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The Little Tragedies

The Little Tragedies

Translated, with Critical Essays, by Nancy K. Anderson
Copyright Date: 2000
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 246
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  • Book Info
    The Little Tragedies
    Book Description:

    In a major burst of creativity, Russian poet Alexander Pushkin during just three months in 1830 completedEugene Onegin,composed more than thirty lyric poems, wrote several short stories and folk tales, and penned the four short dramas in verse that comprise the "little tragedies." The "little tragedies" stand among the great masterpieces of Russian literature, yet they were last translated into English a quarter-century ago and have in recent years been out of print entirely. In this outstanding new translation, Nancy K. Anderson preserves the cadence and intensity of Pushkin's work while aligning it with today's poetic practices and freer approach to metrics. In addition she provides critical essays examining each play in depth, a discussion of her approach to translating the plays, and a consideration of the genre of these dramatic pieces and their performability.The four "little tragedies"-Mozart and Salieri,The Miserly Knight,The Stone Guest,andA Feast During the Plague-are extremely compressed dialogues, each dealing with a dominant protagonist whose central internal conflict determines both the plot and structure of the play. Pushkin focuses on human passions and the interplay between free will and fate: though each protagonist could avoid self-ruin, instead he freely chooses it.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-13046-1
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-9)

    IF ONE ASKED a Russian to name Russia’s greatest writer, the unhesitating reply would be not Dostoevsky or Tolstoy but Pushkin. Yet an English-speaking reader who is not a Slavist probably knows little of Pushkin’s work beyondEugene Onegin—if, indeed, he or she recognizes the name of Pushkin at all. Thus, a translation of Pushkin’s “little tragedies” to the English-speaking public requires a few words placing the work in its context.

    The “little tragedies” is the name traditionally given to the collection of Pushkin’s four short dramas in verse,The Miserly Knight, Mozart and Salieri, The Stone Guest,and...

  5. The Little Tragedies in English: An Approach
    (pp. 10-34)

    NONE OF PUSHKIN’S is so well known to English speakers as it should be, but the “little tragedies” are particularly underrepresented. In contrast to, for example,Eugene Onegin,of which several fairly good translations are available in English, translations of the “little tragedies” are few and frequently do not include all four plays.¹ The reason translators largely avoid these works, I believe, is because of the difficulty in handlingwhat in modern English literature is a completely disused genre, the drama in blank verse. T. S. Eliot, who strove to revive the the form in his plays (Murder in the Cathedral,...


    • The Miserly Knight
      (pp. 37-54)

      Albert: No matter what it costs, I shall appear

      At the tournament. Show me my helmet, John.

      (John gives him the helmet.)

      It’s pierced through, spoiled. It can’t possibly

      Be repaired. I’ ll have to get a new one.

      What a hit! That damned Count Delorge!

      John: And you paid him back and then some:

      When you knocked him from his saddle,

      He lay a whole day as if dead—and probably

      Hasn’t recovered yet. Albert: Still, he lost nothing by it;

      His breastplate of Venetian steel is whole,

      And his chest’s his own; it costs him nothing;

      He won’t...

    • Mozart and Salieri
      (pp. 55-65)

      Salieri: They say there’s no justice here on earth,

      But there’s no justice higher up, either. To me

      That’s as clear and simple as do-re-mi.

      I was born with a love for art;

      When I was a child, when up on high

      The organ’s notes echoed in our old church,

      I listened and was spellbound—I wept,

      Sweet tears flowed against my will. Early I refused all idle amusements;

      To know anything other than music was

      Hateful to me; stubbornly and proudly

      I denied all else and gave myself up

      To music alone. The first steps were hard

      And the...

    • The Stone Guest
      (pp. 66-94)

      Don Juan: We’ll wait for nightfall here. At long last

      We’ve reached the walls of Madrid! Soon

      I’ll be dashing through the well-known streets,

      My cape covering my chin and my hat, my eyes.

      What do you think? Could I be recognized?

      Leporello: Oh yeah, it’s tough to recognize Don Juan!

      There’s a swarm of men like him!

      Don Juan: Are you kidding?

      Who’s going to recognize me? Leporello: The first watchman,

      Some gypsy girl or drunken street-musician,

      Or one of your own kind, some swaggering lord

      With a sword at his side and wearing a cape.

      Don Juan: So...

    • A Feast During the Plague
      (pp. 95-104)

      Young Man: Mr. Chair man! I call to mind

      Someone whom we all know well,

      A man whose jokes and funny stories,

      Witty retorts and observations,

      So biting in their mock pomposity,

      Have enlivened our table talk

      And driven away the gloom that now

      The plague, our guest, is shedding

      Over the most brilliant minds.

      Two days ago our laughter crowned His stories; it isn’t possible

      That in our merry feasting we should

      Forget Jackson. Here’s his chair,

      Sitting empty, as if waiting for

      A good companion—but he’s gone away

      To a cold lodging underground . . .



    • The Seduction of Power: The Miserly Knight
      (pp. 107-130)

      THE THEME OF inner conflict that dominates all the “little tragedies” is evident in the very title of the first of them,The Miserly Knight.Traditionally, the miser thinks of nothing but holding on to and increasing his hoard of money. Nothing distracts him from his own self-interest, which he understands in the narrowest possible terms. By contrast, in theory if not in practice, a knight was a supremely disinterested figure, someone who applied his strength, not to advancing himself, but to defending worthy causes or protecting the weak. In his eyes, selfishness or cowardice or lack of integrity was...

    • Betrayal of a Calling: Mozart and Salieri
      (pp. 131-155)

      THE PLOT OFMozart and Salieriwas suggested to Pushkin by a persistent though unfounded rumor that Mozart died as the result of poison administered by a rival composer, Antonio Salieri. In an undated note, apparently from 1832, Pushkin wrote: “At the premiere ofDon Giovanni,when the whole theater, filled with astounded music lovers, was hushed, in toxicated by Mozart’s harmonies, a whistle [of derision] was heard—everyone turned in indignation, and the celebrated Salieri stalked out of the hall—in a fury, consumed by envy. . . . The envier who could whistle at Don Giovanni could poison...

    • The Weight of the Past: The Stone Guest
      (pp. 156-181)

      THE STONE GUEST has aroused far more controversy, expressed in more extreme terms, than any other of Pushkin’s dramatic works. As if to echo Doña Anna’s question to Don Juan—“Who knows you?”—radically different interpretations of his character have been offered. For Blagoy, Don Juan is a “Mozartean” figure, radiant and life-loving, boldly challenging the gloomy, death-haunted world of medieval Spain:

      Living, turbulent, triumphant life, personified in the figure of Don Juan, is constantly overshadowed by a “gloomy vision” —the persistently arising specter of death. . . . But life not only constantly appears in the play side by...

    • Survival and Memory: A Feast During the Plague
      (pp. 182-197)

      ONE IS TEMPTED to say thatA Feast During the Plaguecould be more descriptively entitledA Debate During the Plague.Its characters do not simply give themselves up to revelry as a means of forgetting about their own danger, like the storytellers of Boccaccio’sDecameron.Rather, their thoughts constantly return to a single question: what is the response of an individual to a catastrophe that has enveloped the community as a whole but he or she personally has so far escaped? Is it possible to save oneself by turning one’s back on the doomed community, or does one’s own...

  8. Commentary
    (pp. 198-212)

    THE “MACRO” problems involved in translating the “little tragedies,” such as metrics or finding the right tone for a character’s speech, have been discussed above. In addition, however, there are a number of “micro” problems—that is, difficulties in translating an individual word or phrase, whether because the Russian has overtones not reproducible in English, or because there are alternative translations for each of which a case could be made, or because avoiding a construction which would be clumsy in English required taking some liberty in translation. What follows is a list of what I considered the most interesting or...

  9. Notes
    (pp. 213-220)
  10. Select Bibliography
    (pp. 221-224)
  11. Index
    (pp. 225-227)
  12. Back Matter
    (pp. 228-228)