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

Consciousness in Translation - Part Four

By Henry Schroeder | Published  12/5/2007 | Literature and Poetry | Recommendation:
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Henry Schroeder
United States
German to English translator
Sar/Saret membru: Oct 22, 2002.
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Part Four: Translating Consciousness as Narrated Monologue

Henry Whittlesey

Introduction: Relationship of Interior Monologue to Narration in Russian and English

Russian literature does not have two modes for interior monologue and barely contains any monologue at all until the twentieth century. What monologue there is, as in eighteenth century English literature, largely comes in the form of commentary by the narrator. Such monologues or commentary differ in Russia to some extent in that the narrator does not generally discuss the plot or creation of the story, but rather some detail within it (Dostoevsky excepted). This practice follows in the footsteps of authors such as Gogol, whose narrator breaks off the story of Dead Souls almost immediately to comment:
Какие бывают эти общие залы – всякий проезжающий знает очень хорошо: те же стены... (Гогол, 12; emphasis added)

This monologue cannot be attributed to any individual character. It is the narrator speaking directly to the reader about a subject they all know: these common rooms. This commentary dramatizes the narrative report by eschewing standard preterit description for colloquial discourse in the reader’s idiom.
An early instance of monologue in the realist novel appears in Oblomov. Goncharov continues in the tradition of the omniscient narrator with commentary , but tosses an interior thought or expression into his characters’ mind on occasion:
Илья Ильич проснулся, против обыкновения, очень рано, часов в восемь. Он чем-то сильно озабочен. На лице у него попеременно вступал не то страх, не то тоска и досада. (Гончарев, 42)

The highlighted sentence marks a shift in the narration: Ilya Ilich woke up very early, at eight o’clock, and he thinks something. The thinking is identified by the shift to the present tense. His thoughts make up one sentence, ere the narrator returns to telling the story. Contrary to the present in Gogol, however, the present here indicates that Ilya Ilich was very concerned about something, not the narrator.
Ivan Bunin’s stories occasionally descend from the heights of omniscient storytelling into the minds of his characters too. A staging word transitions the perspective in this case:
Дверь в сенцы была отворена, но чувствовалось, что дом пуст. Верно, скотину убирают, подумал он и, разогнувшись, посмотрел в поле: не ехать ли дальше? (Бунин, 23)

The narrator of Styopa gradually works his way up to fullblown interior monologue: first with a verb of internal experience (чувствовалось) that produces the initial shift in tense. Then continuing in the tense of the later dependent clause by inserting a staging word (подумал) which signals unmarked oblique thought. And finally the character looks across the field and thinks in untransposed words, indicating his interior monologue: не ехать ли дальше.
Two English translators have formulated this passage quite differently, with the contemporary Hettlinger ostensibly expanding the role of the narrator:
The front door stood open to a small corridor that joined the owner’s quarters with the guest room, but the entire building seemed to be deserted. “Must have gone to get the cattle in,” he thought as he turned and looked at the field, wondering if he shouldn’t drive farther. (Bunin, Tr. Hettlinger, 125)
The door into the hall stood open, but one felt that the house was empty. Probably they are putting away the cattle, he thought, and turning round he looked towards the fields; should he drive on? (Bunin, Tr. Hare, 33) (1)

Hettlinger’s verb of internal experience (seemed) creates a smooth transition to another tense, which becomes tagged thought in the present (with quotation marks). The narrator then situates the thought and describes the protagonist’s further thoughts at this time, again via a verb of internal experience. On the other hand, Hare jars the reader with an abrupt jump from the transposed tense following the internal experience (felt), does not mark the dialogue and replaces the colon introducing the interior monologue with a semicolon indicating the thought’s isolation from its thinker. The question should he drive on? hangs limply at the end of the paragraph. (2) Furthermore, he combines direct discourse (what he thought) with transposed narrated monologue (should he drive on?). (3) The primary effect of these decisions is the loss of interiority in general and the strengthening of the role and authority of the narrator, especially in the Hettlinger translation. (4)
These isolated instances of interior monologue occasionally perforate the omniscient narration of many Russian classics, but never form a major structural component of the overall text. Such an approach to narration stands in stark contrast to Jane Austen’s work, where the workings of the mind bare themselves to the reader:
Mrs. Dashwood and her daughters were met at the door of the house by Sir John, who welcomed them to Barton Park with unaffected sincerity; and as he attended them to the drawing room repeated to the young ladies the concern which the same subject had drawn from him the day before, at being unable to get any smart young gentleman there besides himself; a particular friend who was staying at the park, but who was neither very young nor very gay. He hoped they would all excuse the smallness of the party, and could assure them it should never happen so again. He had been to several families that morning in hopes of procuring some addition to their number, but it was moonlight and every body was full of engagements. Luckily Lady Middleton’s mother had arrived at Barton within the last hour, and as she was a very cheerful agreeable woman, he hoped the young ladies would not find it so very dull as they might imagine. (Sense and Sensibility, 27; emphasis added)

These words of Sir John refract through the consciousness of Elinor. She hears and forwards them to the reader, processing the words of Sir John, without necessarily conveying exactly what he said. It is noteworthy that these thoughts belong to a character and are much more extensive than those seen in Goncharov, Bunin and other Russian writers in the nineteenth and early twentieth century. Furthermore, such mental activity in English was consistently transposed in the eighteenth and nineteenth century; in Russian, again, no transposition occurs:
Сэр Джон встретил миссис Дэшвуд и ее дочерей на пороге, с безыскусной искренностью приветсвтвуя их в Бартон-парке, а затем по пути в гостиную, как и накануне, выразил барышням свое огорчение, что на этот раз ему не доведется познакомить их с любезными молодыми кавалерами. Кроме него самого, сказал он, их нынче ждет общество лишь еще одного джентльмена – его дорогого друга, который гостит в Бартон-парке, но он не особенно молод и не особенно весел. Все же он уповает, что они извинят его за столь скромный прием и не усомнятся, что впредь все будет по-иному. Утром он побывал у некоторых соседей, стараясь собрать общество побольше, но теперь ведь вечера лунные и все уже куда-нибудь да приглашены. К счастью, не далее как час назад в Бартон приехала погостить матушка леди Мидлтон, дама очень приятного, живого нрава, а потому барышням, быть может, не придется скучать так, как они опасались. (Чувство и чувствительность, 36)

This translation captures the interiority of the passage in Russian and is consistent with the practices of Russian writers (as opposed to translators). The shift from the preterit to the present signals that these words are someone’s thought, and since Sir John is not a central character in the novel and the narrator’s cynosure is Elinor, she must be hearing them, though the use of this mode suggests that this account of Sir John’s speech is not necessarily accurate, as no retelling will be.
Narrated monologue in the English past perfect loses some of its uniqueness in translation because Russian lacks multiple tenses. This complication occurs in Persuasion:
She gave him a short account of her party, and business at Lyme. His regret increased as he listened. He had spent his whole solitary evening in the room adjoining theirs; had heard voices – mirth continually; thought they must be a most delightful set of people – longed to be with them; but certainly without the smallest suspicion of his possessing the shadow of a right to introduce himself. If he had but asked who the party were! The name of Musgrove would have told him enough. (Persuasion, 134)

The narration cedes midparagraph to Mr. Elliot’s regret at not realizing that his neighbors in Lyme had been members of his extended family. As he listens to Anne, his regret increases and then he speaks. The transposition of the verbs (from spent to had spent) indicates the shift both to Mr. Elliot speaking and the conveyance of these words through Anne’s mind, identical to the preceding passage with Elinor. In Russian it would take an attentive reader to pick up the shift into Mr. Elliot’s head:
Она рассказала ему о том, что выпало ей на долю в Лайме. Он слушал с возраставшим участием. Он одиноко провел вечер в соседнем с ними номере; он слышал голоса, слышал общее веселье; решил, что они, верно, восхитительные люди, и рвался к ним душою, не имея, разумеется, ни малейшего подозрения о том, что он вправе им представиться. Ему бы спросить, кто они такие! Имя Мазгроув многое бы ему сказало. (Доводы рассудка, 160)

The translator colloquializes the words, but beyond that the Russian language does not offer any other possibilities for an interior monologue on the past.
Sometimes narrated monologue is botched in translation, the interiority sacrificed and the monologue turned into the narrative report. This shift from the original perspective of the character to the narrator occurs in a recent translation of Ulysses:
And while she gazed her heart went pitapat. Yes, it was her he was looking at and there was meaning in his look. His eyes burned into her as though they would search her through and through, read her very soul. Wonderful eyes they were, superbly expressive, but could you trust them? People were so queer. She could see at once by his dark eyes and his pale intellectual face that he was a foreigner… (Ulysses, 465)
Но, между тем как она глядела вдаль, сердечко ее так и колотилось. Да, это именно на нее он смотрел. И притом таким особенным взглядом. Его глаза жгли ее. Словно хотели проникнуть чудесны, эти глаза, они были несказанно выразительны, только можно ли довериться им? Люди бывают такие странные. Она сразу поняла, что он иностранец... (Улисс, 387)

Here Gerty’s reflection of Bloom’s activity shifts from her mind to the omniscient narrator telling the story of Sandymount Strand. Whereas Joyce places the emphasized parts within the purview of the Gerty and interweaves them with the narrator’s tale, the Russian translator designs a largely monotone passage that eliminates much of the narrated monologue and reduces the diversity celebrated by Joyce’s novel.
While Russian translators do not have a choice of mode for interior monologue, English translators have adopted different approaches to the incorporation of Russian characters’ interior monologues and Russian narrators’ commentary (monologues). The modes in translation vary from internal experience, tagged direct discourse, quoted monologue (chapter three) and narrated monologue. The following section will explore the process of formulating untransposed interior monologue and commentary in transposed narrated monologue.

I. Narrated or Quoted Monologue

The translator of Boris Akunin’s Turkish Gambit decided that Varya’s interior monologue here should be translated as narrated monologue:
Она обернулась к окну – а вдруг Митко объявится? Вдруг водил коней на водопой и теперь возвращается? Но ни Митко, ни каруцы на пыльной улице не было, зато Варе увидела такое, на что раньше не обратила внимание. Над домами торчал невысокий облупленный минарет. Ой! Неужто деревня мусульманская? Но ведь болгаре – христиане, православные, все это знают. Опять же вино пьют, а мусульманам Коран запрещает. Но если деревня христианская, тогда в каком смысле минарет? А если мусульманская, то за кого они, за наших или за турок? Вряд ли за наших. Выходило, что «армията» не поможет. (Акунин, Турецкий гамбит, Chapter 1, page 6 in translation; emphasis added)
She turned towards the window – maybe Mitko would suddenly turn up? Maybe he had taken the horses to the watering place and now he was on his way back? But alas, there was no sign of Mitko or any cartuza out on the dusty street. Varya did, however, notice something that had failed to catch her attention earlier: protruding above the houses was a low minaret covered in chipped and peeling paint. Oh! Could the village possibly be Moslem? But the Bulgarians were Christians, Orthodox, everybody knew that. What’s more, they were drinking wine, and that was forbidden to Moslems by the Koran. But if the village was Christian, then what on earth did the minaret mean? And if it was Moslem, then whose side were they on, ours or the Turks? Hardly ours. It looked as though the ‘armyta’ might not be much help after all. (Akunin, Turkish Gambit, 6; emphasis and underlining added)

This is an almost perfect example of what the translation of monologue would look like in narrated monologue. The translator or editor gets confused with the personal pronoun at the end, and uses “ours”, which would be right for English quoted monologue, but should be switched to “theirs” in narrated monologue. (5) Likewise, the phrase what’s more must be altered to something like the times furthermore. But otherwise, it is a glimpse at the potential of narrated monologue: the emphasized verbs are all in the present tense in Russian, yet when switched to the past in English, the thoughts are still clearly Varya’s own and not the narrator’s. At the same time, moving from preterit reflection to narration and back to preterit reflection engraces a passage that would otherwise lurch from one time to another. Unfortunately the translated book seems to whimsically flip original interior monologue into whatever form appears appealing at the given moment, so the result is a mishmash of narrated monologue, tagged direct thought, emphasized thought, quoted monologue and internal experience. However this passage shows one major benefit to rendering all interior monologue as narrated monologue in a past tense text: fluidity, the compatibility of narrated monologue to the narrative report.
Placing an emphasis on fluidity with texts springing from the past to the present and back seems to contradict the style of such an original: After all, if the original leaps from preterit narration to present tense monologues, then shouldn’t the translation also retain this jolting nature? As other chapters have demonstrated, however, the Russian language does not abrupt the reader when it shifts from the past to the present. This development is primarily due to the verbs of internal experience as well as the commonality of untagged direct thought or speech. Particularly the verbs of internal experience, which Bunin, for example, exploited on his way to interior monologue, are subject to different grammatical rules: namely transposition in English and no transposition in Russian. These rules have forced Russian literature to roll back and forth and left the Russian mind more adept at uniting the past and present.
Contemporary Russian authors have been especially keen on exploring this aspect of the Russian language that jives so well with their interest in mental processes. Consequently there are passages such as Dmitriev’s in chapter two:
И тогда Воскобоев пришел к ней. Опустившись на краешек плащ-палатки и с минуту помолчав, он вдруг принялся торопливо и подробно высказывать свои соображения о предстоящем застолье: кого позвать, кто сам придет, сколько купить водки, если учесть, что четверо вовсе не пьют, другие, есть и такие, предпочитают крепленое вино, а полковник Живихин – тот давно зациклился на коньяке, но главное, чем кормить, где достать такую прорву мяса; конечно, и рыбу можно сделать на уровне европейских стандартов, например, запечь... Тут Елизавета перебила мужа, стала соглашаться с ним во всем и успокаивать насчет рыбы. Разумеется, она запечет рыбу, да и по поводу мяса расстраиваться не нужно: Живихина нужно расшевелить. Он охотник, и пусть еще не сезон, но ведь есть же у него знакомые егеря – пусть застрелят кабанчика или лося или, на худой конец, поделятся из старых запасов... (Воскобоев и Елизавета, 302-3; emphasis added)

What will this sound like if the interior monologue is retained in the present tense, as quoted monologue?
And then Voskoboev went up to her. He sat down on the edge of his raincoat and was silent for a minute, before suddenly beginning hastily and in detail to voice his thoughts on the upcoming dinner party: who to invite, who will come on their own, how much vodka to buy if you consider that four people don’t drink at all, while the others – and there really are those – prefer strong wine. And then there’s Colonel Zhivikhin – who fell for cognac long ago; but the main thing is: what to eat, where to get an outrageously large portion of meat; and the fish, clearly, will have to be prepared in the European way, for instance, by baking it… At this point Elizaveta interrupted her husband, began to agree with him on everything and to reassure him with regard to the fish. Of course she would bake the fish, and he shouldn’t worry about meat at all: they just have to motivate Zhivikhin. He’s a hunter, and although it isn’t the season, it’s impossible for him not to have some hunter friends – they could shoot a small wild boar or an elk or, in the worst case scenario, make something out of old leftovers… (Voskoboev and Elizaveta, unpublished; emphasis added)

And what happens with narrated monologue?
And then Voskoboev went up to her. He sat down on the edge of his raincoat and was silent for a minute, before suddenly beginning hastily and in detail to voice his thoughts on the upcoming dinner party: who should they invite, who would come on their own, how much vodka should they buy if you considered that four people didn’t drink at all, while the others – and there really were those – preferred strong wine. And then there was Colonel Zhivikhin – who had long since fallen for cognac; but the main thing was: what to eat, where to get an outrageously large portion of meat; and the fish, clearly, would have to be prepared in the European way, for instance, by baking it… At this point Elizaveta interrupted her husband, began to agree with him on everything and to reassure him with regard to the fish. Of course she would bake the fish, and he shouldn’t worry about meat at all: they just had to motivate Zhivikhin. He was a hunter, and although it wasn’t the season, it was impossible for him not to have some hunter friends – they could shoot a small wild boar or an elk or, in the worst case scenario, make something out of old leftovers… (Voskoboev and Elizaveta, unpublished; emphasis added)

The Russian drifts from ambiguous narration (кого позвать) to untagged speech, ebbing to ambiguous text, flowing to narration, and ebbing back to untagged speech or interior monologue. The Russian can ride the tide very easily because, for example, the construction если учесть, что requires everything following что to be untransposed. This is possible to manipulate as the first translation shows, but when the narrator cedes the stage to Elizaveta, the translation as quoted monologue forces inconsistency:
Разумеется, она запечет рыбу, да и по поводу мяса расстраиваться не нужно...
Of course she would bake the fish, and he shouldn’t worry about meat at all...

This mode of speaking is identical to Stephen’s in A Portrait, as chapter one explicated: the tense in Russian is present and in English it is past. Furthermore the English language does not offer the two modes as usual here: Since you cannot speak about yourself in the present tense and the third person in the Anglo-Saxon language, a translation of the Dmitriev passage as quoted monologue will invariably lead to the oddity of suddenly breaking off with one mode of consciousness and switching to another and then presumably returning to the first.

II. Narration and Commentary

Chapters one and two analysed the translation of direct untagged thought and interior monologue in Sologub’s story In Bondage.
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)

The passage takes this form in Struve’s translation:
“Lucky boys!” thought Paka. “Strong, bold. Their legs are bare, sunburned. They must be common boys. But all the same, lucky. It’s better to be a common boy and free than a prince in bondage.” (ibid, 241)

Here is what it would resemble in narrated monologue:
Lucky boys, thought Paka. They were strong, bold. Their legs were bare, sunburned. They had to be common boys. But all the same, they were lucky. It was better to be a common boy and free than a prince in bondage. (Emphasis added)

Notice the similarities between the cited passage and this one from The Mill on the Floss:
…the managing clerk remained so absorbed for the next half hour that Tom began to wonder whether he should have to sit in this way till the bank closed – there seemed so little tendency toward a conclusion in the quiet monotonous procedure of these sleek, prosperous men of business. Would his uncle give him a place in the bank? it would be very dull, prosy work, he thought, writing there forever to the loud clicking of a time-piece. He preferred some other way of getting rich. (The Mill on the Floss, 202; emphasis added)

This passage is transposed in line with the recreated translation of Paka’s thoughts: all the verbs are shifted, yet the words are still the character’s own. (6) Even without transposing the thoughts, it would be possible to leave out the markers as Cormac McCarthy does in Blood Meridian. (7) Nonetheless, it is indisputable that mental discourse with inquit phrases may transpose in English, even if this mode is less common in Anglo-Saxon literature.
If such untagged discourse transposes, however, then surely standard interior monologue will not present any complications and might even reveal some appealing attributes. Here is the interior monologue (i.e. commentary) of the narrator in the Sologub passage quoted in chapters one and two:
...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 ребтишками. 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, 240; emphasis added)
…Paka experienced an annoyance new to him. New longings tormented him. He knew that these longings could not come true. He felt unhappy and injured.
He wanted to go away from this prim house into the wide, free fields, and play there with other children. To be by the river, to go into the water.
There, below, by the river, some boys are fishing, shouting something joyous. Really, their life is better than Paka’s. And why should his lot be so different from the lot of these carefree, gay children? (IB, 241; emphasis added)

Here it is in narrated monologue:
…Paka experienced an annoyance new to him. New longings tormented him. He knew that these longings could not come true. He felt unhappy and injured.
He wanted to go away from this prim house into the wide, free fields, and play there with other children. To be by the river, to go into the water.
There, below, by the river, some boys were fishing, shouting something joyous. Really, their life was better than Paka’s. And why should his lot be so different from the lot of these carefree, gay children? (IB, 241; emphasis added)

The obvious advantage is the disappearance of the awkward “their life is better than Paka’s” and the general harmony of the passage; the potential disadvantage is that this interior monologue may no longer be within the scope of the narrator, and is ostensibly spouting from Paka. (8)


Ultimately the translator must decide on the mode for the English translation of Russian interior monologue. Especially today, when both modes are firmly entrenched in the repertoire of writers. These is however one other consideration that also merits attention with regard to older works: In Transparent Minds Dorrit Cohn claims that Joyce’s Ulysses represents the first novel to integrate quoted monologue into the narrative report without introductory phrases or graphic signs (tags, inquit phrases, etc.). (Cohn, 62). If this claim is true, then quoted monologue in an English text published prior to 1922 will be anachronistic. Does this mean that a translation of a Russian character’s interior monologue in texts published before 1922 must be in narrated monologue or can the translator of literature use a mode that did not existent in their literature at the time?


(1) Compare this translation of untagged thought with the passage from George Eliot’s The Mill on the Floss, discussed later in this chapter.

(2) The problematic nature of translating unmarked Russian thought that potentially glides into interior monologue is even more prominent in another passages of Bunin’s story. The Hare translation has the character thinking about himself in the third person untransposed and staged, while Hettlinger reworks the entire passage: «До города оставалось еще двадцать верст, - надо перегодить, подумал Красильщиков, лощадь вся в мыле и еще неизвестно, что будет опять, ишь какая чернота в ту сторону и все еще загорается... На переезде к постоялому двору он на рысях свернул и осадил возле деревянного крыльца. (Krasilshchikov was still twenty versts from town, his horse was already in a lather, and lightning continued to flash across the black sky ahead. “I’ll have to stop and wait a little,” he decided. At the crossing he turned sharply and pulled up to the inn’s small wooden porch.) The translation eliminates the internal representation of the horse’s condition and the ominous weather. The character no longer thinks about these things, but rather the narrator lends his authority to their existence.

(3) The later transposition is grammatically required as other parts have demonstrated: English does not allow a speaker to think about themselves in the third person in the present tense.

(4) It might be added, however, that the Russian construction with смотреть places the dependent clause in a mode that is ostensibly interior monologue, but is also grammatically required. A similar construction appears in Tolstoy’s uncompleted story Tixon and Malaniya: Один из мужиков... вышел на улицу посмотреть, кто едет. (Толстой, Собрание Сочинений, 419)

(5) Stephen’s narrated monologue in A Portrait exemplifies this shift: “Soon they would be going home for the holidays. After supper in the studyhall he would change the number pasted up inside his desk from seventyseven to seventysix.” (Portrait, 6) If the definite pronoun for holidays were changed to a personal pronoun, it would be “their holidays,” not “our holidays.” Bloomfield has presumably opted for “ours” because of the confusion with “they.” Ultimately the given translation would have to be rewritten to avoid “…whose side were they on, theirs or the Turks?” This passage also unveils some complications with regard to transposing Russian interior monologue in narrated monologue.

(6) Catherine Mansfield transposes such thought: How many men that she knew would have done such a thing. Oh, how extraordinarily nice workmen were, she thought. See part five of this series or Catherine Mansfield, Selected Short Stories, (New York; London: Norton, 2006): 288

(7) And does not: It’s all the fault, she decided, as the tall fellow drew something on the back of an envelope, something that was to be looped up or left to hang, of these absurd class distinctions. (ibid, 288) McCarthy: The man took it from him. Need a little tinder here, he said. He was crumbling the box and stacking the bits against the door. (Blood Meridian, 12)

(8) At best, ambiguity could surround attribution. If all the narrator’s commentary is placed in the past tense, then it would leave such passages as the voice of either the narrator or character, depending on interpretation.


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