Vera Oskarovna Stanevich (1890-1967)

Language: Russian

Jane Eyre translation: 1950

Vera Oskarovna Stanevich was a poet and one of the foremost 20th century translators of Western European and American literature into Russian. She was educated at the Moscow Higher Courses for Women (Philosophy). Before her long career as a literary translator, she had her first literary life as a Silver Age symbolist poet, and published a number of short stories in 1917. (Five of her poems appeared in an almanac alongside those of Pasternak and others in 1913.)

Stanevich was the wife of another minor symbolist, Anisimov, who himself translated Langston Hughes and Rilke’s Das Stunden-Buch (apparently with Stanevich and under Pasternak’s guidance). Their apartment became a salon frequented by the likes of Bely, Pasternak, Esenin, Mayakovsky and others. With her husband, Stanevich founded the literary group Serdara, which included Pasternak among its members. She was also known, then, as an extravagant woman who tended to defy gender norms (by wearing trousers sometimes etc.) and was hopelessly in love with Andrei Bely. She was an active member of the literary circles of the time, which must have been a formative part of her training as a literary professional and ultimately translator. She worked at the Rumyantsev museum in 1919-20.

She was also, for several years, a prominent anthroposophist and a student of Steiner, whom she also started to translate towards the end of her life (her anthroposophy group was on the hook of the OGPU). A fellow anthroposophist recalls her generous nature full of idiosyncrasies and contradictions. She was the adopted daughter of the head of the Penza hospital and, it seems, encouraged rumours that she had been abandoned by gypsies (the same friend attributes a prophetic ability to Stanevich, which she allegedly mistrusted and repressed). Her son, Boris, died in 1934 of scarlet fever; her  husband, Anisimov, in 1940. 

Under her maiden name, Stanevich published translations of Goethe (Egmont), Heine, Bronte, Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain, Balzac, Feuchtwanger, Remarque, Kafka etc., and was a member of the Soviet literary establishment (Union of Translators). Stanevich wrote two theoretical articles about translation.

Text by Eugenia Kelbert