COUNTER-REVOLUTIONARY TRANSLATIONS

Poety frantsuzskogo vozrozhdeniia, antologiia [Poets of the French Renaissance, an anthology].

Leningrad, Goslitizdat, 1938

8vo, pp. 302, [2], with printed errata slip at the end; title-page printed in red and black; old library stamps and shelfmarks (cancelled) to title-page and a few internal leaves, else a good copy in the original pale cloth, blocked in red and yellow, trace of label removed from head.

£1750

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Poety frantsuzskogo vozrozhdeniia, antologiia [Poets of the French Renaissance, an anthology].

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First edition of a rare anthology of translations from Villon, Marot, Ronsard, Du Bellay, and others. Two of the Villon translations are attributed in the index to Mandelshtam, but are in fact by Nikolai Stepanovich Gumilev (1886-1921), husband of Anna Akhmatova, who had been arrested and executed for his alleged involvement in the Tagantsev conspiracy.

Since the beginning of the Great Purge in 1937, Mandelshtam himself had been under systematic assault from the authorities. This volume was published in January 1938; in May Mandelshtam was arrested, in August he was sentenced to five years’ labour, and by the end of December he was dead. The motivations for naming Mandelshtam in the roster of translators here are still the subject of debate – the potential risk to the editor and publisher was great. But then so was the very inclusion of the work of a banned author; and apart from Gumilev’s translations there were those by the recently arrested Ivan Lukhachev (1902-1972), whose renditions of verses by Du Bellay, Desportes and d’Aubigny are left anonymous.

Perhaps there is a clue to motives if we recall that Mandelshtam had published an essay ‘François Villon’ in 1910 in which he presented the artist as victim of the state. If Mandelshtam was not complicit in the deception, which is itself possible, his name must certainly be a coded attack on the apparatus of oppression.

OCLC shows copies at Yale and New York Public Library only.

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