At the University of Texas I took a Tolstoy course, and for that class we read War and Peace and Anna K both (I tell my fellow teachers this today and they are stunned: they don’t believe undergraduates are capable of reading (or are willing to read) two large books in a semester—or even one large book). It was a wonderful class—one of the best I ever had.
But—we were reading the Norton Critical Editions, translated by Aylmer and Louise Maude. The translation bothered me: they anglicized most of the names. Andrei Bolkonsky became Andrew Bolkonsky—his sister Marie, Mary. Nikolai Rostov became Nicholas—but his sister Natasha stayed Natasha. Pierre also stayed Pierre. This bothered me a lot. It was confusing. And the prose seemed kind of dry and labored.
Still, I read this book over and over through the years—seven, eight, nine times, something like that—until the binding broke and it fell apart. Later, when I was driving a cab, I picked up a used copy of the Rosemary Edmonds translation, and I read that a time or two.
So, I have a history with this book. When the new translation by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky came out, I got a copy, hoping that I could convince someone in power to let me teach a Tolstoy class. (I didn’t). I read through some favorite sections, but I never got around to actually reading the new translation in its entirety, until now….