How Leo Tolstoy links to Marc Chagall

What can unite the author of Anna Karenina and Marc Chagall? In fact, the organisers of the international seminar of translators — held at Yasnaya Polyana for the seventh time — believe that participants from Spain, Italy, Turkey, Germany, Japan, Serbia and Russia have very much enjoyed learning about the globally known painter’s work and writings.
By Sergey Gomanov

A co-ordinator of the seminar, Mexico’s Selma Ancira, explains, “We are involved in literary translation, preparing bright and appealing material rather than meagre text. In this respect, literature and art have much in common: thoughts are expressed either in word or paint. Early 20th century Vitebsk artists hugely influenced global culture so it’s no surprise that a trip to 

Vitebsk was accepted by the seminar’s participants with enthusiasm.”

The first translations of Tolstoy’s Sevastopol Tales and Cossacks into English and French were made in the late 19th century; naturally, those who worked on the texts are now dead. However, a new wave of interest is rising in Tolstoy’s works, with youngsters keen to translate his novels. The seminar aimed to help people learn more about literary Russian works and Russian culture, including trips to museums dedicated to Turgenev, Prishvin, Chekhov, Pasternak, Chukovsky, Lermontov and Sholokhov. Many were in Belarus for the first time, learning much new to them. Sabri Gьrses, from Turkey, was surprised to hear that Chagall illustrated Gogol’s Dead Souls, while Japanese Yoko Ueda — studying Russian theatre and the avant-garde — has been inspired by the atmosphere of the city which so inspired this trend in art. 

As another co-ordinator of the event, Galina Alexeeva (who heads the Department for Scientific-Research at Krasnaya Polyana), admits, the foreign guests have definitely left Vitebsk with bright impressions and ideas for their future projects. She notes, “Repin’s Zdravnevo museum-mansion — which we visited — was a true revelation for me. We share many common topics with our Belarusian colleagues and I hope our co-operation will become even more active. Apart from other activities, we’re organising an international conference in Yasnaya Polyana, entitled Leo Tolstoy and Global Literature. We’d be happy to welcome participants of the present seminar: for example, Prof. Maria Candida Ghidini, from the University of Parma.”

Prof. Maria Candida Ghidini told those present at the event that Marc and Bella Chagall had good friends in Paris: Jacque and Raissa Maritain. Jacque was a philosopher and Raisa a poetess who assisted him; she left Russia with her parents before 1917. She wrote a poem devoted to Chagall’s mysterious images, and the Jewish wandering life — initially in French. However, Italian participants of the seminar prepared a Russian word-for-word translation and Moscow poetess Natalia Vankhanen turned it into blank verse, creating a true work of art. It was so expressive and touching that the Marc Chagall Museum Director, Lyudmila Khmelnitskaya, has asked the author to leave the poem in Vitebsk, as an exhibit. “It’s a wonderful present!” notes Lyudmila with admiration. “I hope that our new acquaintances will attract more participants to the traditional Chagall Readings event.”

In fact, many participants of the seminar have been surprised to learn that, apart from painting pictures, Chagall wrote poetry in French — as this has never been translated into Russian. It’s quite possible that Russian versions of his poems may soon appear.
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