Sovietisms as Cultural, Historical and Social Realia in English Translations of Mikhail Bulgakov's “A Dog’s Heart”

Mikhail Bulgakov’s fantastic tale in which he explores the theme of a scientific experiment with devastating consequences was published in the Soviet Union more than forty years after the author’s death. Bulgakov’s frank and satirical view of a great experiment of ‘communism’ to create a new proletarian class, uncivilized, vulgar, without faith, deprived of cultural and moral values and inspired by political idols, could not pass the official censorship. 

This comparative corpus analysis is based on six English translations of Bulgakov’s masterpiece by: Michael Glenny (1968), Mirra Ginsburg (1968), Frank Galati (1988, a dramatic adaptation), Hugh Aplin (2005), Andrew Bromfield (2007) and Antonina W. Bouis (2016). Notably Ginsburg’s and Glenny’s translations were released in the West long before the novel was officially published in the Soviet Union in 1987. Thus unique material offers a thorough insight into translation shifts, not only from a synchronic, but also from a diachronic perspective. 

Following Antoine Berman it would normally be assumed that the early translations of a given text will be more target-oriented and domesticating than later ones. To this hypothesis, the extent to which retranslations approximate to the source text is examined in terms of how they deal with the type of historical realia I refer to as ‘Sovietisms’. Sovietisms are lexical items characteristic of Soviet discourse of the 1930s, word-formations of the non-standard “Soviet Russian,” which occur at various levels (lexical, syntactic, stylistic and rhetorical) and should be carefully translated as a significant characteristic of Bulgakov’s style. A complete domestication of Sovietisms may lead to a loss of a connotative meaning essential for understanding the context, while a foreignization of these terms which are most likely unknown to western readers may disturb fluidity of reading and cause confusion. 

The purpose of the analysis, thus, is to illustrate the use of domesticating/foreignizing strategies employed by Bulgakov’s translators and to assess the translation choices. The comparative analysis employs the Retranslation Hypothesis as well as taxonomies suggested by Vlakhov and Florin (1995), Vinay and Darbelnet (1958/1989) and Aixelá (1996) as the grounds for the case study.


Dr 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 literature, culture and translation studies as well as an elective course on the Russian language. She holds a Ph.D. degree in English Literature and Translation studies, which focuses on translations of Robert Burns’s poetry into Russian with a special emphasis on ideological influences. Her second Ph.D. degree is in Contemporary Russian Literature and focused on Mikhail Bulgakov’s literary works. She is the author of the books Ideological Translations of Robert Burns's 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 the co-editor of the book of translations of Mikhail Lermontov’s poetry and prose M. J. Lermontov. Sanje: izbrano delo (M. J. Lermontov. Dreams: Selected works) (2015) as well as the editor of a scientific monography Творчество М. Ю. Лермонтова: Мотивы, темы, переводы (The work of M. J. Lermontov: motifs, themes, translations) published in 2015.

The list of her publications includes articles on different aspects of literary translations, above all on the influence of ideology on translations, translating culturally-specific elements and retranslation. She published in Meta, Slavistična revija, Slavic and East European Journal, Cadernos de Tradução, Scottish Literary Review, The reception of Robert Burns in Europe (ed. by Murray Pittock), International Research in Children’s Literature, Translation and Literature, etc.

Russian courses
Jan 28 2019 -

Sovietisms as Cultural, Historical and Social Realia in English Translations of Mikhail Bulgakov's “A Dog’s Heart”

"Sovietisms as Cultural, Historical and Social Realia in English Translations of Mikhail Bulgakov's 'A Dog’s Heart'". A free guest seminar by Natalia Kaloh Vid (University of Maribor, Slovenia)

Room G.05
50 George Square