“Anja” in Wonderland or “Does Asparagus Grow in the Pile of Manure?”: Nabokov’s translation of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland

My paper will focus on Nabokov’s 1922 translation of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland into Russian as Anja in Wonderland, which launched Nabokov’s literary career. In it we are allowed to see a point of departure—a translation that contradicts all of Nabokov’s later, much publicized principles. Alice becomes a russified Anja, and she comes to Wonderland directly from a Moscow or Petersburg nursery. Trying to remember Watts’s trivial rhymes about a hard-working bee, Alice comes up with a distorted Puškin poem; the Mouse tells the audience not of William the Conqueror but of the Kievan Prince Vladimir Monomax; the interaction of the Rabbit’s servants can be traced directly to Nabokov’s readings of Gogol′, the Dal′ dictionary of the Russian language, and the archetypical “peasant talk” of Russian nineteenth-century literature, etc. I will read Nabokov’s translation against the preceding Russian (and russified) versions of Alice: the first anonymous Russian version of 1874, Sonja in the Land of Miracle; the 1909 translation of Allegro (P. S. Solov′eva); and Adventures of Anja in Wonderworld, a 1908 version by M. D. Granstrem. The philosophy of “domestication” of foreign culture all these translations share and the indebtedness Nabokov never acknowledged, raise a wide range of issues concerning authorship, truth, and plagiarism. Finally, I will argue that Nabokov’s Anja can be defined only conditionally as translation. It was a playground for Nabokov’s nascent prose (his first Russian novel, Mašen′ka, was published in 1926), and by replacing the idiosyncracies of Carroll’s style with his own it went beyond a mere attempt at russification. I will address translation as “deterritorialization” (Deleuze); that is as a discursive strategy to escape cultural and social hierarchies of the target language—a strategy Nabokov will continuously use in his fiction. Investigating translation as a transformational rather than mimetic experience contributes to an understanding of the strikingly original end-result: in what emerges, the “target” language sees hierarchies shifted, which forfeits the quest for and the “anxiety” of influences.