Betti Alver Maksim Gorki „Lapsepõlve“ tõlkijana / Betti Alver as a Maksim Gorky’s “My Childhood” translator


  • Maria Borovikova Tartu Ülikool / University of Tartu



Maksim Gorki, Betti Alver, Heiti Talvik, Eesti sovetiseerimine, vene-eesti tõlkimise ajalugu, Maksim Gorky, Sovetisation of Estonia, Russian-Estonian translation history


Artiklis vaadeldakse Maksim Gorki eestindusi nende ajaloolises kontekstis ja tuuakse välja põhimõttelised erinevused 20. sajandi alguse tõlgete ja varaste nõukogudeaegsete tõlgete vahel. Need erinevused on tingitud esiteks rahvusliku tõlketeooria kujunemisest Eestis 1920.–1930. aastatel, teisalt avaldas olulist mõju Gorki kirjanikustaatuse muutumine tuntud Euroopa kirjanikust nõukogude klassikuks. Betti Alveri tõlgitud Gorki „Lapsepõlve“ (1946) võrdlus tema abikaasa Heiti Talviku sama jutustuse esimese osa tõlkekatsetusega võimaldab detailselt jälgida uue tõlkekaanoni kujunemist Eestis.


In 1946 the tenth anniversary of the death of Maxim Gorky was celebrated in the Soviet Union. A number of celebratory events were organised in Estonia in connection with this date, including the planned release of the first Soviet translations of Gorky’s works into Estonian. It was not Mother or some other “programmatic” work of Gorky’s that was chosen to serve as this representative translation, but, rather, his autobiographic trilogy (My Childhood, In the World, My Universities), which is most telling as regards the formation of an ideologically orthodox Soviet myth about Gorky in a new cultural space. The trilogy represented a sort of hagiography of the main Soviet writer, and it was meant to be accessible to any resident of the newly Soviet country in a language they could understand.

            Betti Alver, who would later become one of Estonia’s most interesting and influential female poets, completed the translation of the entire trilogy. However, the original translation contract was signed not with Alver, but with her husband Heiti Talvik. Talvik, however, did not manage to finish the work on the translations due to his deportation to Siberia in May 1945, where he died, apparently in July 1947. The contract for My Childhood was renegotiated with Betti Alver – immediately after her husband’s deportation. Talvik had managed to translated only several pages of the first chapter of My Childhood.

            This article demonstrates in detail that Alver’s translation was not merely a continuation of her husband’s work, but, rather, assumed a particular personal meaning (which was especially important in a situation where she had no news of Talvik, and working on the translation was the only possible form of dialogue with him). Alver’s use of the work her husband completed testifies to the way in which she entered a unique “dialogue” with him: she did not discard that work, yet did not copy it either. Rather, she made some – not numerous, but meaningful – corrections. The article demonstrates the difference in the two translators’ strategies on the basis of those corrections.

            The comparison of the two translations becomes even more interesting due to the fact that Talvik’s translation – despite the modest amount of his completed work – very clearly demonstrates his translation strategy. First and foremost, this lies in a commitment to high precision and literal translation – especially with regard to syntax and punctuation (Gorky uses a full arsenal of punctuation marks, and Talvik carefully preserves all his ellipses, semicolons and dashes, maintains the length of sentences and tries to retain the number and order of words to the extent possible). The second particularity of Talvik’s translation is the interiorisation of the source text by the receiving culture, which demonstrates his allegiance to the pre-Soviet tradition of the reception of Gorky in Estonian (Gorky was first translated into Estonian at the end of the 1890s; this article provides a short analysis of the very first translation, that of Gorky’s short story “Kirilka”, and demonstrates its main features, one of which is the translator’s attempt to translate the language of the main character, a Russian peasant woman, using Estonian dialectisms).

            Meanwhile, Betti Alver’s translation is characterised by opposite tendencies. First and foremost, she seeks to erase the gap that exists between the hero of the autobiography and the adult narrator, electing to use the narrator’s objective point of view. Such a strategy of translation was in line with the official, early-Soviet interpretation of Gorky’s autobiographical prose, which held that My Childhood was, first and foremost, a large-scale epic “about the oppressive horrors of life”, and the lyrical opening of the story was declared to be virtually absent. The analysis of specific examples provided in this article demonstrates the translator’s aspiration to smoothen and neutralise, rather than emphasise, the style of the source text. She sought to make the text to be understood more easily in the new culture and more convenient for the Estonian reader, which is especially evident in contrast with the preserved draft of Talvik’s translation – Talvik’s work was characterised by heightened attention to the stylistic experiments of the original. This article emphasises the fact that the change to a new translation paradigm took place literally during work on a single text. The confrontation of these two paradigms is visible in My Childhood: Talvik was still thinking within the framework of the Estonian translation culture in the 1920–30s, according to which the goal of translation was to enrich the readesr with the cultural particularities of the original, to educate them. Meanwhile, Alver’s work clearly belongs to a new era, in which the main task was not cultural enrichment, but, rather, the preservation of the Estonian language, even in translated texts.

            At the same time, all of the tendencies noted in Alver’s translation also correspond to unvoiced attitudes in the theory of Soviet translation that was forming at the time: a “smooth”, homogenised style – without linguistic experimentation and meant to be convenient for the receiving culture – replaced literalism, which had been branded as a manifestation of formalism in translation. Such an approach also suited with the Soviet view of Gorky, which detached the work of the “Soviet classic” from Modernist culture with its linguistic experiments in prose, expressionism and subjectivism.


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Author Biography

Maria Borovikova, Tartu Ülikool / University of Tartu

Maria Borovikova – PhD, Tartu Ülikooli slavistika osakonna projekti assistent. Peamiste teaduslike huvide hulgas on 20. sajandi vene kirjandus, vene kirjanduse retseptsioon filmikunstis, eesti-vene kultuuridevahelised kontaktid.

Maria Borovikova – PhD, Assistant researcher, Department of Slavic Studies, University of Tartu. Her research interests include 20th century Russian literature, film adaptation of Russian literature, Estonian-Russian intercultural contacts.