Gete = Goethe in Russian : the April 2017 Slavonic item(s) of the month

In the last couple of weeks, we have taken delivery of a wonderful new addition to our collections: the earliest published Russian translation of Goethe’s Faust (1838).  This joins two similar relative newcomers – the first full(ish) Russian Faust (1844) and the first Russian translation of another Goethe work, Götz von Berlichingen (1828).

The title page of the 1844 translation of Faust.

The University Library rarely buys translations into languages other than English, but a exception is early or otherwise significant translations of certain major authors.  Goethe is one of these; others include Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Laurence Sterne, and James Joyce.

Dedication to Venevitinov.

Gets fon-Berlikhingen is the second earliest translation of Götz von Berlichingen in the catalogue.  The first is the 1799 translation by Walter Scott, at S746.c.79.1.  Our Russian version was produced by Mikhail Petrovich Pogodin (1800-1875), whose other books in the UL relate to his work as a historian.  The book opens with a dedication to D.V. Venevitinov ” as a sign of our friendship”.  Venevitinov, a poet, was also a translator of Goethe.  The dedication is dated the 21st of September 1826; tragically Venevitinov had died, at the young age of 21, by the time the book was published in 1828.

Dedication to Pushkin.

Both Pogodin and Venevitinov were acquaintances of Pushkin, with whom the earlier of our two new Faust translations is linked.  In a rather awful echo of Pogodin’s dedication, the 1838 Faust is dedicated to Pushkin in a publication printed also shortly after the dedicatee’s untimely death.  Eduard Guber (1814-1847), a young devotee of Pushkin, had seen his first Faust translation rejected by the censors and had responded by destroying the manuscript.  Pushkin made contact with him on hearing this news and had a significant influence of Guber’s subsequent new translation.  Pushkin’s violent death in 1837 at the age of 38 threw Russia into mourning and must have devastated Guber.  His dedication (to Pushkin’s “unforgettable memory”) is followed by a 9-stanza dedicatory poem.  The history of the earlier draft is touched on in Guber’s detailed introduction to the translation, where he also documents Pushkin’s involvement.

Our 1844 Faust was in fact the earliest of three Russian Goethe books to join us in the UL.  Technically, this volume contains the first full Russian Goethe.  In practice, it provides a full translation of part 1, followed by what is in fact a prose re-telling of part 2.  The translator and re-teller was Mikhail Vronchenko (1802-1855).  In his introduction, Vronchenko explains that he felt it vital to bring a version of part 2 to Russian readers, who had otherwise heard about it only at second hand, but that he had eventually determined that a shorter re-telling would be practical than a more direct translation.  Writing in the third person, Vronchenko wrote that “the translator had decided definitively against attempting a precise translation of part 2” because he found he lacked “the strength needed for the task, sufficient patience, and even any desire to do it”.

Of the three volumes, the two Fausts have clear traces of earlier ownership.  The Vronchenko 1844 work has the stamp of the Biblioteka Zaikanovych, and the 1838 Guber translation has the the unfortunately modern adhesive label of a Valentin Lavrov, identified by the bookseller as the writer born in 1935.  It also bears the probably 19th-century signature inscription of an A. Semenov (whose initials are also embossed on the foot of the spine), and additionally contains a page partially covered by handwritten music!  Any information about the Biblioteka Zaikanovych or the identity of our A. Semenov would be gratefully received.

From left: A. Semenov’s signature, the music notation, and the Biblioteka Zaikanovykh stamp.

Now that the cataloguing work has been done, all three books will be passed to our Rare Books colleagues so that classmarks can be added.  This post will be updated in due course to provide these and links to the books’ records in iDiscover.

Mel Bach

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