David Luke

David Luke, who has died at the age of 84, is described by the Times as:

bq. Translator of the German classics whose versions were regarded in some quarters as being better than their originals.

Some of my translations are better than the original, but they aren’t by Goethe. The comparison was made by Stephen Spender.

bq. According to his own account, it was the realisation that most of his pupils simply lacked the linguistic knowledge to understand and enjoy the great riches of German literature that led him to embark on the sustained work of translation that began with his translation for Penguin of the poetry of Goethe in 1964 and continued almost until his death. His published translations, which included much or most of Kleist, Mörike, Stifter, the Brothers Grimm and Thomas Mann as well as almost all the poetry and much of the prose of Goethe, are likely to be his most enduring literary legacy. …

bq. (He once complained to the chaplain at Christ Church that his pupils took no interest in German grammar; all they were interested in was fornicating. To this the chaplain replied: “But you must admit, David, fornicating is much more interesting than German grammar.” He did admit it.) …

bq. Eventually he was received into the Russian Orthodox communion. For some years he was an active member of the North Oxford congregation where he sang the Church Slavonic liturgy with great gusto and delight. Finally, however, he found it impossible to reconcile the facts of evil with the hypothesis of a benevolent creator.

I would like to know more about how most of Luke’s doctoral thesis was typed on lavatory paper (I write that as someone whose thesis should have been typed on lavatory paper).

There’s an obituary in the Independent too, but it costs money to see it.

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