Literary Translation in Russia
Edited By Leon Burnett and Emily Lygo
Philip Ross Bullock Not One of Us? The Paradoxes of Translating Oscar Wilde in the Soviet Union
1 In 1928, as Joseph Stalin launched his policies of collectivization, industri- alization and cultural revolution, Soviet readers were of fered a brief and unexpected opportunity to read a work by an author who had enjoyed enormous popularity before the October Revolution of 1917, but whose reputation had waned during the course of the 1920s. A. I. Deich’s preface to his retranslation of The Ballad of Reading Gaol (his first attempt had been published in 1910) is prescient in its examination of the discourses that would shape Oscar Wilde’s potentially awkward reputation in Soviet Russia. Here, the central paradox rested on the assumption that Wilde, as both an adversary and victim of the hypocrisy of late-Victorian England, could be read through the prism of the Soviet Union’s own antibourgeois ideology: The English bourgeoisie, primly hypocritical, sanctimoniously servile or coldly cruel, was simply waiting for the opportunity to be rid of a member of society who stood head and shoulders above it, whose brilliant paradoxes often sounded like a slap in the face of its age-old traditions.2 1 I should like to thank Stefano Evangelista and Polly Jones for their invaluable advice and criticism during the composition of this essay, and Julian Graf fy for help in obtaining a number of sources. 2 A. Deich, ‘S.33’, in Oskar Uail’d, Ballada ridingskoi tiur’my; trans. A. Deich (Moscow: Ogonek, 1928), 3–8 (5). For the earlier translation see Ballada ridingskoi tiur’my, trans. A. Deich (Kiev: Gong, 1910). Deich’s account of his translations can...
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