Jack the Giant Killer or King Legume?

And now for a lighter note. While Googling “John Bayley” & “Wuthering Heights” yesterday, I stumbled on this:

The greats we hate
Spectator writers and others on the classic books they most dislike

Christopher Howse, The Spectator‘s religion columnist, confesses:

I haven’t read most books, among them Crime and Punishment. I don’t know any Russian, and translations soon bring me up short. ‘I’ve learned to chatter this last month, lying for days together in my den thinking… of Jack the Giant-killer,’ says Raskolnikov on the first page. Did Dostoevsky mention Jack the Giant-killer, or was it some other tale, familiar in Russia? Would Dostoevsky really have expressed things in the language used? I stop reading and turn to something else.

It must have been Constance Garrett’s translation, The original Russian expression is an ironic reference to ages long past, the times of folk legend and old women’s tales. Something that came to pass so long ago that it quite possibly never happened at all. Pri tsare Gorokhe, literally “under Tsar Pea.” Oliver Ready translates it literally as “King Pea.” Pevear and Volokhonsky? No idea as Google Books wouldn’t let me view the first page of their translation.

John Spiegel provides more detail on various translations of this leguminous monarch’s name. (Re Pisello sounds good to me.) One can draw a parallel to the French King Pharamond, or Faramond, but there was a time when his historicity was accepted, if only for rhetorical purposes (as in Canterbury’s discourse on the Salic Law in Henry V). Unlike him, the first King Pea is obviously, unmistakably a folk-tale character; the Russian Pharamond could be Gostomysl (Osmomysl).

I’m still not sure why Christopher Howse abandoned Crime and Punishment so easily.


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