choice by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky. Donadio predicts, however, that Bartlett’s translation will bring something new to the table.

“My expectation is that Bartlett’s new translation will effectively demand a thorough reconsideration of that of Pevear and Volokhonsky,” explained Donadio. “It’s not likely that Bartlett would have taken on a project of this scale unless she thought that a new translation of the work was called for, a translation that would take into account aspects of Tolstoy’s writing that are not adequately reflected in that other translation.”

On this trip to the United States, Bartlett will also speak at the Hillwood Museum in Washington D.C., on the Culture of Imperial Russia. Her next book will be on the cultural history of opera in Russia.

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