This essay discusses an intriguing literary journey, one in which an anonymous English eighteenth-century novel crossed the channel and, through its translation into French and Russian, became a crucial narrative model for one of the first published Russian fiction writers, Mikhail Chulkov. The English novel in question, The History of Charlotte Summers, The Fortunate Parish Girl (1749), was translated into French in 1751 and from French into Russian in 1763, just three years before the publication of the first installment of Chulkov's first literary work, The Mocker or Slavonic Tales (1766). This essay argues that Chulkov was inspired by at least one of these versions of Charlotte Summers when he developed his own self-conscious, self-mocking narrator and mock(ed) readers and listeners. The essay focuses on the self-conscious narrator and mock readers in the English original and their peculiarly transformed counterparts in its Russian translation and examines how Chulkov appropriates these elements to his own literary purpose, in both his voluminous collection The Mocker (1766–1768) and his short picaresque novel The Comely Cook or The Adventures of a Debauched Woman (1770). The timing of both the original publication and the translations of Charlotte Summers as well as textual evidence support the hypothesis that this anonymous English novel constitutes a profoundly important, yet overlooked, model for a crucial and entertaining feature of Chulkov's fiction: his ironic, self-conscious narrators' method of interweaving the narrative with an incessant squabble/dialogue/interaction with their mock readers and listeners. Charlotte Summers offered Chulkov, then a novice fiction writer, ways to undermine the earnest authoritative narrative voice ubiquitous in early Russian prose fiction, to introduce entertainment and mockery as valid aesthetic principles, and to fight his own literary and polemical battles.
Rimma Garn; Born in Translation: Mikhail Chulkov and Charlotte Summers. Comparative Literature 1 September 2011; 63 (3): 253–268. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00104124-1335736
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