A Life in Text: the Biographical Material in Constance Garnett’s Translations


In this talk Natasha Randall explores the task of biographical research into the figure of the literary translator Constance Garnett. Translators notionally produce non-original text but are there aspects of their work, their semantic tendencies perhaps, that can expose something of their personal nature, or their lived experience? Garnett brought seventy volumes of Russian literature to English readers over the course of her lifetime, often first translations, and yet her existing letters and diaries betray relatively little of her interior life. Can her translations provide additional insight into her life and character? What are the detectable choices in Garnett’s work that can contribute to a portrait of her?

Natasha Randall is a literary translator of the works of Dostoyevsky, Zamyatin, Gogol, and others, for publishers such as Penguin Classics, Canongate’s Canon,  and the Modern Library. Her writing and critical work has appeared in theTimes Literary Supplement, the Los Angeles Times Book Review, The Moscow Times, BookForum, The New York Times, Strad magazine, The Yale Review, Jubilat, and on National Public Radio. She is a contributing editor to the New York-based literary magazine A Public Space. Her novel, Love Orange, about modern anxieties and opioid addiction, was published in September by riverrun (Quercus).