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Liza’s Journey. Part 6

The heat is on

The story is nearing its climax which, for this sentimental tale, means that emotions are running high, the pace is quickening, and the writing is becoming more intense. We have suspected for some time what Erast’s intentions might be, and now our suspicions are confirmed. Poor, naïve Liza is carried away in the heat of the moment, and erroneously believes that Erast’s motives are sincere. Without actually saying so, he makes Liza think he plans to marry her, and she finally submits to his passionate advances:

Она бросилась в его объятия — и в сей час надлежало погибнуть непорочности! — Эраст чувствовал необыкновенное волнение в крови своей — никогда Лиза не казалась ему столь прелестною — никогда ласки ее не трогали его так сильно — никогда ее поцелуи не были столь пламенны — она ничего не знала, ничего не подозревала, ничего побоялась — мрак вечера питал желания — ни одной звездочки не сияло на небе — никакой луч не мог осветить заблуждения. — Эраст чувствует в себе трепет — Лиза также, не зная отчего — не зная, что с нею делается… Ах, Лиза, Лиза! Где ангел-хранитель твой? Где — твоя невинность?

You don’t need to be a Russian speaker to see that this paragraph contains a very long sentence, lots of dashes, and an ellipsis. This serves to speed up the action and create a sense of frenzied confusion which is all over before Liza can figure out what is happening. But do these techniques have the same impact in English?

She threw herself into his arms – and at that moment purity was set to perish! – Erast felt an unusual stirring in his blood – never had Liza seemed so exquisite as she did now – never had her caresses had such a powerful effect on him – never had her kisses seemed so ardent – she knew nothing, suspected nothing, feared nothing – the darkness of the evening fed his desire – not a single star was shining in the sky – there was not a single glimmer to shed any light on this transgression. – Erast felt a trembling inside himself – Liza felt the same, not knowing why – not knowing what was happening to her… Ah Liza! Liza! Where is your guardian angel? Where is your innocence?

As usual in translation, there is no one correct answer to this question. Russian and English punctuation are similar, but there are some subtle differences.  Purists might argue in favour of keeping Karamzin’s punctuation, but it does seem a little odd to my English eyes. Instead, I am more inclined towards breaking up the sentence into shorter ones, and swapping the occasional dash for an ellipsis, which might be more commonly used in English. Perhaps something like this…

She threw herself into his arms, and at that moment purity was set to perish! Erast sensed an unusual stirring in his blood. Never had Liza seemed so exquisite as she did now… never had her caresses had such a powerful effect on him… never had her kisses seemed so ardent. She knew nothing, suspected nothing, feared nothing. The darkness of the evening fed his desire, since not a single star was shining in the sky, and there was not the slightest glimmer to shed any light on this transgression. Erast felt a trembling within. Liza felt the same, not knowing why, not knowing what was happening to her… Oh, Liza! Liza! Where is your guardian angel? Where is your innocence?

Somehow this version seems to flow better and feels more natural to me, but some readers may disagree. Translation, just like literature itself, is highly subjective. Either way, Liza is in a terrible state at the end of this scene, having lost her innocence in the midst of the turmoil. Will Erast marry her after all, as she hopes he might?

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