“Afterward, when it was frankly too late, various persons collected their data and issued descriptions of this man. As to his teeth, he had platinum crowns on the left side and gold ones on the right. He wore an expensive gray suit and foreign shoes of the same color as his suit. His gray beret was stuck jauntily over one ear and under his arm he carried a walking stick with a knob in the shape of a poodle’s head. He looked slightly over forty. Crooked sort of mouth. Clean-shaven. Dark hair. Right eye black, left eye for some reason green. Eyebrows black, but one higher than the other. In short–a foreigner.”
-From Michael Glenny’s translation of The Master and Margarita
“Afterward, when–frankly speaking–it was already too late, various official institutions filed reports describing this man. A comparison of these reports can only cause astonishment. Thus, the first says that the man was short, had gold teeth, and limped on the right foot. The second, that the man was of enormous height, had platinum crowns, and limped on the left foot. The third states laconically that the man had no special distinguishing characteristics. We must discard all these reports as quite worthless.
To begin with, the man described did not limp on either foot, and was neither short nor enormous in height, but simply tall. As for his teeth, he had platinum crowns on the left side of his mouth, and gold ones on the right. He wore an expensive gray suit and foreign shoes of the same color. His gray beret was worn at a jaunty angle over his ear, and under his arm he carried a cane with a black handle in the form of a poodle’s head. He appeared to be in his forties. His mouth was somehow twisted. He was smooth shaven. A brunet. His right eye was black; the left, for some strange reason, green. Black eyebrows, but one higher than the other. In short, a foreigner.”
-From Mirra Ginsburg’s translation of The Master and Margarita
Alright. So if it isn’t apparent, these two quotations were taken from the same portion of The Master and Margarita. Obviously there are discrepancies to be expected from different translations, especially from a language such as Russian–sometimes there is more interpretation required. But what drew my interest to this section of text in particular are not the differences in text/translation, but what those differences, to me, draw attention to in the text. In my opinion, these differences lead to two completely different texts.
Let’s begin with the similarities. Wait, no, let’s begin with who this is describing, because that is terribly important as well. Professor Woland, whose name isn’t revealed until later, is a mysterious foreigner. Presumably German. Woland is a variation on Voland, a demon from Goethe’s Faust, and for a time Woland was used as a synonym for Satan in German. The homage to Goethe’s Faust is apparent from the quotation that opens Book One.
Hold on. I was going to touch upon how the Glenny and Ginsburg translated the Faust quote differently, but then after checking my Walter Kaufmann translation, I realized that Kaufmann’s translation is incredibly different!
Okay, so here’s Glenny’s version:
“Say at last–who art thou?
“That Power I serve
Which wills forever evil
Yet does forever good.”
“Who art thou, then?”
“Part of that Power which eternally wills
evil and eternally works good.”
And here’s Kaufmann’s
“Enough, who are you then?”
“Part of that force which would
Do evil evermore, and yet creates the good.”