“The simplicity,” writes Tolstoy in the Edmonds translation of Anna, “the integrity, the sanity of this life he felt clearly, and he was convinced he would find in it the content, the peace and the dignity, of the lack of which he was so painfully conscious.”
Is this not a beautiful sentence? (My only problem with it is that, being a philosopher, I always read content as content and have to correct myself.) Garnett translates it in almost exactly the same words, only substituting “miserably” for “painfully.” I wonder what Pevear has. Someone check for me, could you? It’s in Part III chapter 12.
When I was little my parents used to repeat a tag attributed to Churchill, something about how putting the preposition at the end of a sentence was an error “up with which I will not put.” These days, instead, people tell a joke:
A Yankee woman, on vacation in the South, sits down on a park bench next to a Southern woman. The Southern Woman says, “So, what part of the country are y’all from?” The Northern Woman responds, “I’m from a part of the country where we know not to end our sentences with prepositions.” The Southern Woman pauses, then rephrases: “So, what part of the country y’all from, bitch?”
It’s funny. But it’s also cruder. The Churchill version pokes fun at sticklers, but can only be enjoyed by someone who thinks grammar is important. The joke implies, in distinction, that grammar is stupid and classist. A variant of the joke plays the scene on the Harvard campus, where a professor is the fall guy and a student is the wit. That one doesn’t involve North/South stereotypes but still manages to imply that people who love grammar have their heads up what we around here call their butt-butts.
Edmonds’ rendering of the Tolstoy sentence sounds natural to me, and elegant. It’d be a shame if we stopped respecting this elegance.