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August 30, 2005



I agree with you about the Edmonds translation. I did hear an interview with the new translator on Front Row. His main argument for a new translation seemed to be that he had made the dialogue more 'natural' - he gave some reasonably convincing examples. To be fair to him, he was very careful not to criticize the other translations - in fact, he praised them. He came over as a decent sort, not as some arrogant upstart. His main point was that there was scope for modernizing the language and putting more appropriate words in the mouths of the working-class characters (soldiers etc). I think you are probably also right in assuming that the impetus came at least partly from Penguin - they are producing new editions of a lot of their Classics titles now and this may be part of that revamp. Whether it was worthwhile or not - well, we'll have to suck it and see.

Peter France has an interesting comment on the need for a new translation at


There's a para on War and Peace about two-thirds of the way down the article.


One of my childhood memories was watching a tv version of War and Peace, and knowing at the age of 5 that I wanted to read the book. I had my own copy by 6 but didn't complete the book until I was 13, when I chose to do a book review for my 7th grade english class (I think I got an A just because I finished the book and the review, but I probably murdered the synthesis.). A few years back, I found myself re-reading it for an online book group, something to do with massive classics. And when I read the review of the new Briggs translation, I started to get that yearning to re-read it again.
Looking forward to buying the new translation to compare to my Edmonds copy.


The old Penguin is based too much on Constance Garnett and the Maude's works to be called a fresh translation. Thus a new translation is sorely needed, at least now.


John — As I mentioned in an e-mail, making Russian working-class characters sound more authentic in English is a project fraught with difficulty I think -- will the Muskovites start saying "cor blimey mate" and the cossacks talk with a Somerset burr? But I take the point. Part of my defence of Edmonds is that I once heard a radio program about how she translated so much Russian (and Italian and other) literature into English -- thus making an enormous contribution to many readers' lives -- and yet lived in penury. I think she eventually went blind, though I am not sure about that. There is something very tragic about that. Couldn't find anything about her on the internet apart from all the books she translated. Let me know if you know/find out anything about her.

Mila — I agree that there is something about getting into War and Peace at a young age that just can’t be beat. Perhaps it’s the character of Natasha, who (more than almost any character in literature) epitomizes youth and freshness. Perhaps it’s because the subject matter—-war, balls, the royalty, country estates—makes it a grown up fairy tale. If you do read the new translation please drop me a line to let me know what you think of it.

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