Constance Garnett

Constance Garnett books and biography

Constance Garnett

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Constance Clara Garnett (ne Black) (December 19, 1861 — December 17, 1946) was an English translator. It was her translations of nineteenth-century Russian classics which first introduced them on a wide basis to the English and American public. Garnett is also the first English translator of Fyodor Dostoevsky and Anton Chekhov.

Her brother was the mathematician Arthur Black.[1] Her husband, Edward Garnett, was a distinguished reader for the publisher Jonathan Cape. Her son, David Garnett, trained as a biologist and later wrote novels.

Born in Brighton, England, Garnett studied Latin and Greek at Newnham College, Cambridge on a government scholarship, where she also learned Russian (partly from migr Russian friends such as Felix Volkonsky [Rubenstein]), and worked shortly as a school teacher. In 1893, shortly after a visit to Moscow, Petersburg and Yasnaya Polyana where she met Leo Tolstoy, she was inspired to start translating Russian literature, which became her life's passion and resulted in English-language versions of dozens of volumes by Tolstoy, Gogol, Goncharov, Dostoevsky, Pushkin, Turgenev, Ostrovsky and Chekhov. She was assisted in part by Russian anarchist Sergei Stepniak, who helped revise some of her works.

Constance Garnett's translations of Russian classics were highly acclaimed in her time and, despite some complaints about their being outdated, are still being reprinted today (as most also happen to be in the public domain). Joseph Conrad and D. H. Lawrence both praised the quality of her prose.

While Garnett kept close to the syntax and vocabulary of the original, she occasionally excised and smoothed over certain portions for readability, as in her translations of Dostoevsky.[1]It is sometimes claimed that she "retold Russian literature in Victorian English"; this is not strictly true, as the English she used is fairly modern during her times and is thus more reflective of the Edwardian era rather than the Victorian. However, due to Garnett’s not being natively Russian, she may have miscalculated when translating a few particular Russian words. For example, her translations have the word "Mass" in place of the proper name for the service of the Orthodox Church, which is Divine Liturgy or simply Liturgy. These problems have largely been solved by the translations of Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky. Volokhonsky is a native Russian and is perhaps able to approach the text with a firmer grasp of nuance.

Still, her translations remain the standard in English of many Russian classics of the nineteenth century, and many merits of her work have of late been perhaps under-appreciated.


  1. ^ See Rachel May, The Translator in the Text: On Reading Russian Literature in English, pp 32-33
  • Rachel May, The Translator in the Text: On Reading Russian Literature in English
  • Oxford Dictionary of National Biography article by Patrick Waddington, ‘Garnett , Constance Clara (1861–1946)’, Sept 2004; online edn, May 2006 [2], accessed 31 Dec 2006.

See also

  • Works by Constance Garnett on Wikisource
  • Works by Constance Garnett at Project Gutenberg

This article might use material from a Wikipedia article, which is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0.

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Letters Of Anton Chekhov

By Constance Garnett
Letters , Correspondence

Letters Of Anton Chekhov
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