Constance Garnett's Chekhov and the Modernist Short Story


Hunter A (2003) Constance Garnett's Chekhov and the Modernist Short Story. Translation and Literature, 12 (1), pp. 69-87.

First paragraph: Writing in 1974, the critic Roberta Rubenstein complained that Constance Garnett had not received proper recognition for her contribution to the literature of the English-speaking world. Determined to 'find out more about the woman who had translated such an astonishing number of books', Rubenstein approached Constance's son, David Garnett, who furnished her with a portrait of a retiring, easily amused woman, inclined to vanity only in respect of her own intelligence, and firmly convinced of the value of free love, early sexual experience for women, and a doctrine of economic self-reliance. The world has since learned much more about Constance Garnett from her grandson, Richard, who in 1991 published her biography under the title A Heroic Life. Yet the tendency to overlook Garnett persists, and the neglect is nowhere more evident than in the study of how her translations have affected anglophone literary culture. It is widely understood that Garnett's work was fundamental in introducing English speakers to the Russian masters, and that the course of European and American modernism was altered by her rapid output of some sixty volumes of Tolstoy, Gogol, Dostoyevsky, and Chekhov, among others; but this is to say little of the nature of the work itself, or of precisely how it affected the English writers who read it. In this essay, I want to examine the response to Garnett's translations of Chekhov's stories by modernist writers, and to argue that it was in fact the particular qualities of her renderings that shaped the development of the short story in English.

Translation and Literature: Volume 12, Issue 1

Publication date31/03/2003
PublisherEdinburgh University Press