Department of European Languages and Cultures

Retranslations of Literature: the Case Study of six English translations of Mikhail Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita

The talk will focus on retranslations as a response to the need to update translated texts, verifying the main assumptions of the Retranslation Hypothesis introduced in the 1990s, which claims that the first translations are usually target-oriented, whereas retranslations are generally closer to the source text. As the case study for the analysis, we will use Mikhail Bulgakov's “sunset” novel The Master and Margarita, which has, so far, been translated into English six times, with the first two translations having been published in the same year, 1967, and the latest in 2008, thus offering unique material for the analysis of translation shifts and strategies from both synchronic and diachronic perspectives. To test the main assumptions of the Retranslation Hypothesis, we will focus on translations of one of the most distinctive features of Bulgakov’s style, namely, historical realia referred to as “Sovietisms,” culturally-, historically- and socially-specific terms from the Soviet speech of the 1930s brought into the Russian language through the discourse of revolution and the communist regime to describe different aspects of Soviet life (e.g. professions, institutions, propagandistic slogans, etc.).

As distinctive signs of Soviet times, Sovietisms have important functions in Bulgakov’s narrative; they illustrate how the literary Russian language was changed and manipulated by the authorities, how it became trapped in revolutionary terminology, and how it was reduced to a propagandistic discourse that expressed, above all, fear and paranoia. Sovietisms have no equivalents in English and are often incomprehensible without additional explanation of the political and ideological situation in the former Soviet Union. Without the translator’s help, the unprepared reader may get lost in the labyrinth of clippings, blendings, phraseological expressions, puns, allusions, and other linguistic features of Bulgakov’s style. As with any other culturally-specific terms, Sovietisms carry important, though implicit information, and simplification or neutralization of these national, cultural and social components would significantly change the interpretive coordinates, while foreignization of these terms, which are likely to be unknown to western readers, may disturb fluidity of reading and cause confusion. We will analyze the use of domesticating/foreignizing strategies employed by Bulgakov’s translators and assess their translation choices, while considering that the first translations were presumably more target-oriented than the subsequent ones. This will give us a chance to evaluate the translators’ choices and discover what these choices mean for the general reader’s perception.


Natalia Kaloh Vid is an Associate Professor at the Department of Translation Studies, Faculty of Arts, University of Maribor, Slovenia, where she teaches various courses in translation studies. She holds a PhD in English Literature and Translation Studies, which focuses on the influence of ideology on translations of Robert Burns’ poetry into Russian. Her second PhD is in Contemporary Russian Literature and focuses on apocalyptic motives in Mikhail Bulgakov’s prose. She is the author of the books Ideological Translations of Robert Burns' Poetry in Russia and in the Soviet Union, published in 2011, Rol´ apokaliptičeskogo otkrovenija v tvorčestve Mihaila Bulgakova (The Role of Revelation in Mikhail Bulgakov’s Prose), published in 2012, and Sovietisms in English Translations of M. Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita, published in 2016. She is also co-editor of M. J. Lermontov. Sanje: izbrano delo (M. J. Lermontov. Dreams: Selected works) (2015), a book of translations of Mikhail Leromontov’s poetry and prose, as well as the editor of Творчество М. Ю. Лермонтова: Мотивы, темы, переводы (The Work of M. J. Lermontov: Motifs, Themes, Translations), a scientific monography published in 2015.

She has lectured as a visiting professor at universities in Glasgow, Innsbruck, Dublin, Sofia, Graz and Poznan.

The list of her publications includes articles on various aspects of literary translations, especially translations of Burns into Russian, the influence of ideology on literary translations, translating culturally specific elements and retranslations. Her articles have been published in Meta, Slavistična revija, The Slavic and East European Journal, Cadernos de Tradução, International Research in Children’s Literature, etc.

Cover of The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov
Jan 24 2018 -

Retranslations of Literature: the Case Study of six English translations of Mikhail Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita

A free seminar by guest speaker, Dr Natalia Kaloh Vid (University of Maribor, Slovenia).

Room G.02
50 George Square