A Study of Penguin’s Russian Classics (1950-1964) with Special Reference to David Magarshack

  • Cathy McAteer

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy (PhD)


This thesis analyses the figures and events behind Penguin’s twentieth-century re-launch of the nineteenth-century Russian literary canon. It explores the combination of factors behind Penguin’s makeover of Russian literature, arriving fifty years after the first translations that can be considered ‘commercial’ by Constance Garnett. In this project, primary research is viewed through the lens of sociological concepts as a means of interrogating the dynamics and relations behind the Penguin Russian Classic titles. My analysis of Penguin’s agents – the founder Allen Lane, the Penguin Classics editorial team, and the earliest Russian-English literary translators – and their agency relies on archive-based research, which has enabled me to construct evidence-based case studies of the key figures and their practice. I have made a particular case study of the prominent Penguin translator David Magarshack, one of the longest serving translators of the early corps, analysing his notes on the literary translation process and the correspondence he exchanged with Penguin. In a departure from traditional sociological approaches, I have juxtaposed the study of Magarshack’s personal background, career and Penguin relations with a text-based study of his translation work, with comparisons to other translators as appropriate, as a way of identifying and understanding the finer details of his practice which, otherwise, would not be revealed.

I argue that it is thanks to the collaboration of Penguin’s agents that Penguin’s Russian Classics represent a significant stage in Russian literature in modern Anglophone translation. By combining publishing innovation with translations written in good, modern English and aspiring to Rieu’s ‘principle of equivalent effect’, Penguin brought classic Russian literature into the twentieth-century to suit a self-improving, inquisitive, post-war British reader. This thesis examines for the first time how Penguin and its publishing and translation practices catered to this target readership and thereby generated a new appreciation for classic Russian literature.
Date of Award25 Sept 2018
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Bristol
SupervisorRajendra Chitnis (Supervisor) & Carol M O'Sullivan (Supervisor)

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