Ragtime with Jazz Variations: A Novel by E. L. Doctorow Translated by Vasily Aksenov

2023. № 4, 74-89

Yuliya Yu. Konovalova, National Research University “Higher School of Economics” (Russia, Moscow), yukonovalova@hse.ru


The study focuses on the translation of Edgar Lowrence Doctorow’s novel “Ragtime” (1975), made by Vasily Aksenov for the journal “Foreign Literature” and published in 1978. The article examines Aksenov’s translation from different sides: both from the comparative point of view (the choice of translation strategies; linguistic, stylistic and semantic transformations of the original text) and from the evolutionary point of view(the infl uence of the American novel on Aksenov’s works of the mid-1970s,
mainly, on the novel “Burn”).
A common place in the reception of the Russian translation of “Ragtime” was the discussion of the stylistic inaccuracies of Aksenov, who did not want to be “invisible”, as required by translation ethics (according to Lawrence Venuti). The study analyzes the language and style of translation and finds out how a Russian writer transforms the source text. Aksenov modifies the factual and moderate narrative manner of Doctorow’s novel, complements it with internal monologues of the characters and intensifi es the subjectivity of the historical novel the American writer’s intended.
The translator combines both domestication and foreignization. Friedrich Schleiermacher, who fi rst introduced these terms into academic field, considered it mutually exclusive. Aksenov uses domestication (adaptation of unfamiliar phenomena of foreign culture for the target reader) only if necessary (for instance, to explain the difference in Celsius and Fahrenheit temperature scales) or for censorship reasons (to replace “inconvenient” words like “sexologist”). Foreignization becomes the main strategy: there are plenty of Americanisms and intentionally “untranslated” words (“derby”, “darling”).
The translation of “Ragtime” essentially impacted Aksenov’s opus magnum — “Burn”. Like ragtime for Doctorow, Aksenov considers the musical form as the basis of novel’s composition: jazz happens to be a key metaphor for both the spirit of the era and the painful nostalgia for it.

For citation:

Konovalova Yu. Yu. Ragtime with Jazz Variations: A Novel by E. L. Doctorow Translated by Vasily Aksenov. Russian Speech = Russkaya Rech’. 2023. No. 4. Pp. 74–89. DOI: 10.31857/S013161170027462-7.