Best English translation of Anna Karenina?

I have four hours left of reading to finally finish Leo Tolstoy's "Anna Karenina" when I unsettled myself over the possibility that the years—yes, two years!—I spent trying to place the novel on my "done" list were wasted over a poorer translation of it.


Aaron Taylor Johnson as Vronsky and Alicia Vikander as Kitty in "Anna Karenina" (2012) by Joe Wright.

So I quickly scoured forums where readers asked each other what the best English version of Tolstoy's masterpiece is. The preferences were mixed.

Oprah Winfrey apparently played a role in the revived popular interest in the book when she featured it on her book club, choosing Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky's translation because of its accessibility. It does not mean theirs were of higher quality. Janet Malcolm on the New York Review of Books wrote that Pevear and Volokhonsky built an industry of taking any Russian material and "putting it into flat, awkward English."

An earlier work by Maude and Maude had the next best rep, as many older readers found their translation more readable. The "Anna Karenina" they had in high school was usually Maude's, released in 1912. Other runners-up were those of Marian Schwartz and Rosamund Bartlett.

Now what Malcolm hails as the finest of the lot also happens to be the earliest: Constance Garnett's 1901 release.
"[Garnett] has a fine sense of English, and, especially, the sort of English that appears in British fiction of the realist period, which makes her ideal for translating the Russian masterpieces. Tolstoy and Dostoevsky were constantly reading and learning from Dickens, Trollope, George Eliot and others."
This put me at peace. I've been reading Garnett's all along, thank God.

Maybe next time, when I've finally put down "Anna Karenina," we'll talk about the best film version.

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