Introduction: Creating Penguin’s Russian Classics (Routledge, 2021) — by Cathy McAteer
May 4, 2021
This chapter examines how Allen Lane, his editors, and Penguin's commissioned freelancers created the Penguin Russian Classics series. Before appointing E.V. Rieu as the Penguin Classics series editor, Lane had already liaised with two emigre Russians, Samuel S. Kotelianskii and Sergei Konovalov, about the prospects of publishing Russian literature in translation. Rieu's Medallion Titles were dominated by translations from Greek and French literature (twenty-nine and twenty-eight translations respectively), followed by Latin and Russian literature, each with sixteen translations. However, insights into the art of translation would probably have seemed irrelevant to both readers and editors during the early Penguin Classics years, when more interest was generated simply by the (re)discovery of the Russian literary canon at affordable prices. As the archived correspondence for Penguin's Russian Classics shows, the Penguin Classics editors also had to manage inquisitive, often concerned, academics from all over the world. This chapter from "Translating Great Russian Literature: The Penguin Russian Classics" (Routledge, 2021) by Cathy McAteer is published here via Creative Commons License.


This chapter examines how Allen Lane, his editors, and Penguin’s commissioned freelancers created the Penguin Russian Classics series. I will first explore critical developments such as: Lane’s (and Penguin’s) interest in Russia and Russian literature as expressed in the early periodical The Penguin Russian Review; Lane’s acknowledgment of Rieu’s background as an experienced editor and translator; and his confidence in handing the series over to such an expert. This chapter will then examine more closely the Penguin Classics editors – Emile Victor Rieu and Alan Glover, with occasional reference to their successors Betty Radice and Robert Baldick (see also Chapter Four) – and the early corps of Penguin’s Russian Classics translators, including Gilbert Gardiner, Elisaveta Fen, Rosemary Edmonds, and David Magarshack.

The key reference point for this chapter is archival primary material, particularly the first fourteen Penguin archive folders (see Appendix 1) which relate to the earliest phase of Penguin’s Russian Classics (from 1950–1962), the Medallion Titles, and to the correspondence found in Magarshack’s and Fen’s papers at the Leeds Russian archive. The contents of the Penguin folders document the working relations between these editors and translators, they identify who was hired by Rieu in his role as inaugural Penguin Classics series editor. Many of these folders contain a large quantity of letters and memoranda on subjects ranging from negotiations over royalties, to day-to-day comments on corporate and personal housekeeping. Translators even occasionally revealed their need for a holiday or to pay household bills. Some folders are scant in both volume and informational content. In nearly every case, the earliest, precise details of how Rieu met and commissioned a new translator are absent (lost, it seems, in a blur of sociable lunch and dinner dates that were never officially recorded).1 Nevertheless, the folders provide valuable insight into the field of twentieth-century Russian-English literary translation and publishing. Following Munday’s work on micro-histories and his insistence that ‘by focusing on the “little facts” of everyday lives […] a picture can be built up of the specific interaction between a translator and other individuals, groups, institutions and power structures’ (2014, p. 77), the archival study of correspondence exchanged between Penguin editors and freelancers reveals the sociological side to translation publishing. Research into translation publishing has previously often overlooked personalities, work dynamics, and professional pressures (deadlines, corrections, turnaround times, royalties). This chapter demonstrates that publishing and translation agents do not work in isolation; they are inextricably linked, each with their own expectations, aspirations, motives, and constraints. The result is an enlightening case study of Penguin agency, which begins (as Boll (2016) suggests from his own research into Penguin’s Spanish and Latin American translations) to inform our understanding of the route Russian literature took in the mid-twentieth century in order to arrive at current translation publishing practices.


Penguin promotes Anglo-Russian relations

Before appointing E.V. Rieu as the Penguin Classics series editor, Lane had already liaised with two émigré Russians, Samuel S. Kotelianskii and Sergei Konovalov, about the prospects of publishing Russian literature in translation. He exchanged ideas during the late 1930s and early 1940s with Kotelianskii (1880–1955), who worked alongside Virginia Woolf on collaborative translations from Russian for Hogarth Press (Beasley, 2013, p. 1). Kotelianskii’s Three Plays of Chehov [sic] was published by Penguin in 1940, followed by his edited volume Russian Short Stories (1941). Penguin also corresponded with the Oxford scholar Konovalov (1899–1982), who declared that ‘we would all welcome a further selection [of stories] covering the Soviet period’ (20 November 1945). Both Kotelianskii and Konovalov provided Penguin with names of translators (some better qualified than others) who might have been interested in contributing to short-story collections: John Middleton Murry, D.H. Lawrence and Mrs N. Duddington, Miss E. Kutaisov, Mr du Bray, and Mr F. Friedeberg Seeley. Kotelianskii volunteered the authors Kuprin and Bunin as being worthy of translation, but he dismissed Zoshchenko on the grounds that ‘there are more worthwhile Russian writers than Zoshchenko to be published by you’ (24 November 1940). (Zoshchenko made a brief Penguin appearance in a one-off parallel- text edition Soviet Short Stories/Sovetskie Rasskazi (1968), but he did not return again until the 2005 Penguin anthology Russian Short Stories from Buida to Pushkin.)2

In his letters to Eunice Frost, Lane’s secretary at that time, Kotelianskii alluded to the saleability (or otherwise) of Russian literature at key stages in Anglo-Russian relations. For example, in his letter of 29 April 1941, Kotelianskii noted optimistically that his Russian Short Stories ‘should sell very well at present’; however, just over a year later, his letter of 1 July 1942 acknowledges that the opposite may be the case ‘in view of the Anglo-Russian relations at the moment’. Penguin’s Russian titles only moved beyond tentative discussions after the war, at which point, as Lygo notes, ‘[…] Soviet culture became a matter of interest to a much broader section of the British public […]. The public mood was pro-Soviet’ (2013, p. 24). A certain sense of post-war euphoria prompted Lane to commission four editions of The Penguin Russian Review (launched in September 1945 and the last one produced in January 1948),3 under the joint editorship, initially, of Count Constantine [Conny] Benckendorff and Moura Budberg.4 After three issues, handicapped by disjointed editorship and mismanaged budgets, the role of editor passed to Colonel Edward Crankshaw, British ‘writer and commentator on Soviet affairs’ (Oxford DNB, 2004). No other postwar nation qualified for similar Penguin Review5 treatment. The extent of Penguin’s preoccupation with Russia is even more evident from the Reviews’ paratextual advertisements for Penguin’s other Russian/Soviet publications, for example: W.E.D. Allen’s and Paul Muratoff’s The Russian Campaigns of 19411943 and The Russian Campaigns of 19441945, James S. Gregory’s and J.F. Horrabin’s An Atlas of the U.S.S.R, James S. Gregory’s Land of the Soviets, and Eric Ashby’s Scientist in Russia. Prior to the Russian Review, Penguin also published ‘[t]opical books, mainly on contemporary political and social issues’ (Yates, 2006, p. 143), the so-called Penguin Specials, which ran from 1937–1989. According to Nicholas Joicey, these Specials were ‘marketed as a truthful alternative to an accepted orthodoxy. D.N. Pritt’s Light on Moscow (October 1939) was sold as an assessment of “the blame for the failure of negotiations with Moscow”, despite being an obvious apologia for the Soviets’ (1993, p. 34). Maintaining this pro-Soviet tone, each Russian Review contains contributions on subjects specifically relating to Russia and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, including Soviet economics, classic Russian and Soviet literature, geography, art, history, and agriculture. Contributors included Russophiles and specialists, some of them well known and some with pro-Soviet associations; amongst them (in addition to Edward Crankshaw) were, for example, Paul Winterton, Andrew Guershoon Colin, George Reavey, and Sir Robert Bruce Lockhart.

The first issue opens with a lengthy, reflective composition, ‘Moscow – Winter 1944’ by Paul Winterton (1908–2001), the Moscow correspondent for News Chronicle during the Second World War, a crime novelist (under the noms de plume Paul Somers and Andrew Garve) and a founder of the Crime Writers’ Association (The Times, 2001). Winterton’s contribution – informed by his own experiences and observations of living and working in Russia – set out in his own words to ‘describe, as factually as I can, the circumstances of life as it is led to-day by the ordinary person in Moscow’ (p. 7). In this issue, his self-imposed task takes on the role of an editorial commentary. What follows is a sympathetic, largely apolitical description of all areas of everyday Muscovite life, from public transport to city architecture and accommodation, childcare to education, meal habits to recreation (‘The ballet is outstanding in every way and almost certainly has no equal anywhere in the world’ (p. 17)). Winterton’s only (and fleeting) allusion to politics occurs when he extols the successes of the Russian health service, a socially-astute remark considering that Britain’s National Health Service would not be inaugurated for another three years. In his conclusion, he tries to normalise Anglo-Russian relations at grassroots level:

But the point I am trying to make is that the British working man could always meet the Russian working man on plenty of common ground. If they could mix enough, they wouldn’t long feel strangers with each other. They would soon understand and be interested in each other’s way of life. That is a fact of supreme importance in the future development of Anglo-Russian friendship. (1945, pp. 19–20)

While Winterton’s exhortations for mutual understanding are self- explanatory, an even clearer explanation of the rationale behind The Penguin Russian Review appeared in the second issue, published in March 1946. Penguin stated its mission in an anonymous note to ‘The Reader’ at the end of the publication, a message which serves, in fact, as a precursor to Rieu’s Penguin Classics endeavour, but which resonates especially with the Russian titles later selected for the series:

The purpose of this review, which dedicates itself to the general reader, is nothing less than to contribute to the initiation of the stranger to Russia into the spirit of the Russian people as it is embodied in their history and literature, their arts and sciences, their philosophy, their aspiration, and their economic life. We believe that one of the greatest impediments to a true understanding of Russia’s aims and problems has been an over-simplification of the complex nature of her attainments and the innumerable cross-currents of her life and thought. In this Review we shall seek to combat this tendency by bringing together articles and essays on the multitudinous aspects of Russian life and by allowing Russia herself to speak through her imaginative writers and poets. (1946, pp. 138–139)

As ambitious as Penguin was in offering this compelling counter-message to growing Anglo-Russian hostilities, their efforts failed to make sufficient impact. A letter from Lane to Benckendorff on 24 January 1946 reveals the idealistic, rather than profiteering, rationale behind the Penguin Review, but also expresses Penguin’s growing doubts about the viability of the venture:

As I think you know, we went into this on a somewhat idealistic basis without thoughts of making enormous profits, but even bearing this in mind, the results are pretty catastrophic. As a matter of interest, our cost of production on the first issue came to something in excess of the price received from the booksellers, […]. To date, out of our first printing of 25,000 copies, we have received back over 4,000.

By the third Review, the editorial commentary had moved to the opening pages and the message is increasingly defeatist; the anonymous editor admits that progress on the Russian Review mission has been hampered ‘as a result of war-time publishing difficulties […] and the intervals between the first three numbers have been longer than was contemplated. World events, on the other hand, have moved more swiftly. There is no hope now of preventing disillusionment: the best that can be done is to soften the effects’ (p. 7). Again, as if looking ahead to Penguin’s Russian Classics, the editor concludes his commentary to the third issue with a note of attempted optimism:

[…] these pages, [which] will more than fulfil their intention if they arouse in the reader a desire to go more deeply in the literature and history of Russia. (p. 11)

The opening editorial commentary (Crankshaw’s) in the fourth and final issue of The Penguin Russian Review (published five months before the Berlin Airlift in 1948) reverts to pessimism, however, admitting a state of near-deadlocked post-war Anglo-Russian relations. Crankshaw does not attempt to apportion blame for failed relations, nor does he applaud Soviet foreign policy; instead, he appeals for future, bilateral harmony and volunteers Penguin as the ideal vehicle for fostering such a hope:

What we are trying to do is to present Russians in the round – to provide, as it were, the raw material for a practical political understanding at some future date, to remind our readers perpetually that the Russians are people with lives, traditions and outlooks of their own. (1948, p. 8)

In spite of this aspiration, Penguin discontinued The Penguin Russian Review that same year. As Rieu’s successor, Betty Radice, later observed about discontinued imprints, ‘these are our mistakes or failures to estimate public interest’ (1984, p. 17). Penguin’s subsequent efforts to promote an acceptable version of Russia were henceforward channelled into the translation of Russian classics rather than commissioning new reports about the region. Rieu’s intention was to offer Penguin readers belles-lettres – ‘to select works that have a perennial value’ (Rieu, October 1944) – rather than a politically-charged message only pertinent to a particular period. This intention carried its own cultural significance and acted as a counterweight to political concerns. The Penguin Classics were designed to ‘help us […] to appreciate and understand the essential differences that divide us, as much as the universal truths that bind us together […] Their value is incalculable, and their loss or destruction would diminish us all’ (Hare, 2008, p. 31). In essence, therefore, Rieu’s Penguin Russian Classics would fulfil the same aim of Anglo-Russian mutual understanding to which The Penguin Russian Review aspired, but more subtly.


Lane, Rieu and the Penguin Classics mission

For a future publisher, the young Lane left little, if any, evidence of a genuine interest in literature, even though he trained from 1919, aged sixteen, in all areas of the publishing industry at his uncle John Lane’s business, The Bodley Head. Although he lacked formal academic qualifications, Lane excelled in non-literary, purely entrepreneurial ability to evaluate risks and spot and seize opportunities, no matter how uncertain success might initially appear.6 Lane possessed an enquiring intellect (Lewis, 2006, p. 225), an affinity with literature for the masses (if not necessarily for literature itself), ruthlessness and commercial acumen (McCleery, 2002, p. 179), including an ability to spot opportunities, possibilities, and connections all around (Lewis, 2006, p. 4). He was also astute enough to recognise his own limitations.7 He generally accepted the academic and professional capital represented by approved advisors and scholars,8 who could confidently select books for translation in the Penguin Classics series and who could assess, for example, the quality of a translator’s work in a way that he would not have been able to do. After the failure of the 1938 Illustrated Classics series (ibid., p. 143), Lane might well have heeded the advice of his colleagues and his brother Richard, and decided not to publish any further series dedicated to the classics on the grounds that ‘there was already a glut of translations on the market’ (ibid., p. 251). The consensus among his advisors was that any effort at publishing paperback classics would ‘lead to commercial disaster’ (Edwards, Hare, Robinson, 2008, p. 8). But, when Lane was approached by Rieu (1887–1972) – managing director for Methuen Books in Britain between 1923 and 1936 – with his own new translation of Homer’s Odyssey, Lane dismissed the advice he had received and proceeded to publish it regardless.9

During his Methuen period, Rieu had rediscovered his enjoyment of classical scholarship, re-reading the Odyssey, translating and sharing his own version with his wife, Nelly.10 What began as an evening pastime assumed written form and, by the end of the Second World War, Rieu had offered his translation to Lane. On the basis of the first two chapters, Lane authorised the publication of Penguin’s first classic translation (Platt, 2008, p. 8). It is this book which became the figurehead of the Penguin Classics series and which would re-awaken British interest in the international literary canon.11 In terms of professional positioning, with his past in editorship and current translation activity, Rieu represented a reliable figure whom Lane could trust. But, as Mason notes in ‘Molière among the Penguins’, Rieu ‘took a fairly cavalier attitude to the depth of a translator’s first-hand knowledge of the source language or culture’ (2014, 127). As will be shown in this chapter, Rieu relied on Fen’s knowledge during the early years of Penguin’s Russian Classics. By delegating power to Rieu, however, Lane allowed him the autonomy to create a business venture of his own. Rieu could follow his own ideas, although guided by his copyeditor A.S.B. Glover, and remaining under the auspices of the Penguin organisation.

On 19 October 1944, Rieu informed Lane that he would be able to devote one day a week to the role of General Editor ‘of your new Translation Series from the Greek, Latin and other classics’ (Hare, 1995, p. 186). The letter radiates anticipatory enthusiasm. Ahead of his 1 November start date, Rieu revealed that he had already compiled a list of Greek and Roman authors to be included in the series, that he had plans for a similar list of French authors, and was ready to set ‘one or two Scandinavian translations afoot’ (ibid.). Explaining that he might consult friends over which books should feature on the French list, Rieu revealed his own wish for a network of advi-sors. His letter just two days later to Kitto (Humphrey Davy Findley Kitto, Professor of Greek at the University of Bristol) testifies as much:

Any comments you may care to make on my lists will be most welcome, and I shall be particularly grateful for any help you can give me in finding first-class men (possibly among the younger scholars not yet clear of the war) who are likely to be fired with the idea. What a chance!
(21 October 1944)

The unprecedented success of Rieu’s own translation12 not only provided the impetus for an expanded Penguin Classics series, but also marked Rieu out as an ideal in-house reviewer for the Penguin Classics translations. His personal criteria would become identified with general Penguin translation practice. He elucidates some of his key considerations in his early correspondence with Kitto, whom Rieu commissioned to translate Greek classics. In his letter of 21 October 1944, Rieu restricts himself to just one point, that Kitto (and all other Penguin-commissioned translators) use ‘the bare minimum of footnotes, if any’, adding:

I think I can say without immodesty that, in my Homer, I have succeeded in telling them all they need to know in my fairly long introduction. It is the translator’s job to make the text explain itself, remembering always that it is not erudition we want to teach but appreciation.

Rieu expands further in his next letter to Kitto of 4 November 1944:

In the past there has been too much translation by scholars for scholars, resulting in a weird kind of Greek-English (Butcher and Lang is an excellent text-book of Homeric idiom and syntax). The principle was not accepted that it is a translator’s duty not only to render the words of his original but also, where they are recalcitrant, the syntax and idiom. If he fails here, he defeats his own purpose and creates an impression which was not created on the readers or audience of the Greek.

Rieu’s initial expectations for his Penguin Classics translation were outlined more publicly in July 1946 in a copy of the Penguins Progress. The extract announces the arrival of the Penguin Classics series, not without a momentous air: the July issue marks Penguin’s relaunch of Penguins Progress after a six-year absence necessitated by paper rationing during the Second World War:

The first volume of our new Classics series, the editor’s translation of The Odyssey, appeared in January. The series is to be composed of original translations from the Greek, Latin and later European classics, and it is the editor’s intention to commission translators who could emulate his own example and present the general reader with readable and attractive versions of the great writers’ books in good modern English, shorn of the unnecessary difficulties and erudition, the archaic flavour and the foreign idiom that renders so many existing translations repellent to modern taste. (1946, p. 48)

Ever committed to the aspiration of ‘good, modern English’, Rieu reiterates more developed views on the translator’s priorities in his next Penguins Progress contribution, ‘Translating the Classics’, in October 1946. During this short article, he introduces the one general principle which he has ‘hammered out’ (p. 37) and to which ‘I pin my faith and from which I deduce all minor rules and decisions’ (ibid.), namely the principle of equivalent effect. In another Penguins Progress essay, ‘The Faith of a Translator’ (1950), Rieu (a harbinger of Eugene Nida, who was beginning his translation career around this time) returns to discuss the significance of his translation theory on his practice. He admits that:

[…] when I had finished the work [Homer’s Iliad] and came to revise it, I found that there had once more fallen on my shoulders, I will not say the mantle of Lang, Leaf and Myers,13 but at least its shadow; and I had to rewrite the first few books in what I trust is English and not Greek.

Rieu expressed his principles succinctly in a 1953 BBC interview with his co-translator, J.B. Phillips. Regarding Penguin’s publication of his translation The Four Gospels, Rieu was asked whether, during the course of his project, he had ‘worked out careful principles of translation?’ (Rieu and Phillips, 1955, p. 153). In his response, Rieu identifies only one, the ‘principle of equivalent effect’, which he defined as the ‘lodestar of the translator’s art’ (ibid.). Rieu explained that ‘the translation is the best which comes nearest to giving its modern audience the same effect as the original had on its first audiences’.14 He cites an example where, to translate literally the French endearment mon chou as ‘my cabbage’ (ibid.), fails entirely in producing an equivalent effect on the target reader. Throughout his career, Rieu was consistent in his view that literal translation disadvantages equivalence, resulting (in the case of Ancient Greek literature, at least) in an overly Homeric idiom and syntax. While he treated paraphrasing as an acceptable, and often desirable, means to achieve equivalence, he categorically insisted that the text should not be reduced to a ‘lower standard of English in order to make things crystal clear’, otherwise ‘we’re going beyond our jobs as translators’ (ibid., p. 154). Rieu’s perception of the ‘good’, archetypically ‘Penguin’ translation struck a reliable balance between accuracy, authenticity, and accessibility. Its nearest parallel, and likely ancestor, in translation history is John Dryden’s recommendation for paraphrases where ‘the author is kept in view by the Translator, so as never to be lost, but his words are not so strictly follow’d as his sense, and that too is admitted to be amplified, but not alter’d’ (1680, p. 38).

It is clear from Rieu’s Penguins Progress announcement that, by 1946, Lane’s and Rieu’s joint venture was well under way; the extract concludes by listing authors who would be included in future volumes of the series (Homer, Xenophon, Ibsen, Chekhov, Ovid, Voltaire, Turgenev, Gorky, Maupassant) (1946, p. 48) as well as those already commissioned (such as Sayers’s translation of Dante’s Inferno (1949) and Watling’s translation of Sophocles’s Theban Plays (1947)). Rieu’s Medallion Titles were dominated by translations from Greek and French literature (twenty-nine and twenty-eight translations respectively), followed by Latin and Russian literature, each with sixteen translations. It is striking (but not, perhaps, altogether surprising given Penguin’s earlier promotion of the Russian Review) that Russian literature commanded such a high position in the early hierarchy of the Penguin Classics publications. We can list several commercial, professional, and socio-cultural factors likely to have contributed subsequently to Penguin’s robust Russian representation. These include Rieu’s awareness that the average translation has a limited shelf-life, hence acknowledging that Garnett’s versions were long overdue a revision; Rieu’s (or perhaps his advisor Fen’s) recognition of Russia’s own high regard for its nineteenth- century classics;15 a corporate, competitive awareness of which classic titles were being tackled by other publishers16 (for example, J.M. Dent’s Everyman Library series included Russian titles and Magarshack also published his translations with Faber and Faber, Allen and Unwin, and Secker and Warburg); and Lane’s own, alleged inclination towards left-leaning politics and culture (Yates, 2006, p. 133).

The list was supplemented with further translations from Italian (eight), Early English (six), German (four), Middle Eastern (four), Scandinavian (four), Spanish (three), Far Eastern (three), and Portuguese (one), but these remained significantly fewer in number than translations from Greek, French, Latin, and Russian. Each language was given its own colour code (ibid., p. 58). Translations of Russian literature were identified by red borders on the cover and spine (see Figure 1.1) and the front cover of each novel in the series sported a unique, black-and-white illustrated roundel, or medallion, the subject of which was intended to whet the reader’s literary appetite by intimating a significant point in the plot or depicting a key character from the novel. Roundels were often discussed in advance with the translator. Magarshack, for example, offered a roundel for Oblomov which had been specially designed by his art-student daughter Stella, but which was not used, and Edmonds specifically requested a say over the War and Peace roundel designs after disapproving of the Anna Karenin roundel (see Rosemary Edmonds section in this chapter).

Figure 1.1  David Magarshack’s 1951 translation of Dostoevskii’s Crime and Punishment [digital photograph] (author’s private collection)

Whereas some of the first Penguin Books (Agatha Christie, for example) enjoyed popular, rather than ‘quality’ literary appeal, the Penguin Classics series strove to deliver both in the same volume. In selecting texts for the series, Rieu was able (as Lane was not) to combine popularity and quality, packaged at an affordable price, in a format which appealed to the post-war mood of ‘pleasure, expansion and reconstruction’ (Radice and Reynolds, 1987, p. 14). Texts were presented with ‘rather cosy introductions’ (ibid.) but, in terms of a corporate translation style, no specific document setting out clear, in-house translation guidelines has been discovered in the Penguin archive. Rieu, nevertheless, set his own unambiguous standard for translators:

Dr Rieu’s object was to break away from that academic idiom in which so many of the world’s classics have been put before the general reader, and to present them in contemporary English without any transgressions of scholarship or textual accuracy. (Williams, 1956, p. 19)

Translators may have been clear about the aesthetic requirements for Penguin Classics, but some of them remained uncertain about how to approach Penguin’s introductions, which they were expected to write. Paul Foote, translator of Lermontov’s A Hero of Our Time, asked exactly this question of editor James Cochrane in June 1964. Cochrane’s comprehensive reply not only outlined all the ingredients for the ideal Penguin introduction, but also identified Penguin’s typical target reader. Cochrane advised Foote to assume a target reader who knows nothing about the source author, or the book itself, and very little about Russian literature in general. Foote should convince the reader as to ‘why he ought to get to know this book’ and why the experience will be ‘pleasant and profitable’; he should position Lermontov and his novels within the broader context of European literature. Cochrane instructed Foote to ‘sell’ the book, to make ‘the highest possible claims for it’. Penguin introductions were intended to imbue the target reader (described by Cochrane as an ‘intelligent and sophisticated adult’) with authoritative knowledge and enthusiasm. Hence, the introduction should focus on providing literary context, preparing an inquisitive but uninitiated reader for a new, cultural experience.

In the field of literary production, the translator is generally regarded as ideally placed to provide essential cross-cultural insight: who else could be more skilfully equipped than the translator at handling culture- specific detail while also offering lexical and literary context? (As far as the Russian Classics are concerned, there is evidence in Penguin’s archived correspondence that some of the translators offered the benefit of their expertise – meanwhile reiterating and confirming their professional  credentials – by volunteering suggestions and encouraging, even, it seems, expecting, Penguin to publish further Russian titles.)17 Translating and/or writing the preface for a new translation gave a translator or scholar a chance to define a text’s place in world literature (strangely, Constance Garnett is known to have declined the opportunity to pen introductions to her translations, relying instead on her husband Edward18 and, later, on their son David to do so). Yet linguistic analysis of the original work rarely formed part of the introductory para-text. Seldom does a pre-1962 Penguin Russian Classic introduction discuss either semantic or linguistic peculiarities of the source text or extrapolate on the solutions found by the translator. It is possible that the translators themselves veered away from such discussion, keen to hide their stratagems from a critically enquiring public who might quibble with lexical or grammatical decisions or doubt the translator’s judgment. However, insights into the art of translation would probably have seemed irrelevant to both readers and editors during the early Penguin Classics years, when more interest was generated simply by the (re)discovery of the Russian literary canon at affordable prices.

As the bridging agent between translator and publisher, Rieu acted as a negotiator, matching the novel to be translated with the ‘right’ sort of translator. For Rieu, this meant someone with proven skill and expertise, preferably with a flair for literary translation, and a professional bent towards Penguin’s (and his own) benchmarks of readability and equivalent effect.19 Although as a translator himself, Rieu must have been aware of the commitment and sacrifices necessary to complete a project and satisfy a client, Rieu was also a publisher and thus affiliated to the commercial side of the business. These contradictory roles sometimes caused him to act in a way that privileged commercial or corporate considerations over the  translator’s requirements. Rieu demonstrates both savviness and company loyalty during his negotiations, as with the translation commission, for example, of Dostoevskii’s Crime and Punishment. Rieu first introduced the Penguin Classics copyeditor, A.S.B. Glover, to the existence of Russian-English translator David Magarshack when he wrote hopefully on 20 January 1949 that Magarshack would replace Seeley, who had initially been commissioned for the job of translating Crime and Punishment in 1946.20 Rieu stated his certainty that Magarshack will ‘give us an excellent and most readable Penguin Classic, better in fact than Seeley’s would have turned out. He knows exactly what is wanted’. It comes as a surprise then to read in the same letter that for such excellence and, presumably, a speedy replacement translation, Rieu offered Magarshack ‘less than we offerred [sic] Seeley’, namely £200 in advance. Rieu continues by highlighting to Glover that Magarshack was receiving generous royalties from other publishers at that time, but that their own, less-than-generous royalty – seven-and-a-half per cent, compared to Magarshack’s usual fifteen per cent from one (unidentified) publisher – will be ‘compensated for by larger sales’, which Magarshack accepted. On balance, though, Rieu’s offer suggests that Magarshack was short-changed. Magarshack’s own readiness to settle for less-than-generous terms draws a historical parallel with his literary inspiration Dostoevskii, who also made financial compromises over Crime and Punishment. According to Joseph Frank, Dostoevskii offered his editor Mikhail Katkov the ‘modest’ rate of ‘one hundred and twenty-five rubles per folio sheet, although it was well-known that writers like Turgenev and Tolstoy received a good deal more’ (2010, p. 461).

A.S.B. Glover: unconventional and undervalued

Another key figure in the Penguin Classics network is Alan McDougall,21 better known to Penguin as Alan Samuel Boots (A.S.B.) Glover (1895–1966), who joined the company in 194422 to work alongside Rieu as a copyeditor. Just as Lane and his background were relatively atypical among his peers in the British publishing industry, Glover too stands out as an unconventional figure. Glover never went to university, something which ‘inflamed his urge to omniscience’ (Lewis, 2006, p. 237). A pacifist and First World War ‘absolutist’, Glover was jailed for four years for conscientious objection, preferring prison rather than to offer any contribution to the war effort (Hare, 1995, p. 128). It was during his time in prison that he furthered his education.23 Glover was nearly fifty (ibid., p. 121) when he arrived at Penguin Books and, like Rieu, was not new to the publishing industry; he had already worked for Burns & Oates, Routledge & Kegan Paul, Odhams and Reader’s Digest, and mixed in publisher circles, counting among his acquaintances Francis Meynell, the publisher of Nonesuch Press (Lewis, 2006, p. 242). Unlike Rieu (and later, Radice), whose Oxford and Athenæum credentials may well have fast-tracked his recruitment to Penguin, Glover’s arrival was more circuitous and less routine: having taken it upon himself over the course of nine years to notify Penguin of all typographical and factual errors, Glover was eventually invited by Lane to join the company, partly in a bid to stem the flow of critical correspondence, but also to exploit his eye for detail to Penguin’s advantage. Lane wrote about this decision in Glover’s obituary, published in the Times on 8 January 1966:

My own acquaintance with him goes back to 1944 when I invited him to join Penguin Books so that he could apply his exceptional gifts as a scholarly reader to manuscripts rather than published books on which, as a member of our public, he used to send in detailed lists of factual errors and misprints, usually saying these had not spoiled his enjoyment of books as such. (p. 10)

Glover’s tenure at Penguin began modestly, by reading proofs. His position evolved in the same way as did other early Penguin employees’ posts: quickly and organically, and in the ‘Penguin way’, according to Hare (1995, p. 129). Glover ‘soon became a vital part of the Penguin editorial team – sharing responsibilities and duties with Eunice Frost across the Penguin list’ (ibid.), with particular influence over the Pelican and Penguin Classics series but with no specific job title. J.E. Morpurgo, Lane’s General Editor for Pelican Histories and Lane’s biographer, identifies Glover as the head of a two-man copy-editing department (consisting of Glover and his secretary-assistant) (Morpurgo, 1979, p. 192), and notes that, had Glover aspired to become Lane’s successor, he would have had the credentials (ibid.). Glover did not however possess this ambition; he chose to channel his energies into his work and rarely joined Lane for the frequent sessions of sociable, after-work drinks (ibid., pp. 193–194).

Glover’s symbolic capital was rooted in his ability to expose the factual and typographical failings of a text,24 as well as in his erudition, making him ‘more often than not the only member of the senior staff competent to conduct informed discussion with the authors of the many abstruse books on the list’ (Morpurgo, 1979, p. 192). He also demonstrated a great respect for the text; when Glover received a letter from Nitya Nand Tiwari Kasayap, an Indian translator, on 21 August 1956, requesting permission to render Magarshack’s translation of Dostoevskii’s Crime and Punishment into Hindi, Glover’s reply politely probed whether ‘a Hindi translation of Dostoyevsky [should] be made rather from the original Russian than through the medium of an English version?’

Central to the desirability and demand for Glover’s capital within Penguin is the fact that Lane (and his advisors) lacked Glover’s skills. Glover’s impressive intellect, though, may explain the reportedly difficult relationship Lane had with Glover. Although Lane avoided socialising with university-bred academics and expressed a preference for left- leaning, philanthropic  politics ‒ common attitudes which might, in fact, have brought him and Glover closer together ‒ Lane could not feel comfortable in Glover’s socially unconventional company, referring to him as, ‘Oh that old Buddhist!’ (Lewis, 2006, p. 240). Morpurgo provides his own analysis of their relationship:

Allen could never establish a comfortable relationship with Glover. As with Pevsner, so with Glover he was awed by the other man’s learning. Unlike Pevsner, Glover had no proud university title to substantiate his scholarship; he was instead almost entirely dependent on Allen for such dignities as might be granted him. Awed, suspicious, embarrassed, uncomprehending: the confusion of contradictory sentiments set Allen apart from Glover. (1979, p. 193)

To the comparatively conservative, image-conscious Lane (‘a famously natty dresser, never appearing in public without a tie’ (Lewis, 2006, p. 10)), Glover’s extensively tattooed appearance (ibid., p. 237) must have represented radical eccentricity. Whilst their relationship floundered from the mismatch of appearances and intellectual achievements, it is allegedly Glover’s unsolicited outspokenness and candour regarding the pay and conditions of fellow staff that served as a persistent and no doubt uncomfortable reminder to Lane of his moral responsibility as patron:

For younger editorial members of staff, many of whom had joined the firm straight from university, Glover was a mentor and a spokesman. Though overworked and underpaid himself, he wrote long memos to Lane on behalf of his younger colleagues, urging him not to take their good will for granted, and to provide longer holidays and better pay […] they should, he suggested, ‘be recompensed for their work with something more concrete than kind words and smiles’. (Ibid., p. 240)

Glover served as the key interface between the in-house Penguin Classics advisory hierarchy and the external mechanism of freelance translators. His role was that of intermediary, with all the challenges one might expect when trying to satisfy both upper and lower echelons in a corporate hierarchical structure. Like Rieu, Glover, a translator from medieval Latin (Thomas Aquinas) and French (Harries, 2013, p. 560) also conducted his role of commissioner with an awareness of the textual, temporal, and financial challenges facing the translator. He coupled his practical knowledge with awareness of in-house expectations, thus placing himself in the awkward position of a mediator; he fielded and pacified complaints from all angles, internal and external, while remaining professionally polite and obliging.

One example of this tension can be seen in Glover’s handling of the bill incurred by Magarshack for page-proof corrections of his translation Oblomov. Glover sent warning letters on both 26 and 31 March 1954 stressing the Penguin policy that ‘corrections in page proofs are expensive and we do not like feeling obliged to call into operation the clause in our contracts which enables us to charge authors corrections to the author if they exceed 10% of the composition cost’. In his ‘endeavour to get closer to the original text’, however, Magarshack’s corrections ultimately resulted in a bill for £104.19.6 (equating to £2,556.66 in today’s money). Ever-patient, no doubt attempting to soften the blow, Glover informed Magarshack by letter on 26 May 1954 that Penguin would not take full advantage of Penguin’s correction costs policy, and proposed instead that Magarshack pay half, i.e. £52.9.9, out of his royalties. Even with such assistance, there is no disguising the dismay in Magarshack’s response:

Your news about the cost of the corrections is terrible. This has never happened to me before. […] I disagree with your point about the difference between an original work and a translation. It is just a translation that requires a great deal more changing. […] I wonder if you could spread out my share of the cost corrections over two or three six-monthly periods. Otherwise I am not likely to get any royalties for a year or more. (27 May 1954)25

Ultimately, it was Glover’s service as a bridge between Lane and the junior in-house staff and the dynamics of this difficult relationship that led to Glover’s resignation in 1958. Glover is described as having been ‘undervalued by the Penguin hierarchy’ (Yates, 2006, p. 61), a claim supported not only by Lane’s failure to offer Glover an official job title and his reactions to Glover’s head-on challenges over general working conditions, but also by Glover’s low pay and long hours. Glover’s resignation letter in 1958 suggests ignorance on Lane’s part for failing to recognise the work and joint effort required by Glover and his team to produce a successful series like the Penguin Classics.


Public-facing Penguin

With their professional accomplishments and literary experience, Penguin’s editors formed a vital link between Lane and Penguin’s external agents (for example, advisors, translators, and critical readers). As the archived correspondence for Penguin’s Russian Classics shows, the Penguin Classics editors also had to manage inquisitive, often concerned, academics from all over the world. Some academics penned letters lobbying for withdrawn works to be reinstated (Lermontov’s A Hero of Our Time), while others sent censorious notes requesting detailed justifications for omissions (Dostoevskii’s Crime and Punishment and The Devils),26 and undeclared abridgements (Turgenev’s Sketches from a Hunter’s Album).27 Letters did not just come from academics; general readers also shared their thoughts and book evaluations with Penguin, often including praise of the range, presentation, and price of titles included in Penguin’s Russian Classics. Miss P. A. Ford from Blackpool, for example, wrote to Penguin in April 1966 in order to point out a printing error in her copy of The Idiot, but concluding:

I write merely to ensure that the same mistake does not occur again should the book go for a further impression, and not for complaint. After all, who is going to complain about having great novels brought within reach of the average pocket? For that, I say many thanks.

Similarly, Mr Richard D. Mical from Massachusetts wrote ‘to congratulate Penguin Books and the person responsible for the very striking front cover photograph of the 1964 edition of Crime and Punishment. The purple and black tones with the photograph from Chenal’s film is quite striking indeed’. Miss L. A. Atkins wrote from London to say that she was reading Magarshack’s translation of The Devils, but that ‘My enjoyment of this book has been marred by the fact that, though the main translation is excellent one keeps tripping over phrases, not to say paragraphs in French’. (Although fairly frequent, instances of French in The Devils rarely extend beyond fragmentary sentences; Miss Atkins’s observation, however, still finds expression now in discussions on websites like Reddit and in Amazon book reviews.) In addition, there are criticisms of the translations themselves. One example came from Miss Margaret Walsh in Leeds, who wrote that ‘It is my duty […] as a lover of poetry to express extreme dissatisfaction with the translation of the poetry of Yvegeni Yeshtuskenko [sic] by Robin Milner-Gulland + Peter Levi S.J. in your Penguin Edition’. She criticises their ‘clumsiness of style and the obvious lack of the poet [sic]’. Other readers expressed disappointment regarding title translation: Mrs Joan Miller called the title Anna Karenin an act of ‘impudence and vandalism’ by Rosemary Edmonds. Readers noted typing and printing errors, and even the over-readability of translations for the benefit of a general audience. Jerome Minot, for example, wrote on 25 January 1969 regarding Fen’s translation of Chekhov’s Plays, ‘If your justification is that this sort of translation is necessary to “popularize” the work, then I can only say that it is impossible to prostitute literature, just so that it can be understood by people without literary knowledge’. In nearly all cases, a courteous reply was sent to each correspondent, usually after contact had been made with the translator to verify the validity of a reader’s query. The exception is Minot’s letter, which in fact received no reply, as will be seen in the section later in this chapter dedicated to Fen.

Though not necessarily sought by Penguin, the regular input from both academics and readers formed an informal quality assurance mechanism, notifying Penguin editors regularly about what was being done well and what was not. I would argue that these groups formed an unofficial but invaluable external advisory network of their own for Penguin, which eventually exercised some degree of influence over the formation of the Russian classics in the Penguin series. Take, for example, Lermontov’s A Hero of Our Time, which was first printed in 1966 but soon withdrawn as ‘the sales did not justify a re-print’ (Sulkin, 1974). Paul Foote’s translation was successfully reinstated after four years and five requests by different academics, from an initial enquiry in January 1971 through to D. Herring’s letter of 6 January 1975, to which Penguin replied on 31 January 1975 that Foote’s translation of A Hero of Our Time would be re-printed that very week.


The corps of Penguin’s Russian translators

Translation demands an exceptional self-discipline. There can be no ‘perfect’ translation, even if such positive qualities required could be defined. Negative qualities are more simple to settle. But it was in these areas of fine distinction that Rieu proved to be so remarkable an editor […]. His ability to single out appropriate books from his wide knowledge of early and foreign literature, and to contact the most suitable translators to carry out each task, was almost unique. (Edwards et al, 2008, p. 12)

As already seen from Rieu’s correspondence with Kitto, Rieu used his network of acquaintances to source possible translators. He initially gave Oxbridge dons an opportunity to submit sample translations, but later he famously rejected their efforts on the grounds that ‘very few of them could write decent English, and most were enslaved by the idiom of the original language’ (ibid., p. 26). Nevertheless, this was not the case with all, and archived correspondence indicates that some translator-graduates were sourced through Oxford University, perhaps through Rieu’s contact with Baldick (himself an Oxford-based French scholar and translator). It is equally likely, however, that translators sought out Rieu independently, responding positively to the invitation in the final line of his announcement in the July 1946 edition of Penguins Progress: ‘Translations are being sought out for many other volumes covering a wide variety of literature ranging from the literature of Ancient Egypt to the closing years of the nineteenth century’ (p. 48).

When Penguin launched Rieu’s The Odyssey translation, British readers were still largely reliant on Garnett’s renderings of the Russian literary canon. Hence while Rieu could easily make a case for re-translating the Russian classics, he did not have a wide choice of experienced Russian-English literary translators at his disposal. Since the era of vocational training in literary translation had not yet arrived, anyone with knowledge of translation theory would have been self-taught. Those commissioned by Rieu probably possessed intuitive translational talent and a feel for writing, or else aspired to develop both. Penguin’s early Russian classics translators might have acquired and used their language skills in different settings, both professional and personal, but without exception their backgrounds reflect the lived experience of a Europe in transition. Fen and Magarshack immigrated to the United Kingdom from turbulent, post-revolutionary Russia; Edmonds had worked as a senior wartime translator; Foote studied Russian on the inter-service Joint Services School of Linguists (JSSL)28 course at Cambridge before working as an interpreter in Potsdam in 1946 (Meier, 2011); and Richard Freeborn had worked in the Royal Air Force and post-war Potsdam, before finally moving to the British Embassy in Moscow (Dynasty Press, n.d.). With background details such as these, it is not surprising that these individuals eventually found work which transposed their language skills to the field of translation in peace-time Britain. Where better to do this than Penguin Classics, the publisher of the moment? For Penguin’s Russian Classics to succeed in disseminating Russia’s literary canon, spe-cialised and seemingly rare language skills would be required. In turn, the prospect of modern patronage, of a career riding a potential wave of Penguin commissions, would have appealed to every literary translator seeking regular and potentially lucrative work. As Rieu wrote in his letter to Kitto, ‘What a chance!’. The parameters of mutual dependency (and success) were set.

In order to construct a deeper appreciation of their agency and their contributions, I turn now to relevant microhistorical details of the earliest translators and their contractual arrangements with Penguin. Aside from a brief biographical résumé in the front pages of a Penguin Classic translation (and even then, biographies only began to be included once the series was well established),29 the Penguin Russian translators remain relatively hidden, and some are, by now, almost forgotten. They are described as ‘vital, but often underappreciated’ (Yates, 2006, p. 149), validating Theo Hermans’s statement that translators are ‘hidden, out of view, transparent, incorporeal, disembodied and disenfranchised’ (2000, p. 7). The extent of documentation for each Penguin Russian translator varies but tends to be scant, with the exceptions of Magarshack and Fen and, to a lesser extent, Edmonds, all of whom compensate for the dearth of material elsewhere. My aim in the rest of this chapter, therefore, is to make ‘corporeal’30 these previously hidden early Penguin translators and through their experiences, be better able to ‘understand the complex intercultural process which is translation’ (Munday, 2017, p. 3).


Gilbert Gardiner

There are no records of how Rieu and Gardiner became acquainted, nor are there any details of how they negotiated the first Russian commissions. But if Rieu’s letter to Kitto is representative of these early discussions (as is very likely), they would have met over lunch, possibly at Rieu’s club.31 Gardiner is the first Russian translator to be commissioned by Penguin; fittingly, he would enjoy an untroubled correspondence with the Penguin editors. He raised no concerns and accepted all terms regarding his translation of Turgenev’s On The Eve (1950). On paper, his commission was uncomplicated. Gardiner’s letter to Penguin from 21 April 1976, twenty-six years after the initial release of his translation, in which he claimed to have missed royalties for the entire period since 1951, is a surprise development, therefore.32 With 40,000 copies sold during this time, Gardiner was owed a sizeable £633.48.33

I suggest two possible interpretations of Gardiner’s twenty-six year restraint. First, his patience implies that he was not in urgent need of this money and that translation was not his sole means of income; and also, that Penguin’s accounts department did not rush to despatch royalties until directly requested.34 According to the British Library catalogue, Gardiner translated only three books: Turgenev (for Penguin), and two books translated from German into English and published (one of them by Routledge) in 1935 on Russia and socialism. This suggests that Gardiner translated for intellectual, rather than financial, reasons. I identify Gardiner, therefore, as a perfect counter-example to Magarshack, who, as we will see, persistently reminded the Penguin staff that translation was his primary source of income and that his accounts must be settled urgently. Where Gardiner neither sought nor provided a counterweight to the commissioning process, Magarshack, on monetary matters, more than compensates, and, in contrast to Gardiner, never failed to chase his payments.35 


Elisaveta Fen

Belorussian-born Lidia Vitalievna Zhiburtovich (1899–1983) studied Russian Language and Literature at Leningrad University before immigrating to Britain in 1925. She became Lydia Jackson after marrying a British citizen, Meredith Jackson, in 1929. She established a career for herself in child psychology during the 1930s, gaining a doctorate in psychology from Oxford University in 1949. In addition to her work in child psychology, Jackson supplemented her career writing novels, biographies, Russian-language teaching material (A Beginner’s Russian Reader (1942) and A Beginner’s Russian Conversation (1944), published by Methuen), and translating Russian literature. For her literary work, she adopted the pen name Elisaveta Fen. Although her first Penguin translation appeared in 1951 (a compilation of Chekhov plays including The Cherry Orchard; Three Sisters; and Ivanov), correspondence in the Penguin and Fen archives demonstrates that Fen (see Figure 1.2) was acquainted with Rieu in an advisory capacity from as early as 1945. At Rieu’s request (16 September 1945), she evaluated sample translations by a Mrs Scott (Rieu divulges no further details) for a collection of Tolstoi’s short stories, also commenting on the suitability of such stories for Penguin Classics.

Figure 1.2 Elisaveta Fen, Photographic portrait (Gerson, 1962)

Fen also positively assessed F. F. Seeley’s sample translation of a chapter of Crime and Punishment. Rieu wrote to her again on 9 November 1946 to ask:

May I consult you? We have the offer from Chatto and Windus of the Constance Garnett translation of Dead Souls for my Series. Do you know this, and do you think it is so good as to make it not worth while to try for a new one?

Fen’s reply is thorough. She summarises Garnett’s translation as ‘very uneven, in parts quite good, but mostly only fair, and frequently far too literal, while in details it is often grossly inaccurate’ (19 January 1947), citing eleven relevant examples. Her verdict, reached with Gardiner’s help,36 was that Dead Souls be either ‘carefully revised […] or the novel translated anew’ (ibid.).

Rieu also asked Fen ‘whether you think that Goncharov deserves a place in our list and would go down with the Penguin public’ (22 July 1950). He sought her opinion on the quality of sample translations by James Hogarth for Oblomov, Rosemary Edmonds for Anna Karenin (24 February 1950), and M. Whittoch for Lermontov’s A Hero of Our Time (15 December 1950). Fen was critical of Hogarth’s and Whittoch’s submissions, which were not commissioned, but we may deduce that she was undecided about Edmonds. Her report is not included in the Penguin archive or her private archive, but Rieu took Fen’s advice to ‘get her [Edmonds] to do another passage’ (20 March 1950), which Fen also assessed. Rieu asked her specifically to check ‘the scholarship and style of the work’ (1 May 1950). Satisfied that Fen had ‘told me just what I wished to know’, Rieu sent Fen a cheque for £2.0.0. and concluded ‘I propose to make an agreement with Mrs. Edmonds, after pointing out to her the slight blemishes that still occur in her work. I agree with you in thinking it most readable’ (22 May 1950).

In his assessment of Fen’s own sample translation of an act from Chekhov’s Ivanov, Rieu was an exacting editor. He agreed with ‘a competent English scholar’ that ‘there remains too much that is not convincing as English idiom’, adding:

I know that Chehov [sic] […] makes his characters say things that English people don’t, and that it would be a great mistake on a translator’s part to try to turn Russians into Englishmen, but I still contend that the best way to get the characters across is to make them say everything they have to say in the most English way, however foreign the sentiment may be to us. (8 December 1945)

Rieu’s dissatisfaction continued even after further attempts by Fen to Anglicise Chekhov’s idioms. He observed that:

[…] your main weakness lies in the finer shades of English idiom. As it is exactly in this respect that we have an opportunity of doing better than anyone who has already translated Chehov [sic], I attach the greatest importance to perfection in this respect […]. May I suggest that you should do the work in collaboration with a first-class English scholar? (18 March 1946)

Although Fen translated other Russian authors, Zoshchenko, Bondariev and Shvarts for other publishing houses, she translated only Chekhov’s plays for Penguin, adding four more plays (The Seagull, The Bear, The Proposal, A Jubilee) to a new 1954 edition, and a final edition in 1959. Correspondence reveals that Rieu declined Fen’s offer to translate Chekhov’s short stories for Penguin. Rieu informed her that ‘We are going slow on Russian works, apart from the 2 great works of Tolstoy and 4 of Dostoievsky’s’ (26 March 1957). Just six months later, however, Fen received confirmation of Penguin’s decision to commission a different Chekhov translator (Magarshack) instead:

I think it only fair to let you know now that we have just decided to place the work in the hands of another translator. I am afraid this news may be a disappointment to you, but you will remember that we and our advisors had something to say in criticism of the English style in which the samples were submitted. (Rieu, 1957)

It seems, therefore, that Fen’s most significant contribution to Penguin’s Russian Classics was her early consultative role. Subsequent correspondence with Penguin (up to 1983) chiefly concerns payment of royalties, proposed re-prints of her Chekhov plays, and clarification of readers’ queries over her renderings. Penguin’s new generation of editorial staff wrote, for example, to ask for her comments after receiving a letter from the reader mentioned above, Jerome Minot. Minot, who described himself as having ‘done a considerable amount of translating’, wrote of Fen’s translation of Chekhov’s plays that ‘there are certain things in this book which seem to me inexcusable’. He contests Fen’s lexical choices (it should be ‘estate’ and not ‘plantation’), transliteration (‘Elena’ instead of her ‘Yeliena’), meaning (‘What on earth does “looking out” a book mean?’), and over-domestication (‘Why is the nurse called Nanny, when every literate person knows what a Nanya or Nania is?’). Minot accused Fen (and therefore, by association, Penguin too) of justifying ‘sloppy translation’ in order to ‘popularize’ Chekhov ‘so it can be understood by people without literary knowledge’ (25 January 1969). His evaluation of both Fen’s work and, apparently, Penguin’s broader mission was scathing. As editor at the time, James Cochrane (via his secretary Miss Cookman) invited Fen to comment. Fen offered concise justifications for her decisions, saving her most vigorous defence for her conclusion in order to deflect attention away from the finer points of her translation method:

The rest of his letter is just muddle-headed ravings. From all this I cannot but conclude that your correspondent […] belongs to a fairly common category of cranks who like to pose as experts. (11 February 1969)

Minot’s delivery may have been boorish, but his interrogation of the Penguin translation process fulfils the role of external ‘quality control’ discussed above in Public-facing Penguin. It is commendable that Cochrane took Minot seriously and directed the challenge back to Fen. However, Fen’s dismissive reply is a reminder of the capital which endured in her reputation as one of Rieu’s earliest advisors. Her prior connection to the company trumps all of Minot’s comments. Cookman replied to Fen, ‘In view of what you have said I don’t think that we shall find it necessary to reply to the critic!’


Rosemary Edmonds

Rosemary Edmonds (1905–1998) worked as a translator to General de Gaulle at the Fighting France Headquarters in London, and on liberation in Paris. Having been funded by de Gaulle to study Russian at the Sorbonne after the war (Hahn, 2004), she was ‘recruited’ by Rieu (the details of their first meeting are not recorded) after submitting sample translations. She translated works by Tolstoi, starting with Anna Karenin (1954), the first re-translation in the United Kingdom since the Maudes’ version in the 1920s. Like Garnett before her, Edmonds embarked on a career in Russian literary translation without ever having been to Russia; in the same year that her translation of War and Peace was published, Edmonds informed Penguin (4 May 1957) that she had been invited to Russia for the first time.

Edmonds’s lack of direct experience of Russia might explain Rieu’s evaluation of her first typescript. In a letter to Glover on the typescript of Anna Karenin, Rieu discussed the improvements she had made to the text at his suggestion (such as reading her ‘stuff aloud’ and consulting with native Russians). He remarks that, ‘I have examined the text carefully and found it good, though I do not think she is one of our A+ translators. I have also read the introduction which is, in my opinion, a bit feeble, but not altogether rotten’ (8 September 1952). Defending her translation style, she later explained that she didn’t ‘like tidying Tolstoy up too much’ (3 June 1960); some of her introductions are conspicuously telegraphic, though, and structurally disjointed (those to Anna Karenin and The Death of Ivan Illyich [sic] And Other Stories in particular), especially when compared to the coherent and cohesive introductions offered by translators such as Fen and Freeborn.

Edmonds was, however, alert to issues which might directly influence her book sales. She requested the opportunity to discuss the medallion image for the cover of War and Peace, declaring the roundel on Anna Karenin ‘a disaster’, possibly on account of the quality and style of the drawing.37 She expressed an eagerness for Penguin to coordinate publication of her War and Peace translation with the 1956 film release featuring Audrey Hepburn, an obvious opportunity for Edmonds to maximise book sales. She also pointed out that there were fewer sales of War and Peace Volume II, compared to Volume I. Her remark to Penguin that ‘I don’t like the conclusion I come to about the different figures for the two volumes of War and Peace’ (27 May 1966), pre-empted Penguin’s commercial decision later, in 1982, to re-issue the novel in one volume. In this respect, Edmonds was as commercially astute as Fen and Magarshack, who also tracked book sales and requested regular royalty updates from the Penguin editors.

One feature of Edmonds’s first Penguin translation which elicited an altogether more positive response from the editors was her decision to use the Anglicised form of Tolstoi’s eponymous character Anna Karenin, rather than the Russian form, Anna Karenina, adopted by previous translators Nathan Haskell Dole and the Maudes. Edmonds’s approach was applauded by Glover, who noted that ‘if the wife of the Russian gentleman whose name you may know, had occasion to be referred to frequently in the English press, she would be called Madame Stalin and not Madame Stalina’ (10 September 1952).38 Reading Edmonds’s archived correspondence, there is a sense overall that, even had the editors disagreed with her preference for Anna Karenin, she would have doggedly stood her ground. Edmonds justified her decisions with conviction, a forcefulness which is apparent, for example, in correspondence regarding the galleys for The Queen of Spades and Other Stories:

When I sent my typescript I attached a note requesting that my punctuation should not be altered. But not only punctuation but paragraphing, too, has been re-arranged; and someone has had the impertinence to ‘correct’ my choice of words and even delete a word here and there. […] changes which destroy flavour and balance. (20 July 1961)

The tensions which arose repeatedly for Edmonds during her time with Penguin concern ‘unauthorised’ changes to her text: spellings, punctuation, deletions. (As we will see in Chapter Three, Edmonds was not alone in expressing concern over alterations; Magarshack also questioned the editor’s right to make changes to his text.) Presumably conscious of looming publishing deadlines, Edmonds chose this moment to exert some of her own professional power over Penguin’s treatment of her work. She concludes her above letter to Miss Jean Ollington with the following demand:

Of course it may be argued that my text has been improved for me; but when my i.e. and cf. become I.e. and Cf. in work for which I am responsible it is too much to bear silently. So can you tell me that this will never happen again?

Edmonds eventually had a specific clause written into her contract of 1 February 1966, which stated that ‘some commas may be altered but no dashes’; however, her tenure with Penguin terminated in 1966. Then, according to exchanges in the archive, editors Baldick and Cochrane concurred that the quality of her translation for a sample manuscript of Tolstoi’s The Kreutzer Sonata had fallen below the required standard. (The sample manuscript is not included in the archive in order to judge how fair Baldick and Cochrane were in their opinion.) In his letter to Cochrane on 7 June 1966, Baldick sounds fatigued from sustained correspondence with Edmonds:

I have just had the enclosed piece from Rosemary Edmonds, which I fear is as stiff and stilted as we thought it would be. I cannot believe that this is all Tolstoy’s fault. I have written to tell her that I will be sending it on to you: perhaps you could look at it and tell her what you decide. I really do not feel up to writing yet another letter to her.

While Edmonds’s pertinacity over translation and punctuation decisions may have been justified by improved outcomes, Baldick’s letter indicates that she had exhausted the goodwill usually expressed by the Penguin Classic editors. By 1966, the editors had no more energy to challenge her grievances; no further Penguin commissions from Edmonds were made. Edmonds’s tenure at Penguin was terminated in a way that echoes the termination of Magarshack’s tenure two years earlier. The editors’ letters from this period indicate that Edmonds and Magarshack both represented an old guard who had dogmatically upheld their translation decisions, eventually relying in each case on an over-idiosyncratic translation style and outmoded idiom.

Edmonds and Magarshack were of the same generation, both having made their careers out of their skill with words, both sufficiently forceful personalities to defend their positions as translators (as their correspondence shows); and they both associated with the ‘heavy-weights’ of Russian literature, Tolstoi and Dostoevskii. As we will see in Chapter Three, both Edmonds and Magarshack developed similar approaches to characterising dialect; they both insisted on retaining their own punctuation. They even made largely the same decision to Anglicise Russian naming conventions. For Edmonds, challenges to her translation practice followed her from the outset, with regular queries over punctuation, dissatisfaction with her introduction- writing and hybrid portrayal of dialect, and later, criticism of stilted syntax. One would expect Magarshack’s archive to contain a comparable volume of queries over the course of his seven large commissions and yet, it was not until his final Penguin commission that a critical reader’s report challenged his practice. Given the era when they lived, one wonders if Magarshack’s practice was queried less by editorial staff, and Edmonds’s was queried considerably more, because of gender expectations at the time. (Edmonds is the only long-serving female translator in the series; Fen only translated Chekhov’s plays, and other female translators of the Russian Classics – Babette Deutsch, joint translator with Avrahm Yarmolinskii of Eugene Onegin (1964), Moura Budberg, translator of Gorkii’s Fragments From my Diary (1972), Jessie Coulson, translator of Dostoevskii’s The Gambler (1966) and Notes from Underground (1972), and later, Jane Kentish, translator of Dostoevskii’s Netochka Nezvanova (1985) – completed just a handful of commissions between them.)

Despite Rieu’s initial assessment of her work, he referred to Edmonds in a letter to her in 1966 as ‘one of “my” translators who never gave me any trouble or a moment’s anxiety’.39 Perhaps Rieu sent such warm sentiments as a gesture of sympathy to Edmonds knowing that her tenure at Penguin had finished (or would soon finish); or he may simply have been looking back over his own tenure at Penguin from the nostalgic perspective of retirement. Rieu’s (long-awaited) praise is not an isolated case, however. Henry Gifford also offered a positive verdict of Edmonds’s work in his essay ‘On Translating Tolstoy’ (1978). He remarks that, whilst ‘Miss Edmonds is sometimes lax about detail’:

[…] her work is readable and it moves lightly and freely; the dialogue in particular is much more convincing than that contrived by the Maudes. (pp. 22–23)

Apparently ‘no seeker of public recognition’ (The Telegraph, 1998), Edmonds was awarded the Freedom of the City of London in March 1979, but it is the endurance of her translations which best contests Rieu’s early view that she was not an ‘A+ translator’. Penguin published a new translation of Anna Karenina only as recently as 2000, forty-six years after Edmonds’s version and her 1958/1962 translation of Pushkin’s The Queen of Spades and Other Stories is still being used by Penguin, reprinted in 1968, 1978, and as an e-book in 2004.

David Magarshack

David Magarshack’s personal archive at the University of Leeds, along with the seven folders of correspondence in the Penguin archive and a handful of letters held in the Special Collections archive at the University of Manchester, has provided a surprising amount of material with which to work. A hoarder of letters, reviews, notes, photographs, theatre pro-grammes, and articles, Magarshack left behind a range of professional markers which show him to have been a man of talent, consciously drawing on his capital and contacts to ensure success. Through Magarshack, and to a lesser extent the other early translators, it has been possible to analyse closely the dynamics of a freelance translator’s relationship with Penguin and to demonstrate ‘the types of collaborations and frictions in the translation process’ (Munday, 2017, p. 3). Magarshack’s archive provides evidence of the influences over his agency – habitus, a complex set of personal dispositions, capital, and patronage – when producing a commissioned work.

Magarshack (see Figure 1.3) was born in Riga in 1899 and he died from lymphoma in 1977 after a period of ill health (Magarshack, 2015). He was educated at a Russian secondary school, immigrated to England in 1920 and was naturalised as a British citizen in 1931. As a Jew, Magarshack faced repressive anti-Jewish education regulations which were imposed on students at that time in Russia and which would have prevented him from pursuing higher education there. Magarshack’s prime motivation for leaving Russia, therefore, was to advance his education. When he arrived in the United Kingdom, he undertook an evening course in English Language and Literature at University College London, from where, four years later, he graduated with a second-class honours degree on 22 October 1924. On graduation, Magarshack ‘traveled a few blocks to Fleet street [sic] and there learned the trades of English journalism, as reporter and subeditor’ (Chicago Tribune, 1963). Magarshack summarised his journalistic credentials in detail in three letters, sent between June 1928 and November 1929, when seeking full-time employment at the Manchester Guardian.40

Figure 1.3 David Magarshack, (n.d.)

As the letters confirm, his English was of a suitably high standard to be able to make a career from writing:

My journalistic career has now stretched over a period of seven years, during which time I worked on the staff of a London News Agency, was Literary Editor of an English daily published overseas, was contributor of articles to the American press, was Editor of ‘Foreign Affairs’, in full charge of the paper, and am now under an agreement to write bi-weekly editorials for the Christian Science Monitor […].

(12 November 1929)

Decades later, John O’London’s Weekly returned to the subject of Magarshack’s language skills, ‘For many years he has written as fluently in English as in Russian, though he still speaks with a slight accent’ (22 February 1952), and ‘Now, Mr Magarshack is very Russian as well – by birth and upbringing, and yet thoroughly adept at writing clear and cogent English’ (14 March 1953).

Magarshack wrote three crime novels in English, published in the 1930s by Constable & Co. Ltd.: Big Ben Strikes Eleven (1934); Death Cuts a Caper (1935); Three Dead (1937). Attempts to echo Dostoevskii’s style – in terms of theme and also description – are recognisable in Magarshack’s narrative. They indicate his self-perception as not just a crime-writer, but one with literary aspirations firmly localised in the United Kingdom. There are significant plot references to overdue rent (Death Cuts a Caper), Porfiry Petrovich-inspired Superintendents (after the Columbo-like police officer who manipulates Raskolnikov in Dostoevskii’s novel), and in the first novel, Big Ben Strikes Eleven, there are even detailed Dostoevskian discussions of characters blessed and burdened with genius:

Every genius was no doubt self-centred, every genius was in the first place a sublime genius, especially where his own work was concerned, but while civilisation could and should put up with the small annoyances and provocations of its men of genius for the great benefactions which they conferred on the whole human race, could it afford to tolerate a genius whose egotism was so all-embracing, whose appetite was so all-devouring, that he needed the whole of humanity to appease his hunger? (1934, p. 29)

In terms of descriptive style, Dostoevskii’s influence can also be detected in the opening line of the same book:

The discovery of Sir Robert Boniface’s body on the floor of his blue limousine was made quite accidentally on a sultry Friday evening towards the end of June. (p. 1) (my italics)

Compare with the opening line of Crime and Punishment, with the source text of which Magarshack would have been familiar, and which he himself later translated for Penguin as:

On a very hot evening at the beginning of July a young man left his little room at the top of a house in Carpenter Lane, went out into the street, and, as though unable to make up his mind, walked slowly in the direction of Kokushkin Bridge. (1951, p. 1) (my italics)

Much to his disappointment (Magarshack, 2015), despite all his stylistic and thematic nods to Dostoevskii and a positive review from Dorothy L. Sayers41 (‘This is really a very jolly book, with sound plot, some good characterisation, a number of thrills, and everything handsome about it.’),42 Magarshack’s career as a novelist did not take off. The literary and financial capital which he had anticipated failed to materialise. His novel- writing presented an opportunity, though, for him to explore and fine-tune the interplay of British dialects and the application of idiomatic turns of phrase, fixed expressions, and proverbs, which he recorded and practised in notebooks included in his personal archive. Financial need provided the greatest motivation for him to shift his focus towards translation.43 Magarshack’s professional relationship with Rieu began in 1949 with his first Penguin commission, Dostoevskii’s Crime and Punishment. It is unclear how they met; one might speculate that they were introduced by Sayers, who was both the first Penguin translator of Dante’s Inferno (1949) and reviewer of Magarshack’s Big Ben Strikes Eleven.

It is evident from the assertive tone adopted in his letters that, from the outset, Magarshack’s relationship with Penguin was one of clearly delineated mutual dependency. He was no subservient operative; he stood his ground and exerted symbolic power whenever required. Whereas Edmonds exerted linguistic power over the Penguin editors, insisting that she knew best when it came to the text, there is no evidence to suggest that she ever called into question her terms and conditions. By contrast, Magarshack regularly challenged Rieu and Glover over both payment and, to a lesser extent, textual matters. In Rieu’s introductory letter to Glover of 20 January 1949, he explains that Magarshack ‘lives by his translations’, adding, with a suggestion of caution, that he ‘has published translations from the Russian with other publishers and has several new ones in the hands of various firms (Faber’s, Lehman, etc [sic]). They deal generously with him’. We may presume from this that, in their initial meeting, Magarshack offered Rieu this information himself in a bid to increase his negotiating power, a position which is reiterated in Magarshack’s first letter to Glover. Dissatisfied that Glover appeared to be reneging on Rieu’s terms, Magarshack spelled out his views:

There is no question of approval at all. I am not an amateur, and my books have been published and are due to be published by well-known publishing houses including Allen & Unwin, Faber & Faber, and John Lehmann. Penguin Books, too, will be publishing a long contribution by me in the next issue of New Writing. Mr Rieu was in complete agreement with me about this question of approval. […] I hope to hear from you without delay, as, following Mr Rieu’s assurances, I have already begun the preliminary work on the book. (3 March 1949)

Magarshack’s overriding message is that it would take little for him to take his talents elsewhere, where they (and he) will be properly appreciated. Aware of Seeley’s terminated contract, which would already have put Magarshack in a powerful negotiating position, this tactic of showing demand for his translation skills played to Magarshack’s strengths. Given how few UK-based Russian-English linguists there were, Magarshack’s credentials were ideal for Penguin to keep commissioning him, thereby extending their repertoire of Russian classics and increasing their financial capital. Knowledge of this position clearly did not escape Magarshack, who hints at his cultural, symbolic power – along with his position and ability to play one publisher off against another – throughout his correspondence with the Penguin editors.

Magarshack’s drive to assert his position is particularly evident in his letter to Glover of 18 June 1952. Having submitted the typescript for Dostoevskii’s The Devils, Magarshack requested his final advance of £50 for the typescript, as well as an advance on royalties from sales of Crime and Punishment; this time his tone is insistent. At some length – and it is clear from the chronology of correspondence that he has already discussed this request – Magarshack reiterates all the reasons why he must break with Penguin’s set terms and receive his royalties before the designated annual pay-out. The careful construction of his argument is worth quoting at length; it reveals the multiple angles of persuasion at Magarshack’s disposal which he employed in order to endorse his claim and reinforce his position:

You say you are always willing to stretch a point, and it seems to me that in the circumstances you could stretch another point for me, especially if all I ask for is to let me have some of the royalties already received. If there are no royalties, then there is nothing to be done about it.

I have now to sit down to do a translation of OBLOMOV, which is one of the greatest works of art in Russian literature and is written in a style that is not as slapdash as Dostoyevsky’s. It will require a tremendous lot of concentration and careful adaptation of an appropriate English style. I told you in my last letter that I feel that before I sit down to it I simply must have a decent holiday. It is therefore in your interest as well as mine to make things easier for me.

Magarshack’s letter concludes with an addendum expressing concern about the absence of copies of Crime and Punishment in his local bookshop, Wilson’s in Hampstead, and the impact upon his royalties. Although always impeccably polite to his clients, Glover vented his personal frustrations in a letter on this subject to Rieu. He wrote that Magarshack ‘is in a frantic hurry for money and wants to get the balance of the advance payable of which he has already had more than he is entitled to’ (17 June 1952). He continues in his understated way, ‘I am getting very tired of Mr Magarshack. I know it is my duty as a Buddhist to help the needy, but he seems so very needy all the time’. Magarshack’s persistence worked however, and Penguin obligingly met him part way with a promise to advance an approximation of his dues by the end of July. In contrast to Gardiner, Magarshack’s business acumen was ever present. As he made quite clear, he could not afford to be obediently subservient. Magarshack’s habitus ‒ the turn-of-the-century Russian immigrant turned professional writer and translator, with a family to support ‒ determined the tone, the expectations, and the boundaries of his agency. He repeatedly shows signs of pushing back at the commissioner, of turning cultural and linguistic capital into economic and symbolic capital.

Nor did Magarshack restrict his sphere of influence simply to the United Kingdom. It is of particular interest that – at a time when East-West relations were becoming increasingly polarised – Magarshack increased his chances of success by keeping one foot in the West, and the other in Russia.44 The contents of Magarshack’s archive offer none of his political views on the Cold War (according to his daughter Stella, Magarshack was areligious and, it would seem, apolitical too). They do, however, reveal that he actively sought and cultivated a relationship with the Soviet Union’s literati and enjoyed the praise and acknowledgement he received from his former countrymen, affirmation by literary peers from across a difficult political divide.45 Regularly reminded – professionally and personally – of his foreignness here in the West, it seems hardly surprising that Magarshack strove for some recognition from his native land. It is surprising, given the Soviet government’s official disapproval of exiles, that Magarshack received due acknowledgement. Magarshack did not just receive affirmation from Professor Morozov at the All-Russia Theatre Society conference on 10 November 194446 for his translations into English of Ostrovskii, he also received printed praise and publicity from within the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics in articles published in Komsomol’skaia pravda, Izvestiia,47 and Literaturnaia gazeta, years before he attracted any such interest or recognition by the British media.

Coming from a respected figure in the Soviet literary and academic circuit, Morozov’s positive review provided Magarshack with a tangible benchmark for his work and, no doubt, an appreciated boost to his sense of self-worth. It is telling, however, that Morozov described Magarshack as the ‘talantlivyi angliiskii pisatel’ (‘the talented English writer’), deliberately overlooking or genuinely failing to realise Magarshack’s Russian birth (this seems unlikely, however, given Magarshack’s easily identifiable Russo-Jewish surname). By identifying Magarshack as English, Morozov was confirming to Magarshack that his career and reputation were British, not Soviet. Arguably, however, by courting the commercial West and the Soviet East, Magarshack captured the best of both worlds for his career, that is, as a Russian literary translator making a living and forging a reputation in the West, whilst maintaining contact with and kudos within the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. He was able, therefore, to secure a steady flow of repeat business at Penguin with none of the spectre of Soviet censorship or possible punishment.

His last Penguin translation was Chekhov’s Lady with Lapdog and Other Stories, published in 1964. It was initially commissioned on the assumption that it would be the first of three volumes of Chekhov short stories. However, completion of Magarshack’s final commission coincided with the era immediately preceding Rieu’s retirement from Penguin Classics, and his manuscript was handled rather differently by Robert Baldick in his role as Advisory Editor. A reader’s review was supplied for the Lady with Lapdog typescript, the only one to be found in Magarshack’s folders in the Penguin archive. In the anonymous reader’s comments, eight pages of handwritten questions are produced concerning Magarshack’s style and accuracy, ranging from awkward syntax to ‘stilted, unnatural speech’, tautology and lexical selection, transposition of phrases, tenses and adjectives, and most frequently of all, mis-conveyed sense. Baldick’s summary to Penguin colleague David Duguid of the reader’s points, having checked them with Magarshack, also alludes to Magarshack’s reaction. The delay in checking the typescript was partly because ‘it has been difficult to get a reply out of Magarshack’ (21 November 1963). Baldick’s choice of language thereafter intimates the awkwardness of his exchange with Magarshack, who had replied ‘with great indignation’, was ‘very indignant’ and even (Baldick wrote) “retort[ed]” abrasively to one of their queries.

It comes as no real surprise to learn that further volumes of Chekhov were not commissioned, as Cochrane’s follow up letter to Duguid confirms:

Chekhov: Selected Tales

I have sent the manuscript of this Classic through to Production with the above provisional title. I have marked it provisional because it would probably give rise to difficulties if a second or third volume was produced. (There was no contract for another volume with Magarshack. It was assumed when the first contract was made that he would do another volume but he has since fallen out of favour). [sic] (24 January 1964)

Magarshack’s relationship with Penguin thus came to a close ‒ a casualty perhaps of Rieu’s retirement in the same year and of the new, more academic rigour of Baldick’s and Radice’s Penguin Classics. Magarshack’s career, however, continued. Instead of retirement, Magarshack’s post- Penguin years represent a transition from translator and biographer to translation theorist, a shift I will address in the next chapter.


This chapter has demonstrated how the field of translation and publishing in the mid-twentieth century progressed from the era of Heinemann and Garnett. Literature in translation gathered new momentum since the launch of the Penguin Classics series with Rieu’s The Odyssey. Even more importantly for my study, Russian literature gained significance within that series, building on lessons learned from the unsuccessful Russian Review initiative. This chapter has outlined how the corporate structure of Penguin’s publishing house organised itself operationally, introducing the necessary institutional frameworks in order to approach the Penguin Classics series in a strategic and considered way. Whereas its early interest in promoting Russian literature in translation was dependent largely on the dedication of individuals or fortuitous partnerships, during this period Penguin actively introduced well-supported mechanisms of delegation and autonomy (from Lane’s choice of editors to the editors’ selection of suitably skilled translators and advisors) to ensure that some of the best expertise and knowledge facilitated the creation of a broad, commercially attractive library of classics.

Through my historical approach (recommended by Munday as a way of investigating the sociological factors behind agency such as the ‘conditions, working practices and [the] identity of translators and […] their interaction with other participants in the translation process’ (2014, p. 64)), the Penguin archive’s Russian folders and private papers in the Leeds Russian archive – specifically the content which relates to the individual motivations, backgrounds, and expectations of those producing the Penguin Classics series – reveal a surprising degree of autonomy in the Penguin Classics microcosm, which Rieu, in particular, enjoyed during his editorship. Lane’s trust in Rieu’s proven capabilities – as a commercially-minded editor and a translator – enabled Lane to delegate the Penguin Classics series to Rieu, a move which was liberating not only for Lane, but for the future of the series too. Unlike Lane’s early, failed, attempt at producing the Illustrated Classics series, the Penguin Classics series flourished under Rieu’s expertise and network of specialist connections.

Penguin’s era of Russian classics represents the sort of success which can be achieved through balanced collaboration, where compromises are made on both sides, by the editor and by the translator, for their mutual benefit and the success of the project. Whilst driving a hard, commercial deal (as with Magarshack’s Crime and Punishment contract, for example), Rieu’s consistent professionalism, his careful commitment to a target text, and his impeccable politeness earned him the greatest respect. Glover matched a critical eye for errors and inconsistencies with an impressive capacity to understand the translator’s need for deadline flexibility, the translator’s desire to produce a perfect text even at the risk of crippling correction costs, and the translator’s difficulties with cash flow while waiting on royalties. These editors’ ability, born out of first-hand experience, to relate to the translator’s world, generated not just appreciation, but immense loyalty to the series amongst the early Russian Classics freelancers.

For the freelancers, especially the energetic and engaged ones like Magarshack and Edmonds, Penguin represented a reliable employer with dynamic prospects for individual and corporate achievement. In contrast to Garnett, who seems to have lacked the leverage to convert her literary and linguistic capital into satisfactory economic capital, the Penguin freelancers were also considerably more involved and, in some cases, quite forceful in their contractual negotiations (payment of advances and royalties, deadlines, corrections). By the mid-twentieth century it has become clear that freelancers were able to make Penguin work for them and their interests (such as flexible, home working; employment allowing application of their specialist language skills; the prospect of repeat business) to at least the same degree that Penguin gained from them. By commissioning members of this group of freelancers to translate a variety of different Russian authors, the Penguin Classics editors were also able to secure certain flexibilities: they could manage production time and the flow of publications; they could offer interrupted and/or terminated contracts to other freelancers for completion;48 they could call on translators to peer review typescripts. From their editorial remove, Rieu and Glover were able to oversee in-house stylistic requirements of translation equivalence, accessibility, and readability, thus completing their final act of agency: the bridge between Penguin the publisher and the paying customer, the outside reader.

Launched in 1950, Penguin’s Russian Classics quickly progressed to include translations of many great works of Russian literature and the series came to be regarded by readers, both academic and general, as the de facto provider of classic Russian literature in English translation, the legacy of which reputation resonates right up to the present day. Through an analysis of the individuals involved, their agendas, and their socio-cultural context, this book, based on extensive original research, examines how Penguin’s decisions and practices when translating and publishing the series played a significant role in deciding how Russian literature would be produced and marketed in English translation. As such the book represents a major contribution to Translation Studies, to the study of Russian literature, to book history and to the history of publishing.


  1. In ‘History of Penguin archive’ (Telegraph, 2009), Toby Clements identifies Lane’s early staff as ‘mostly maverick autodidacts who met for planning dinners that lasted long into the night in a Spanish restaurant in Soho’.
  2. Fen identified Zoshchenko as a worthy addition to the series in her early correspondence with Rieu, but Penguin presumably respected Kotelianskii’s opinion above Fen’s on this matter.
  3. Lane courted speculation throughout his career about having left-leaning political tendencies, maybe even Communist (an opinion assisted by his visit to Moscow in 1957). According to Steve Hare, ‘It was inevitable that a certain logic would dictate that since Penguin published books that inclined towards the Left, then its editors and owners must be similarly inclined’ (1995, p. 71).
  4. Count Constantine “Conny” Benckendorff, the son of the Russian ambassador to London (19001917), emigrated from Russia to the UK in 1924 after suffering repeated arrests and imprisonment by the Cheka (Minshall, 1954, p. 355). Budberg, also a Slavic émigrée, is described in her obituary as an ‘author, translator, production adviser on plays, films and television programmes, […], publishers’ reader of manuscripts in five languages’ (The Times, 1974). Budberg aroused interest for having enjoyed relationships with H.G. Wells, Sir Robert Bruce Lockhart, and Maxim Gorkii, but also attracted speculation that she might be a Soviet spy (McDonald and Dron-field, 2016).
  5. During 19431946, Penguin produced thirty-four monthly issues of a periodical called Transatlantic, the aim of which was ‘to assist the British and American peoples to walk together in majesty and peace’ (Yates, 2006, p. 149). The periodical became a casualty of paper-rationing, however, and Lane ‘sold the title and goodwill for a nominal five shillings to Transatlantic Books Ltd’ (ibid.).
  6. On launching his first Penguin list he is remembered as having said (presumably not seriously), ‘Of one thing I’m sure; there’s no money in it for anybody’ (Lewis, 2006, p. 110).
  7. Lane recognised the need for expert advice after his first attempt to introduce Illustrated Classics, just one year before the outbreak of the Second World War, was a failure. The series, published in May 1938, consisted of ten titles, including Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Laurence Sterne’s A Sentimental Journey and Herman Melville’s Typee. The books were diminished by Penguin’s use of ‘indifferent paper’ and a smaller format, ‘too cramped to carry illustration’ (Morpurgo, 1979, p. 143). The series was swiftly discontinued and Lane subsequently sought opinions to ensure careful “publishable” decisions.
  8. Morpurgo believed it was particularly important for Lane to receive his honorary degrees (1979, p. 226). Newly-bestowed academic status provided Lane with an opportunity to close intellectual gaps between him and his agents and to achieve at least the semblance of an equal footing with editor-advisors. His difficult relationship with the erudite, self-taught A.S.B. Glover is perhaps the only exception.
  9. Russell Edwards (Penguin Collector’s Society) argues that Lane’s apparent rashness ‘added piquancy to the series […], with Allen Lane flying in the face of the advice of the literary and commercial experts and backing his own judgment – with triumphant success’ (2008, p. 141).
  10. Rieu studied classics at Balliol College, Oxford (Connell, 2004), but according to his obituary in The Times, ‘His career at Oxford did not, however, end with academic distinction of the kind confidently expected of him though he obtained a First in Honour Mods. He suffered a breakdown of health and left the university at the end of his seventh term without a degree’.
  11. Platt is more effusive still about the impact on the general readership of Rieu’s The Odyssey translation and the Penguin Classics series: ‘[…] he [Rieu] made possible wondrous voyages, far more extensive than those of Odysseus with whom Rieu’s name will for ever be linked’ (2008, p. 9). Effusions like this nurture the ‘legendary’ aspect of the Penguin Classics series’ reputation.
  12. According to Platt, ‘over three million copies were sold’, and the book ‘remained Penguin’s best seller for 16 years until Lady Chatterley’s Lover appeared in 1960’ (2008, p. 9).
  13. Andrew Lang, Walter Leaf and Ernest Myers were translators of Homer’s Odyssey and Iliad during the late nineteenth century.
  14. Whilst the nature of the principle of equivalent effect is problematic (see, for example, Munday, 2008, p. 52), many of the Russian works which were being translated at the time of Penguin were still less than one hundred years old. The original audience, therefore, might be considered close enough in time for their translator to be able to anticipate their first reactions.
  15. Contemporary Russia and Russian culture were not entirely perceived at second hand by Rieu; an article in the Times written on the occasion of Rieu’s retirement describes a journey he took on the Trans-Siberian Railway at the start of the twentieth century, which included ‘gate-crashing the Kremlin and catching glimpse of the Tsar’ (8 January 1964).
  16. Rieu noted to Glover (29 July 1946), for example, that both Candide and Madame Bovary featured on Hamish Hamilton’s list of 6/ translations. Hamish Hamilton also published some Turgenev classics and Gogol’s Dead Souls in the late 1940s-early 1950s. Glover replied that he was keen to ‘get ahead’ of Hamish Hamilton (30 July 1946).
  17. Magarshack prepared over a thousand pages of a book on the history of nineteenth-century Russian literature, which Penguin considered publishing as a Pelican but which ultimately never appeared. Apparently sensing that her support at Penguin was on the wane (a realisation which Baldick himself spotted and commented on in his letter to Cochrane of 7 June 1966), Edmonds suggested rounding off Penguin’s Tolstoi series with the controversial play Power of Darkness in the hope of gaining another commission. Penguin did not commission her, or any other freelancer, to translate Power of Darkness. 
  18. Garnett’s husband Edward was well-positioned in the literary field as a publisher’s reader and able therefore to promote his wife’s work. He penned the introductions and biographical sketches which Heinemann felt were a necessary supplement to Constance’s works, but which she felt were beyond her. According to David Garnett, ‘Constance “found it an agony to write anything original”’ (Garnett, 2009, pp. 306307).
  19. See Rieu’s statement in the July 1946 Penguins Progress announcement, ‘it is the editor’s intention to commission translators who could emulate his own example’ (p. 48).
  20. Three years on from initially agreeing the Seeley contract, Penguin still had nothing to show for the time they had invested. No reason is provided in the archive, but the contract was, seemingly, terminated at Seeley’s instigation.
  21. Biography references to Glover present general inconsistency over the spelling of his Christian name, at times ‘Allan’, at others ‘Alan’, a fact which is consistent with the notion that he cultivated an air of enigma about his former life (see Morpurgo, 1979, p. 192).
  22. The exact date is unclear but his tenure began in the same year as Rieu’s (Yates, 2006, p. 61).
  23. According to correspondence he exchanged with T.C.N. Gibbens, Pelican author of the (unpublished) Crime and Criminals, this period of Glover’s life was divided between Exeter, Pentonville, Durham, Wormwood Scrubs and Winchester prisons. Prison provided an opportunity for him to commit the Encyclopaedia Britannica to memory and to edit the prison newspaper, which was written on lavatory paper. His photographic memory and breadth of knowledge also spanned Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack, Bradshaw’s railway guide, Greek and Hebrew literatures, he was a formidable scholar of Jung and psycho-analysis, and had an ongoing interest in religion, from Quakerism to Catholicism, before he settled on Buddhism (Hare, 1995, pp. 128130).
  24. He is noted for ‘amiably and abundantly pointing out errors and misprints’ (Yates, 2006, p. 61).
  25. Magarshack’s response puts into rare context the finely-balanced realities of the freelance world, where the royalty pipeline is an essential feature and must be carefully maintained in order to survive the long wait between manuscript submission and actual publication (sometimes as long as two years, or more, much to Magarshack’s and other Penguin freelancers’ annoyance).
  26. Letter from Mr Grant Wallace, Heywood High School, Victoria, 4 August 1978, regarding the omission of two lines concerning Lazarus from Crime and Punishment, perceived as crucial to the spiritual understanding of the novel. Letter from Dr Edward D Sullivan, Princeton University, 28 December 1954, regarding the omission of Stavrogin’s confession from The Devils.
  27. Having ordered 150 copies for use in the Dept. of Slavic Languages and Liter-atures, Northwestern University, an anonymous academic declared that ‘such a publishing procedure [the abridgements] is perilously close to intentional fraud’ (22 October 1974). There was also considerable discussion at Penguin over which title to use, the faithful rendering of A Sportsman’s Notebook being deemed too off-putting to the reader (see correspondence between James Cochrane and translator Richard Freeborn, 12 June and 5 July 1964). By contrast, Fathers and Sons remained the title of Turgenev’s novel, Otsy i deti, even though Gardiner, the initial translator, noted, as did some readers, that Fathers and Children would have been more accurate. Gardiner’s translation was never used and Rosemary Edmonds was commissioned instead, keeping the slightly inaccurate title.
  28. Geoffrey Elliott and Harold Shukman define the JSSL training programme as ‘a key Cold War initiative in which over 5,000 men were secretly pushed through intensive training in Russian.’ (2011, p. 11).
  29. I have only been able to locate brief translator biographies in editions from the Black Cover series, which emerged from the Medallion Series and ran from 1963c.1970.
  30. This research aim was explored across languages at the British Library conference The Translator Made Corporeal: Translation History in the Archive in 2017, at which a version of this chapter was presented as a paper.
  31. ‘On the matter of translation I only wish we could meet. Mattingly and I thrashed it out at my club the other day over a protracted lunch and he went away keen as mustard’ (Rieu, 4 November 1944).
  32. The reason cited for non-payment is ‘because our Royalties Department did not have [your] address’ (Sulkin, 1976).
  33. A sum which was worth £3983.64 in 1976.
  34. This incident is reminiscent of Agatha Christie’s occasional quizzing of Lane, ‘“Allen, isn’t it about a year since I had any royalties from you?” she would ask from time to time: “I wondered whether you’d notice,” he’d reply looking “half-guilty, half-mischievous”’ (Lewis, 2006, p. 33).
  35. See, for example, Magarshack’s letter to Glover: ‘I expect to hear from you soon about the query in my letter of January 2nd. I should like to know the total sales [sic] my two Dostoevsky books in the U.S.A., the price at which they are sold, and the accruing royalties which I do not seem to have yet received’ (5 January 1954).
  36. Fen continued to correspond regularly with Gardiner until his death in 1981.
  37. The Anna Karenin roundel image features in Penguin Classics (Edwards et al, 2008, p. 71).
  38. Nearly twenty years later, Edmonds’s and Penguin’s decision to use the Anglicised form provoked a quite different response from the aforementioned reader Mrs Joan Miller. Miller decried Edmonds’s naming strategy in emphatic terms (‘impudence and vandalism’), an accusation which Cochrane described as ‘at the very least an over-statement’ (5 July 1972).
  39. The original letter cannot be located but the passage is cited in Edmonds’s obituary in The Telegraph, 1998.
  40. Magarshack submitted articles but never worked as an editor for the Man-chester Guardian.
  41. Sayers wrote twelve detective novels (all but one featuring the aristocratic, amateur sleuth Lord Peter Wimsey) and presided over The Detection Club in London from 19491957 (Symons, 1979).
  42. Sayers’s review of Big Ben Strikes Eleven appears on the blurb of Magarshack’s second novel, Death Cuts a Caper (1935).
  43. Money was scarce for Magarshack (he was married with four children by now). He and his wife, Elsie Duella, received little support from relatives (Magarshack, 2015). Magarshack’s own parents had no further contact with him once he had emigrated and, from the outset, he was regarded by Elsie’s parents as an undesirable match (ibid.). Howarth-born, grammar- school educated Elsie (18991999) won a scholarship to read English at Cambridge University. She met Magarshack at a ‘students’ Christian meeting club’ in London, and they shared a passion for English (a factor in their relationship which later became crucial to Magarshack’s literary success). When she married the man her parents called ‘the foreigner’ (ibid.), Elsie’s parents were greatly disappointed; they never accepted their son-in-law ‘because he never earned any money’ (Magarshack, 2014). In a letter seeking employment at the Manchester Guardian, he described himself as being ‘glad of anything at present, for I am rather in a tight corner’ (12 September 1928). Elsie earned some money by home-coaching students for university and David worked from home but ‘earned nothing until the end of the war when he started translating Russian literature which he loved’ ( Magarshack, 2014).
  44. At the very start of his translating career in 1944, Magarshack sent the USSR Society for Cultural Relations with Foreign Countries and Professor Morozov, the renowned Soviet scholar of Shakespeare, his translation of Ostrovskii’s comedies for their evaluation. The translations were positively received. Morozov wrote a review which was published in Literaturnaia gazeta (No. 6) on 9 December 1944 under the heading, P’esi Ostrovskogo v Anglii (‘Ostrovskii’s Plays in England’), where he wrote of Magarshack’s work, ‘Ego perevody napisany iasnym i zhivym iazykom, iazykom pisatelya, a ne filologa’ (‘His translations are written in a language that is clear and alive, the language of a writer, not that of a grammarian’) (My translation). Later correspondence reveals that Magarshack maintained contact with the USSR in the fifteen years after his Ostrovskii translations. In a letter to Mr Rosenthal, Magar-shack quotes correspondence from 24 February 1960 in which Pasternak praised him for the skilful translation I Remember: Sketch for an Autobiography (1959): ‘Please convey to Mr. Magarshack my admiration for his masterly translation, his profound, informative Introduction, his unerring, shrewd judgment, and his quite astonishing knowledge which surpasses even mine’ (29 April 1971).
  45. The Soviet definition of émigré writers was, however, categorical: ‘a traitor or an ideological (class) enemy, hence a threat to the Soviet way of thinking and therefore was deemed unacceptable for the Soviet public’ (Dienes, 2009, pp. x-xi). In practical terms, this meant that, ‘Throughout the Soviet period the Russian émigré writer found it well-nigh impossible even to return home for a visit. Not only could his books not be sold in Russia, but it was a crime to possess or conspire to possess them, to circulate, import, or even make a longhand copy of them. The only acknowledgement the writer could expect if he returned home was a prison sentence … or worse’ (Glad, 1999, p. 297).
  46. See letter from Kislova, 10 February 1945.
  47. (Ibid.).
  48. 48. For example, Seeley’s terminated Crime and Punishment contract was offered to Magarshack. The contract for a translation of Turgenev’s Fathers and Sons was first given to Gardiner but, after three years, Edmonds was commissioned instead. There is no correspondence in the Penguin archive detailing reasons for the change of translator.


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