Digital Oblomov

A digital companion to Ivan Goncharov's Oblomov

Marian Schwartz, New York: Seven Stories Press, 2008

"I loved the future Oblomov! You are meek and honest, Ilya. You are as gentle as a dove. You hide your head under your wing—and want nothing more. You are prepared to coo in the rafters all your life. But I’m not like that. That is not enough for me." 

The latest translation of Oblomov was published in 2008 by Seven Stories and is the work of Marian Schwartz.

Schwartz’s translation is the first to use as its original text not the original 1859 edition, but a revised version published in 1862. In this later edition Goncharov removed emphatic phrases and made significant editorial cuts in the text. The scholar L.S. Geiro, who first brought to attention the existence of this revised version in 1987, claims it should be considered the definitive version of the text. He points to Goncharov’s annotations and variants and fragments of the work to build his case. Schwartz, and a majority of contemporary Russian literary scholars, have been convinced.

Schwartz considers gastronomy to be of particular importance in the work and maintains, for example, the Russian names of specific dishes that have no equivalent in English, providing instead the reader with a gastronomical glossary. Furthermore, she reduces the number of diminutive forms because she claims the English reader cannot distinguish between, for example, the use of “Vanyusha” and “Vanechka.”  Finally, like Pearl, she leaves Goncharov’s famous neologism as “Oblomovshchina.”

Stephen Pearl, New York: Bunim & Bannigan, 2005

“What I loved was the Oblomov to be! Ilya, you’re a timorous, honest, gentle creature like a dove; you keep your head hidden under your wing and you’re happy that way; you’re ready to spend the rest of your life billing and cooing under the eaves. But that’s not me, that’s not enough…”
Stephen Pearl’s translation was the first English version to be published in more than forty years. Pearl, who served as Chief of English Interpretation at the United Nations for fifteen years, attempts to create a translation equally accessible to American and British readers, but when forced to choose favors American expressions. He also attempts to use fresh, contemporary language, arguing that Goncharov intended the work to be read by his contemporaries.

Finally, he is the first to employ a transliteration of Goncharov’s neologism instead of making use of an English suffix. Oblomovshchina is preferred to Oblomovism or Oblomovitis, because, as Pearl explains, these suffixes convey inappropriate and misleading associations.

Ann Dunnigan, New York: Signet, 1963

“I loved the Oblomov that was to be! You are gentle, honest, Ilya; you are tender… a dove that hides its head under its wing and wants nothing more; you are willing to spend your whole life cooing under the roof. But I am different: that’s not enough for me.”
Ann Dunnigan’s translation “is competent, relatively accurate, and uses American, rather than British, idioms” (Diment 190). Readers of Dunnigan’s “version will experience much of the flavor of the original” as she “adheres closely to Goncharov’s paragraph structure and to the rhythms with which his descriptions are presented or his characters express ideas” (Scherr 559).

David Magarshack, London: Penguin, 1954

“I loved the Oblomov that might have been! You are gentle and honest—you are tender like—a dove; you hide your head under your wing—and you want nothing more; you are ready to spend all your life cooing under the roof. … Well, I am not like that; that isn’t enough for me…”

Magarshack’s translation is the most “commonly used translation of the novel” (Diment 190). It is “quite dependable” and has a “British tint to its English” (Diment 190). Magarshack “essentially offers an updated and improved version of Duddington,” but “the translation still falls short of the ideal: the style at times seems a bit bland and the effort to remain so close to the original can create a certain ponderousness”  (Scherr 558). The dialogues do not read very naturally and in this regard “the liveliness of the exchanges between Oblomov and his servant Zakhar, responsible for much of the work’s comic verve” suffer (Scherr 559).

Natalie Duddington, New York: Macmillan, 1929

“‘I loved the Oblomov that was to be! You are gentle, you are honourable, Ilya; you are tender… like a dove; you hide your head under your wing—and want nothing more; you are reading to spend all your life cooing under the roof… but I am not like that: this isn’t enough for me…’”
Duddington was the first to translate the unabridged work into English. Her translation has served as a model for subsequent translators. It “has a charming old-fashioned air to it,” which can be disadvantageous as the way the characters speak sometimes seems dated simply silted (Scherr 558). Also, it does not do full justice to the original’s language: “a few of the more subtle effects are glossed over; the translation does not always pick up on shifts in verb tense, and Goncharov’s short, pointed paragraphs are frequented lumped together” (Scherr 558).

C.J. Hogarth, London: Allen and Unwin, 1915

“’… it was the future Oblomov of my dreams that was so dear to me. Ilya, you are good and honourable and tender; but you are all this only as is a dove which, with its head hidden under its wing, wishes to see nothing better. All your life you would have sat perched beneath the eaves. But I am different—I wish for more than that…’” 
C.J. Hogarth was to first to translate the novel into English. He severely abridged it and “frequently throughout the novel Goncharov’s carefully crafted prose is simply ignored for the purposes of conveying the general flow of the plot more rapidly” (Scherr 558). His translation also “sounds very British and contains inaccuracies” (Diment 189). It is in the public domain and available here.