In 1903 Tolstoy, ensuing the plea of Sholem Aleykhem (pseud. of Solomon N. Rabinovich), wrote «Three tales» for a Yiddish miscellany in aid of the Jews who were victims of the Kishinev pogrom. Sholem Aleykhem obtained from the writer the first rights to publish; he naively believed that he could freely dispose of the stories, hence he undertook agreements for simultaneous translations of the «Three Tales» into the major Western languages in order to increase fundraising for the Jews. This gave rise, to paraphrase one of his works, to a messy exchange of letters and telegrams. Sholem Aleykhem first clashed with Aylmer Maude, biographer, and translator of Tolstoy, who attempted to grab the first English edition of the Tales by deception; then he had to face the obsession with control of Vladimir Chertkov, friend, and sole literary agent of the writer, who claimed the right to manage all possible translations. But in the meantime, Tolstoy's texts had been put into circulation – by Sholem Aleykhem, Chertkov and others –, and translations started to be released without control before the Yiddish miscellany. Even worse, manipulation of the texts could not be avoided, and “improper” translations were made into Russian from a foreign language. Letters, telegrams, and messages, found in Russian, English and Ukrainian archives, allow us to reconstruct the story of the translations of the «Three tales», and if on the one hand they shed light on Tolstoy’s lack of interest for some of his engaged writings, on the other hand they show the rapacity of those who were orbiting around him in search of personal and professional affirmation.

Ne roman, a putanica v pis'mach i telegrammach: Sholem-Aleichem i Lev Tolstoj (po neizdannoj perepiske)

DE GIORGI, Roberta
2022

Abstract

In 1903 Tolstoy, ensuing the plea of Sholem Aleykhem (pseud. of Solomon N. Rabinovich), wrote «Three tales» for a Yiddish miscellany in aid of the Jews who were victims of the Kishinev pogrom. Sholem Aleykhem obtained from the writer the first rights to publish; he naively believed that he could freely dispose of the stories, hence he undertook agreements for simultaneous translations of the «Three Tales» into the major Western languages in order to increase fundraising for the Jews. This gave rise, to paraphrase one of his works, to a messy exchange of letters and telegrams. Sholem Aleykhem first clashed with Aylmer Maude, biographer, and translator of Tolstoy, who attempted to grab the first English edition of the Tales by deception; then he had to face the obsession with control of Vladimir Chertkov, friend, and sole literary agent of the writer, who claimed the right to manage all possible translations. But in the meantime, Tolstoy's texts had been put into circulation – by Sholem Aleykhem, Chertkov and others –, and translations started to be released without control before the Yiddish miscellany. Even worse, manipulation of the texts could not be avoided, and “improper” translations were made into Russian from a foreign language. Letters, telegrams, and messages, found in Russian, English and Ukrainian archives, allow us to reconstruct the story of the translations of the «Three tales», and if on the one hand they shed light on Tolstoy’s lack of interest for some of his engaged writings, on the other hand they show the rapacity of those who were orbiting around him in search of personal and professional affirmation.
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