Russian Fairy Tales for English Readers: British Translations of Late 19th and Early
William Shedden Ralston's role in the popularization of the Russian folklore and literature cannot be overestimated. This has long been recognized in Russia where Ralston’s translations were appreciated and approved already in his lifetime. His only biography is in Russian while Russian researchers in their recent studies on the reception of Krylov, Turgenev and other great Russians by English readers have paid due attention to his works. However, Ralston’s collection of skazki (1873) published in London at the time when the "discovery" of Russian literature was yet to be made has been somewhat overlooked.
The obituary published in the "Times" 8.8.1889
Hence in my paper I offer an analysis of his translation strategy and techniques against the background of the European translation tradition of the time. I conclude that these translations, part of a scholarly discussion of folklore issues, accompanied by detailed commentaries of a specialized character, appealed to experts rather than the general reader. They were no doubt an excellent first introduction into a new and fascinating world of the Russian oral tradition but the task to reach the most receptive (in terms of the genre in question) audience, the British children, was left with the next author, Arthur Ransome. His Old Peter’s Tales (1916), the retellings of favourite skazki, proved to be a successful literary debut leading to a distinguished career of a children’s literature author. As my paper attempts to show, the history of this publication which appeared in the heyday of the Russian literature on the British Isles was different as well as Ransome’s translation strategy and techniques as he had followed the popular style of Andrew Lang's adaptations of international folktales for British children.
Paper given at the Fifth Fitzwilliam Colloquium in Russian Studies "British Perception and Reception of Russian Culture, 18th-20th Centuries", Cambridge, 2012. Full text published in A People Passing Rude: British Responses to Russian Culture, ed. By Anthony Cross. Open Book Publisher, 2012