Constance Clara Garnett

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Constance Clara Garnett (Black)

Birthdate: (84)
Death: December 17, 1946 (84)
Edenbridge, UK
Immediate Family:

Daughter of David Black and Clara Maria Black
Wife of Edward William Garnett
Mother of David Garnett
Sister of Arthur Black; Clemintina Black; Clementina Black; Ernest Black; Emma Louisa Black and 3 others

Managed by: Carlos F. Bunge
Last Updated:

About Constance Clara Garnett

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Constance Clara Garnett (née Black) (19 December 1861, Brighton, England – 17 December 1946, The Cearne, Crockham Hill, Kent) was an English translator of nineteenth-century Russian literature. Garnett was one of the first English translators of Tolstoy, Dostoevsky and Chekhov and introduced them on a wide basis to the English speaking public.


   * 1 Life
   * 2 Translations
   * 3 See also
   * 4 References
   * 5 Sources
   * 6 External links

Garnett was the sixth of the eight children of the solicitor David Black (1817–1892), afterwards town clerk and coroner, and his wife, Clara Maria Patten (1825–1875). Her brother was the mathematician Arthur Black.[1] Her father became paralysed in 1873, and two years later her mother died, from a heart attack after lifting him from his chair to his bed.[2]

She was initially educated at Brighton and Hove High School. Afterwards she studied Latin and Greek at Newnham College, Cambridge on a government scholarship, where she also learned Russian (partly from émigré Russian friends such as Felix Volkonsky [Rubenstein]), and worked briefly as a school teacher.

Her husband, Edward Garnett, whom she married in Brighton on 31 August 1889, was a distinguished reader for the publisher Jonathan Cape. Her son and only child, David Garnett, trained as a biologist and later wrote novels.

In 1893, shortly after a visit to Moscow, Saint Petersburg and Yasnaya Polyana where she met Leo Tolstoy, she was inspired to start translating Russian literature, which became her life's passion and resulted in English-language versions of dozens of volumes by Tolstoy, Gogol, Ivan Goncharov, Dostoevsky, Pushkin, Turgenev, Ostrovsky and Chekhov. The Russian anarchist Sergei Stepniak partly assisted her, also in revising some of her early works.

By the late 1920s, Garnett was frail, white-haired, and half-blind. She retired from translating after the publication in 1934 of Three Plays by Turgenev. After her husband's death in 1937, she became quite reclusive. She developed a heart condition, with attendant breathlessness, and in her last years had to walk with crutches.


Constance Garnett translated 71 volumes of Russian literary works, and her translations received high acclaim, from authors such as Joseph Conrad and D. H. Lawrence. Despite some complaints about being outdated, her translations are still being reprinted today (most also happen to be in the public domain).

However, Garnett also has had many critics, notably prominent Russian natives and authors Vladimir Nabokov and Joseph Brodsky. Brodsky notably criticized Garnett for blurring the distinctive authorial voices of different Russian authors:[2]

   "The reason English-speaking readers can barely tell the difference between Tolstoy and Dostoevsky is that they aren't reading the prose of either one. They're reading Constance Garnett."

In her translations, she worked quickly, and smoothed over certain small portions for "readability", particularly in her translations of Dostoevsky.[3] In instances where she did not understand a word or phrase, she omitted that portion.[2][4]

For his Norton Critical Edition of The Brothers Karamazov, Ralph Matlaw based his revised version on her translation.[5] This is the basis for the influential A Karamazov Companion by Victor Terras.[6] Matlaw published an earlier revision of Garnett's translation of the Grand Inquisitor chapter in a volume paired with Notes From Underground.[7]

In 1994 Donald Rayfield compared Garnett's translations with the most recent scholarly versions of Chekhov's stories and concluded:

   "While she makes elementary blunders, her care in unravelling difficult syntactical knots and her research on the right terms for Chekhov's many plants, birds and fish are impressive.... Her English is not only nearly contemporaneous to Chekhov's, it is often comparable."[8]

Her translations of Turgenev were highly regarded by Rachel May, in her study on translating Russian classics.

Later translators such as Rosemary Edmonds and David Magarshack continued to use Garnett's translations as models for their own work.[4][9]

See also
   *  Wikisource-logo.svg Works by Constance Garnett on Wikisource
   * Works by Constance Garnett at Project Gutenberg
view all

Constance Clara Garnett's Timeline

December 19, 1861
March 9, 1892
Age 30
Brighton, East Sussex, UK
December 17, 1946
Age 84
Edenbridge, UK