Monday 11 May 2009

A Belinsky moment. . .

I think I mentioned, in one of my previous blogs, that I spent five years translating the Rape of the Lock into Italian rhyming couplets. What I may have not mentioned is that around ten years ago, when I finished my translation, I sent it to two Italian publishers, the only ones who I believed could do a good job with it, Mondadori (the publisher of my other translations) and Adelphi, a literary house I have always admired for their uncompromising taste.

Mondadori sent me a very nice letter, saying that they liked my translation but didn't think that there was a market for a new edition of The Rape of the Lock (I can well understand them: they are a very big concern, and they'd struggle to find a mainstream market for it). Adelphi also loved my translation, but could not find a way to make this project happen at the time.

Then I recently had lunch with Adelphi's publisher in London, and my translation of Pope was brought up again – imagine – after ten long years. I was asked to revise the translation and resubmit, because there was a chance that it could now be published. I sent it by courier, and the following day I got a call on my mobile to say that they really love my translation and there's every chance it may be published by Adelphi.

Now, why did I say this? It's because it reminded me of a Dostoevsky anecdote. After he finished writing Poor People (a book I published at Hesperus, incidentally), Dostoevsky gave a manuscript copy to his friend Dmitri Grigorovich, who in turn brought it to the poet Nikolai Nekrasov. They read Dostoevsky’s manuscript aloud, and were so overwhelmed that, although it was close to 4:00 am, they went straight to Dostoevsky to congratulate him. Later that day, Nekrasov brought Poor People to one of the leading critics of the day, Vissarion Belinsky. “A new Gogol has appeared!” Nekrasov announced – to which Belinsky replied, “With you, Gogols spring up like mushrooms!” But Belinsky soon communicated his own enthusiasm to Dostoevsky: “Do you realize what it is that you have written?” In his Diary of a Writer, Dostoevsky remembered this as the happiest moment of his life.

Obviously I am no Dostoevsky, and this is only a translation – but this was my Belinsky moment, and it goes to show how publishing is still able, even in our unromantic digital age, to create such moments of pure bliss in a man's life.


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