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 »  Articles Overview  »  Art of Translation and Interpreting  »  Literature and Poetry  »  Consciousness in Translation - Part One

Consciousness in Translation - Part One

By Henry Schroeder | Published  03/11/2007 | Literature and Poetry | Recommendation:
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Henry Schroeder
niemiecki > angielski translator
Członek od: Oct 22, 2002.
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Consciousness in Translation

Henry Whittlesey

(A more readable and completely formatted version is available on request)

Part One: Modes of Rendering Consciousness in Russian and English Literature


Verbs in the preterite and pluperfect shape nearly the entire narrated text of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Yet much of this same narrated text in Russian appears in the present tense. This curious development is not a mistake on the part of the translator, but reflects the different approaches to both narrated monologue/free indirect style and indirect experience/oblique speech in Russian as well as English.

Direct discourse, indirect experience and oblique speech (oratorio oblique) along with all forms of interior monologue do not require any transposition in Russian. (1) This development leaves wide swaths of Russian stories in the present tense where they would take the preterite in English. Direct discourse excepted, an epic English narrative like A Portrait tells almost exclusively in the preterite and pluperfect because the verbs shift back one tense in the aforementioned instances of indirect experience, oblique speech and interior monologue. (2) A Portrait in English and in translation consequently reveals a thoroughly dissimilar temporal structure on account of grammatical rules.

Narration and the communication of inner lives in Russian literature primarily adheres to this pattern:

Narrative report (3) => Past tense
Indirect experience and oblique speech (4) => No transposition of verbs
Narrated monologue (5) => No transposition of verbs
Quoted monologue (6) => No transposition of verbs
(Silent) direct discourse => No transposition of verbs

The text of an epic (7) English novel unfolds according to the following pattern:

Narrative report => Past tense
Indirect experience and oblique speech => Transposition of verbs
Narrated monologue => Transposition of verbs
Quoted monologue => No transposition of verbs
(Silent) direct discourse => No transposition of verbs

This outline illustrates that Russian and English literature apply the same tense for direct discourse and quoted monologue. The narrative report also retains largely the same tense in both languages, though their congruence depends somewhat on the frequency of indirect experience and oblique speech in narration. Finally the conspicuous lack of transposition for all Russian verbs of inner life (indirect experience, oratorio oblique, interior monologue) dictates the seemingly identical appearance of narrated and quoted monologue in the eastern Slavic language. It is for these reasons that English books with extensive narrated monologue have a very different temporal structure in Russian. At the same time, however, Russian narratives with frequent interior monologue do not tend to evince a different temporal structure in English.

I. The Narrative Report, Indirect Experience and Oblique Speech

A narrative report from nineteenth century Russian literature offers an account of events and a description of scenes in the epic preterite. Its tense does not change in translation. The report is then embellished in part by exposing the internal experiences of the characters:

Еще как только Кити в слезах вышла из комнаты, Доли с своею материнскою, семейною привычкой тотчас же увидала... (АК, 124) (8)

Experiential verbs such as увидать (see) embellish the narrative report and reveal these internal events. Where the revelation involves a dependent clause, the verb does not undergo transposition:

... что тут предстоит женское дело... (АК, 124; emphasis added)

The transition from the past in the main clause to the present in the dependent clause is completely natural in Russian. The English translation retains the naturalness of the narrative report by doing the opposite and transposing the verb:

When Kitty left the room in tears, Dolly, with her motherly family habit of mind, saw at once that there was woman’s work to be done... (Tr. AK, 129; emphasis added) (9)

Transposition is not unique to translation. Creating a similar sentence in a non-translated work, an English or American writer would invariably have a past tense verb in a similar dependent clause. A Portrait shows this practice:

Stephen, raising his terror-stricken face, saw that his father’s eyes were full of tears. (Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, 29; emphasis added) (10)

In turn the Russian translation of such sentences shifts from the preterite to the present in the dependent clause so the text reads like Tolstoy’s:

Стивен, подняв побелевшее от ужаса лицо, увидел, что глаза отца полны слез.» (Портрет художника в юности, 51; emphasis added) (11)

This rule applies not just to seeing, but to all indirect experience: seeing, hearing, feeling, smelling, knowing, wondering, etc. (12) At no point does transposition emerge on the literary textscape of Russian indirect experience.

The two languages also make no distinction between indirect experience and oblique speech. Both require transposition in English and none in Russian. Otherwise known as oratorio oblique and psycho narration, oblique speech refracts a discourse through the consciousness of a character. Its defining feature consists in the staging words (tell, think, say) that introduce it and are largely identical to the ones used for direct discourse. This indirect discourse however is not generally separated from the narrative body by quotation marks or other signal words; and its English form clothes itself in transformed verbs. If Mrs. Smith were to speak directly in Persuasion, her speech would resemble this:

“…There was a time,” Mrs. Smith said, “when my spirits nearly failed. I cannot call myself an invalid now, compared with my state on first reaching Bath. Then I was indeed a pitiable object…”

Yet Anne Elliot’s consciousness relays Mrs. Smith's words to the reader:

…There had been a time, Mrs. Smith told her, when her spirits had nearly failed. She could not call herself an invalid now, compared with her state on first reaching Bath. Then she had indeed been a pitiable object... (Persuasion, 145) (13)

The staging word tell coupled with a shift in tense indicates the oblique speech. In English it is this arrangement that highlights the shift inward, away from the realm of neutral conversation and toward the psyche of Anne Elliot.

Russian pursues the same aim by another means. It does not transpose verbs in oblique speech just as it does not for internal experience. Verbs expressing the thoughts and speech of a character remain in the tense that would be used in direct discourse. The only alteration is the removal of the quotation marks. The resemblance between the two modes is striking. Here are Anna’s direct thoughts just before she commits suicide:

«Да, о чем я последнем так хорошо думала? – старалась вспомнить она. – Тютькин, coiffeur? Нет, не то. Да, про то, одно, что связывает людей. Нет, вы напрасно едете, - мысленно обратилась она к компании в коляске четверней, которая, очевидно, ехала веселиться за город. – И собака, которую вы везете с собой, не поможет вам. От себя ен уйдете». Кинув взгляд в ту сторону, куда оборачивался Петр, она увидала полумертвопьяного фабричного... (АК, 747)

And here is the oblique speech (thought) of Paka in Sologub’s story In Bondage (В плену):

Счастливые мальчики! – подумал Пака. – Сильные, смелые. Ноги у них босые, загорелые. Должно быть, они простые мальчики. Но, все-таки, счастливые. Уж лучше быть простым мальчиком на воле, чем принцем в плену. (В плену, 240) (14)

Only the quotation marks have been removed. And no transposition takes place. Essentially there is no formal difference between what Anna and Paka think to themselves except that Tolstoy sets such thoughts apart with quotation marks and Sologub integrates the passage into the narrative report. In English the differences would be more prominent, with Tolstoy’s speech in quotation marks being translated without transposition (primarily in the present and future), while Paka's thoughts would be transposed to the past tense.

It is these rules governing oblique speech and indirect experience along with different approaches to interior monologue that produce the difference in tense between the Russian and English versions of A Portrait, Persuasion, In Bondage, Anna Karenina and other narratives. While there seems to be a consensus on the translation of narrative reports, indirect experience and oblique speech, with even adherents of the literal method of translation (e.g. Volokhonsky and Pevear) transposing such passages, no such unanimity exits in the case of interior monologue. (15)

The translation of interior monologue, from Russian into English raises questions and meets with a range of theoretical and practical problems. Not only have translators and critics addressed this issue sporadically at best, but there is also little acknowledgment that the subject involves consideration, interpretation and partially the application of basic grammatical rules in English. The most interesting aspect is the favoring of quoted monologue over narrated monologue. The greatest peculiarity appears to be forced or determined inconsistency. And a fairly startling outcome is the prominent existence of a participating authorial narrator in Russian. In general, however, an English translator can make a conscious and generally unimpeded decision about the preferred mode for interior monologue, whereas their Russian counterpart must transpose such discourse.

II. Narrated Monologue

Narrated monologue is characterized by its difference from standard narration and the seamless junction between itself and the narrative report. (Cohn, 102-3) Tense and person separate it from quoted monologue, the absence of mental verbs (s/he thought, s/he said to him/herself) separates it from silent direct speech (psycho-narration). (Cohn, 104) When narrated monologue began to be woven into the narration of novels and stories, it ended up taking the past tense in English and the present tense in Russian. A Portrait offers a classic example of narrated monologue in English literature:

The fellows all were silent. Stephen stood among them, afraid to speak, listening. A faint sickness of awe made him feel weak. How could they have done that? He thought of the dark silent sacristy. There were dark wooden presses there where the crimped surplices lay quietly folded. It was not the chapel, but still you had to speak under your breath. It was a holy place. He remembered the summer evening he had been there to be dressed as boatbearer, the evening of the procession to the little altar in the wood. (PA, 29-30)

Narration and thought run together in this passage from A Portrait. Stephen describes the situation and then indirectly his literal thoughts: It is not the chapel, but still you have to speak under your breath. It is a holy place. The merging of narration and thought is subtle in English on account of both forms having the same tense. Joyce’s (narrator) cannot be grasped as a separate entity within the text. His most striking characteristic is, in fact, that he is ungraspably chameleonic. (Cohn, 30) For Russian translators this ambiguity forces them to decide whose voice is speaking.

In Russian the distinction is much clearer. Narrated monologue in the present tense and a narrative report in the past make it hardly possible to oversee some kind of transition:

...Пака почувствовал новую для него досаду. Новые желания томили его. Знал, что эти желания неисполнимы. Учвствовал себя несчастным и обиженным.
Хотелось уйти из этого чинного дома в широкое вольное поле, и там играть с ребятишками. Быть на реке, войти в воду.
Вон там, внизу, у речки какие-то мальчики, - ловят рыбу, кричат что-то радостное. Право, лучше им живется, чем Паке. И почему доля его столь отлична от доли этих вольных и веселых детей? (ВП, 241)

The narrator reports that Paka is annoyed, is tormented by longing, wants to leave home, whereas someone’s consciousness recounts how the boys are fishing by the river, shouting, enjoying life, etc.. But whose consciousness is it? Do the thoughts belong to a reflector character like Stephen or a teller character outside the story, a figure similar to the author? (16) This distinction is critical for a clue into the appropriate translation of the Russian interior monologue. If the narrator is a teller character, then he could be the author appearing briefly in the guise of a reflector character, and untransposed interior monologue can be attributed to this authorial figure. (17) But if this narrator follows in the tradition of Stephen, i.e. a reflector character, a potentially unreliable narrator, then any interior monologue refers back to the protagonist as narrator.

Whereas in English it can be problematic to differentiate between the narrator in the narrative report and someone’s consciousness in narrated monologue; Russian practice complicates the differentiation between the modes of rendering consciousness. In Transparent Minds Cohen describes the demarcation between narrated monologue and the other techniques for rendering consciousness as generally easy to draw. (Cohn 104) Yet, in Russian, there is often little or no linguistic criteria for distinguishing between narrated monologue and quoted monologue. When this is the case, a translator has to analyze and sometimes choose between the two English forms of monologue.

III. Quoted Monologue

The resemblance of quoted monologue to direct discourse defines this mode of communicating a character’s thoughts. This inner discourse is no longer separated from its third-person context either by introductory phrases or by graphic signs of any kind. (Cohn, 62) It is integrated into the narrative report, often through inquit phrases or sentence fragments announcing the change in perspective. In some cases the narrative report situates the protagonist and the quoted monologue in the narrative sphere. (Vogt, 183) Here is a passage of that kind from Ulysses:

Mr. Bloom admired the caretaker’s prosperous bulk. All want to be on good terms with him. Decent fellow, John O’Connell, real good sort. Keys: like Keyes’s ad: no fear of anyone getting out, no passout checks. Habeat corpus. I must see about that ad after the funeral. Did I write Ballsbridge on the envelope I took to cover when she disturbed me writing to Martha? Hope it’s not chucked in the dead letter office. Be the better of a shave. Grey sprouting beard. That’s the first sign when the hairs come out grey. (Ulysses, 135-6)

The first sentence explains the narrative situation, what Bloom is doing as he relays his subsequent thoughts. The inquit phrase Decent fellow, John O’Connell, real good sort… then marks the transition to Bloom’s interior monologue, which continues in the untransposed tense of quoted monologue.

Because Russian does not transpose the verbs in any form of interior monologue, characters invariably express their unspoken thoughts in a mode similar to direct discourse, but without the staging words. The form these thoughts take strongly resembles quoted monologue in English. Examples from The Master and Margarita illustrate the similarities:

Passage 1:
И тут знойный воздух сгустился перед ним, и соткался из этого воздуха прозрачный гражданин престранного вида. На маленькой головке жокейский картузик, клетчатый кургузый воздушный же пиджачок... Гражданин ростом в сажень, но в плечах узок, худ неимоверно, и физиономия, прошу заметить, глумливая.
Жизнь Берлиоза складывалась так, что к необыкновенным явлениям он не привык.... (Мастер и Маргарита, 6) (18)

Passage 2:
И опять передернуло Берлиоза. Откуда же сумасшедший знает о существовании киевского дяди? Ведь об этом ни в каких газетах, уж наверно, ничего не сказано. Эге-ге, уж не прав ли Бездомный? А ну как документы эти липовые? Ах, до чего странный субъект... Звонить, звонить! Сейчас же звонить! Его быстро разъяснять! (Мастер и Маргарита, 46)

The first passage has a description of Voland that interrupts a narrative exclusively told in the preterite up to that point. While it is unclear whether these thoughts belong to the reflector character Berlioz, as the subsequent paragraph suggests, or a teller character such as the Master or the author at the time of writing (as the larger context suggests), the narrative shift to the present tense indicates clearly that some character is communicating their thoughts like Bloom. This is even clearer in the second passage, where the narrator situates the thoughts of Berlioz in the outside world and then describes them. There are no signs or verba credendi to distinguish narration from monologue, yet the past-tense narrative report coupled with the present-tense thoughts make the passage a classic example of interior monologue in Russian.


No mode for reporting consciousness in Russian epic narratives requires the transposition of verbs. Such passages remain in the same tense as they would in direct discourse. On the one hand this practice clearly distinguishes between consciousness and narration due to the change in tense; on the other it blurs the boundaries between the different forms of reported speech. In English the situation is quite different. There the line of demarcation between the various modes for communicating consciousness is staked out, but the one between the narrative report and narrated monologue is murky. The following part will look at the translation of Russian interior monologue into English. This general study will then delve into a detailed analysis of each mode for rendering consciousness.

(1) Transposition refers to the practice of shifting verbs back one-tense or using the subjunctive mood for reported discourse. Indirect experience is the expression of something related to the five senses, i.e. felt, seen, heard, smelt, and verbs of apprehension such as wondered, astonished, etc.; oblique speech is indirect discourse following they said that, they thought that (they would go...). Narrated monologue a la Cohn is considered here to be synonymous with free indirect style. Interior monologue signifies a generic term encompassing the two English modes of communicating consciousness: narrated monologue and quoted monologue (again according to Cohn)
(2) The terms are in part derived from Jochen Vogt, Aspekte erzählender Prosa. (Westdeutscher Verlag GmbH, Opladen/Wiesbaden, 1998). See in particular pp. 162-164 and 179-186. The English terms are cited by Vogt from Dorrit Cohn, primarily Transparent Minds.
(3) Used and explained later according to Jochen Vogt, Aspekte erzählender Prosa (Westdeutscher Verlag GmbH, Opladen/Wiesbaden, 1998): 164
(4) Vogt, 143-148
(5) Used and explained later according to Dorrit Cohn, Transparent Minds (Princeton University Press, Princeton, 1978): 13-14. The Russian language makes no distinction between the English-based narrated monologue and quoted monologue. Their description in this article as interior monologue means to subsume them under one heading. See Footnote 1.
(6) IBID, 12-13
(7) Past-tense
(8) Лев Толстой, Анна Каренина (ЭКСМО, Москва: 2006).
(9) Quoting the Pevear and Volokhonsky translation. Lev Tolstoy, Anna Karenina (Penguin Book, New York: 2001).
(10) Joyce, James. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (Hertfordshire: Wordsworth, 1992). Hereafter abbreviated as PA
(11) Джойс, Джеймс. Портрет художника в юности. Tr. М. Богословская (Санкт-Петербург: Азбука, 2000) Hereafter abbreviated as ПХ
(12) In Persuasion Jane Austen offers myriad passages that demonstrate this: “And so much was said in this way, that Anne thought she could not do better than impart among them the general inclination to which she was privy...” (114); “She knew who had been frequenting Uppercross.” (115) “She felt that she could so much more depend upon the sincerity of those who sometimes looked or said a careless or hasty thing…” (151) All citations from: Jane Austen, Persuasion: London, Penguin Books, 1998.
(13) Hereafter abbreviated as P
(14) Hereafter abbreviated as ВП. Cited from: Gleb Struve Ed., Russian Stories (New York, Dover Publications, Inc. 1989).
(15) Nabokov (Invitation to a Beheading; Eugene Onegin), Natasha Randall (We), Maguire and Malmstad (Petersburg), Gleb Struve (Russian Stories) among all other translators retain the past tense in dependent clauses of the kind described here.
(16) Franz Stanzel’s terminology. See ex. Franz K. Stanzel, “Second Thoughts on ‘Narrative Situations in the Novel’: Towards a ‘Grammar of Fiction’,” NOVEL: A Forum on Fiction, Vol. 11, No. 3 (Spring, 1978) pp. 247-264.
(17) See discussion of Mansfield’s The Garden Party: Frank K. Stanzel, "Teller-Characters and Reflector-Characters in Narrative Theory," Poetics Today Vol. 2, No. 2, Narratology, pp. 12-13. This subject will recur in part four.
(18) Булгаков, Михаил. Мастер и Маргарита (Санкт-Петербург: Издательство «Азбука-классика», 2006).

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