Although The Brothers Karamazov has been translated from the original Russian into a number of languages, the novel's diverse array of distinct voices and literary techniques makes its translation difficult. Constance Garnett did the first English translation, in 1912.
In 1958, David Magarshack and Manuel Komroff released translations of the novel, published respectively by Penguin and The New American Library of World Literature. In 1976, Ralph Matlaw thoroughly revised Garnett's work for his Norton Critical Edition volume. This in turn was the basis for Victor Terras' influential A Karamazov Companion. Another translation is by Julius Katzer, published by Progress Publishers in 1981 and later re-printed by Raduga Publishers Moscow.
In 1990 Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky released a new translation; it won a PEN/Book-of-the-Month Club Translation Prize in 1991 and garnered positive reviews from The New York Times Book Review and the Dostoevsky scholar Joseph Frank, who praised it for being the most faithful to Dostoevsky's original Russian.
In The Oxford Guide to Literature in English Translations, academic Peter France comments on several translations of Dostoevsky's work. In regard to Constance Garnett's translations, he writes::595–6
[Her] translations read easily...the basic meaning of the Russian text is accurately rendered on the whole. It is true, as critics such as Nikoliukin have demonstrated, that she shortens and simplifies, muting Dostoevsky's jarring contrasts, sacrificing his insistent rhythms and repetitions, toning down the Russian colouring, explaining and normalizing in all kinds of ways.... Garnett shortens some of Dostoevsky's idiosyncrasy in order to produce an acceptable English text, but her versions were in many cases pioneering versions; decorous they may be, but they allowed this strange new voice to invade English literature and thus made it possible for later translators to go further in the search for more authentic voice.
On David Magarshack's Dostoevsky translations, France says::596
[I]t is not certain that Magarshack has worn as well as Garnett. He certainly corrects some of her errors; he also aims for a more up-to-date style which flows more easily in English.... Being even more thoroughly englished than Garnett's, Magarshack's translations lack some of the excitement of the foreign.
On Andrew R. MacAndrew's American version, he comments: "He translates fairly freely, altering details, rearranging, shortening and explaining the Russian to produce texts which lack a distinctive voice.":596 On David McDuff's Penguin translation::596–7
McDuff carries this literalism the furthest of any of the translators. In his Brothers Karamazov the odd, fussy tone of the narrator is well rendered in the preface....At times, indeed, the convoluted style might make the reader unfamiliar with Dostoevsky's Russian question the translator's command of English. More seriously, this literalism means that the dialogue is sometimes impossibly odd—and as a result rather dead....Such 'foreignizing' fidelity makes for difficult reading.
On the Pevear and Volokhonsky's translation, France writes::597
Pevear and Volokhonsky, while they too stress the need to exhume the real, rough-edged Dostoevsky from the normalization practised by earlier translators, generally offers a rather more satisfactory compromise between the literal and the readable. In particular, their rendering of dialogue is often livelier and more colloquial than McDuff's.... Elsewhere, it has to be said, the desire to replicate the vocabulary or syntax of the Russian results in unnecessary awkwardness and obscurity.
In commenting on Ignat Avsey's translation, he writes: "His not entirely unprecedented choice of a more natural-sounding English formulation is symptomatic of his general desire to make his text English.... His is an enjoyable version in the domesticating tradition.":597
List of English translations
This is a list of the unabridged English translations of the novel::598
- Constance Garnett (1912)
- revised by Alexandra Kropotkin (1949)
- revised by Susan McReynolds Oddo (2011)
- David Magarshack (1958)
- Andrew R. MacAndrew (1970)
- Julius Katzer (1980, as The Karamazov Brothers)
- Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky (1990)
- David McDuff (1993)
- Ignat Avsey (1994, as The Karamazov Brothers)