Continuing installments of his latest serial thriller, Crime and Punishment, were due in October 1866, but more pressing for Fyodor Dostoevsky, in debt as usual, was the new book he hadn’t started and which he owed his shady publisher by November—or else, according to their contract, he would forfeit rights to all his titles for nine years. Faced with this deadline he hired a 20-year-old stenographer, Anna Snitkina. Together, they delivered The Gambler on schedule, a quickie roman à clef about his summer failures at the roulette table and at love. Days later, the grateful widower asked his secretary to marry him.
He never improved at roulette, but Anna was a lucky charm for her epileptic husband during the thunderous creative peak that followed (The Idiot, Demons, The Brothers Karamazov). Suiting then that another married team offers us their translation of the small masterpiece that brought Fyodor and Anna together. Pulling over for the occasional rest stop (Gogol, Tolstoy), Pevear and Volokhonsky are en route to translating the entire Dostoevsky oeuvre (only the debut novel, short fiction, and nonfiction miscellany still stand). Whereas earlier translators, including the estimable Constance Garnett, smoothed over the bumpy patches in Dostoevsky’s prose, P&V specialize in restoring the textual discords that made these pulp morality tales crackle in the first place. This edition also includes their excellent rendering of another short novel, The Double, Dostoevsky’s precocious 1846 outing into the uncanny.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on November 29, 2005