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"Notes From a Dead Horse" by Fyodor Dostoevsky
From the acclaimed translators Pevear and Volokhonsky comes a new translation of the first great prison memoir: Fyodor Dostoevsky’s fictionalized account of his life-changing penal servitude in Siberia.
Hardcover: 384 pages
Publisher: Chartwell Books, Inc. (November 6, 2007)
Over some period I have read several translations of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. My first experience, selections in a high school text, was not promising. (Perhaps, I was not yet ready for Chaucer.) Translating poetry from one language to another is difficult and often unsuccessful. Translating Chaucer from Middle English is not much easier. English has changed dramatically in the last 600 years, to the point that Middle English is nearly indecipherable. For example, we read Chaucer's description of the Knight's appearance:
Of fustian he wered a gipoun (Of coarse cloth he wore a doublet) Al bismotered with his habergeoun (All rust-spotted by his coat-of-mail)
A glossary, diligence, and time are required for reading the original Chaucer. If you choose to do so, the Riverside Chaucer edition (edited by L. Benson) and the Norton Critical Edition (edited by Olson and Kolve) are highly recommended. The Signet Classic paperback edited by D. R. Howard modernizes the spelling a bit, but largely adheres to the original Chaucer and is an easier introduction to Middle English.
Although in most cases the instructor assigns a particular version of Canterbury Tales, it can be exceedingly helpful to pick-up an additional version or two. A slightly different translation may entirely surprise you, even resonate with you, making Chaucer much more enjoyable. I suggest that you look for these versions:
Selected Canterbury Tales, Dover Thrift edition - provides a poetic, rather than literal interpretation, and is quite readable. The collection of tales is fairly small, however.
Canterbury Tales, Penguin edition, translated by Nevill Coghill, is an excellent poetic translation.Read more ›
The question is not whether to read the Canterbury Tales, but whether to read them in this translation -- or whether to go for the Middle English with all its difficulties.
I'm a purist. As a Chaucer teacher myself, I'd say read the tales in the Riverside Chaucer or in the Norton Critcal editon with lots of footnotes. But, yes, that is harder, and I'd rather see readers get some experience than none.
So, if you are going to compromise, Nevill Coghill's poetic translation is really as good a place to go as any. You will get the basic sense of Chaucer's verse; you'll get the basic rhymes and rhythms too. This is the translation that's used in most high school classes, and in many college survey classes that don't read the text in the original. It's really a fine compromise -- not only a good place to start, but also a decent trot if you are struggling with the Middle English.
You can find some closer translations of some of the tales online if you look up Michael Murphy's websites. But for all their virtues, they don't have the smoothness of Coghill's renditions; Murphy's translations are not the complete Tales; and it's clunky to print them out. This economical edition is probably still the best place to start with Chaucer, father of English poetry and the originator of comedy in the English language.
The version of this classic I read was a translation into modern English by Nevill Coghill. As you can see above, I awarded Chaucer (and the translation) five stars; but I do have a criticism. This translation (and many other publications of Chaucer) do not contain the two prose tales ("The Tale of Melibee" and "The Parson's Tale"). These are rarely read and I understand the publisher's and the translator's desire to keep the book to a managable size. Still, that should be the readers decision and no one else's. I had to go to the University library and get a complete copy in order to read those sections. As I mentioned, this copy is a translation into modern English. However, I do recommend that readers take a look at the Middle English version, at least of the Prologue. Many years ago, when I was in high school, my teacher had the entire class memorize the first part of the Prologue in the original Middle English. Almost forty years later, I still know it. I am always stunned at how beautiful, fluid, and melodic the poetry is, even if you don't understand the words. Twenty-nine pilgrims meet in the Tabard Inn in Southwark on their way to Canterbury. The host suggests that the pilgrims tell four stories each in order to shorten the trip (the work is incomplete in that only twenty-four stories are told). The tales are linked by narrative exchanges and each tale is presented in the manner and style of the character providing the story. This book was a major influence on literature. In fact, the development of the "short story" format owes much to these tales.Read more ›
In addition to its literary importance, Chaucer's Canterbury Tales are an enchanting reading experience. The Bantam Classic edition presents the tales in Modern English translation alongside the Middle English so that one can fully appreciate the tales as Chaucer composed them, or if you're just in the mood for a fun romp you can speedily read the translation. The tales themselves move at a quick pace, so beginners will probably enjoy the modern version much more. The Canterbury Tales revolve around a group of 29 on a pilgrimage to Canterbury Cathedral to pay homage to the martyred St. Thomas a'Becket. The members of the pilgrimage come from all walks of life, including a Knight, Prioress, Merchant, Miller, the ever-entertaining Wife of Bath, and many others. The Canterbury Tales are the pilgrims' stories and each one reflects the individual character's personality beautifully. One can't help but feel a part of this lively group. Whether you like a bawdy, raucous tale or a morally sound fable you will definitely find something entertaining in this book. I laughed out loud several times and found Chaucer's use of symbolism, wit, wisdom, and the glimpse into 14th Century life absolutely fascinating.
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