Thursday, 9 February 2017

The Quirks of Translation

Vladimir Nabokov published his memoir ‘Conclusive Evidence’ in 1951 and in 1954 completed the Russian translation.

In Lauren Collins memoir ‘When in French’, she describes the difficulty with translation, quoting Nabokov’s descriptions of the toilet in the family home at Bolshaya Morskaya 47 in St. Petersburg.

Photographs (below) of the Nabokov mansion on Bolshaya Morskaya c1900 and today

In ‘Conclusive Evidence’, Nabokov wrote that the toilet was “...casually situated in a narrow recess between a wicker hamper and the door leading to the nursery bathroom...”.

Plan (below) of the 3rd floor 

In the translation of the Russian edition, he describes the toilet as “...between a wicker hamper with a lid (how immediately I remember its creaking)!...” And he continues with new details: “...a stained glass window with ornate designs of two halberdiers constructed from colorful rectangles, a floating thermometer, a celluloid swan, a toy skiff...”.

In 1966, Vladimir Nabokov published ‘Speak, Memory’, a “ of a Russian re-version of what had been an English re-telling of Russian memories in the first place...”. The thermometer vanished but the halberdiers remained.

Photographs (below) of the Interior of Bolshaya Morskaya 47 


Boudoir and its bay window on Bolshaya Morskaya


  1. Very interesting post! Your blog is amazing! I am very interested in the Romanov dynasty, as well as architecture. I read Prince Felix Yussupov's memoir "Lost Splendor" and was absolutely fascinated. It reminded me a lot of my country (Egypt)'s noble aristocracy and their lifestyle before the monarchy was abolished after 1953. I was wondering, do you know of any smaller estates, farms, or dachas belonging to either the Imperial family or a noble house? Any small sort of resthouse or bungalow? And would you know where I can find floor plans of it? Any information would be greatly appreciated!

  2. This is a fabulous blog - Joanna, you have so much information to share with everyone. This blog portrays the imperial life with interesting and varied accounts of daily living rather than staid room descriptions. You are so knowledgeable. Thank you for all you do.

  3. In response to Comte De Matanya's comment above:

    A few smaller places:

    Peterhof - the Cottage, the Farm Palace and the Lower Dacha. The Imperial family did not stay in the Peterhof Palace but preferred to stay in the smaller and more intimate buildings.

    Outside Moscow - Illinskoe, the estate of GD Sergei & GD Elizabeth
    - Brassova, the large dacha style estate of GD Mikhail, the younger brother of Nicholas II

    Livadia - before the New Palace was built in 1912 there were several smaller palaces or dachas. Some remain today and others were demolished.

    Spala in Poland

  4. I love the pictures of Nabokov's house. The last picture shows the bay window looking out across the street at a building that is next door to the hotel (only the top floor; the lower floors were huge renovated private apartments) that I happily stayed at. The exterior pictures (first 2) show the bay window jutting over the street. It is a wonderful museum today.