Skip to content

Words new to me: двуличневый

March 13, 2023

The word litso ‘face’ gives us the familiar dvulichnyi ‘two-faced, hypocritical,’ and dvulichnevyi sure looks like a different version of that same word, but that meaning didn’t fit here:

Imagine, I paid them a visit! Had to ask them to the ball too. The major’s wife’s soul leapt at the news: look, that’s her over there, in the crimson tarlatan. But the other one needed no end of persuading: she doesn’t want to come, and that’s that! Come now, how can that be? What would people have thought of me as a hostess when you could say this is their ball? I begged her to come. An excuse: no dress. Oh, God, have one made then! Pas d’argent. Finally, thank God, the problem was solved when among her things was found a dvulichnevoe, high-necked, long-sleeved one.

Представьте, я им визит делала! Надо же и их на бал. У майорши все разом воспело; посмотрите, вот она, в пунцовом тарлатане. Но другая, — надо было уламывать: не хочет на бал, и только! Что ж бы это было, скажите? Что бы [подумали] обо мне, о хозяйке, когда это, можно сказать, их бал? Я умоляла. Отговорка — нет платья. Ах, Боже мой, сделайте! Pas d’argent. Наконец, слава Богу, разрешилось тем, что нашлось у нее какое-то двуличневое, закрытое, длинные рукава. (191) (подумала is corrected to подумали in a later edition, 253)

So it’s some kind of clothing term. It’s old-fashioned enough not to be in Ushakov’s dictionary, but in others you can find that dvulichnevoe is both an obsolete synonym of dvulichnoe and an obsolete word meaning ‘of two colors or the same on both sides,’ which if I’m reading it right means it could refer to either a pattern made of exactly two colors or a reversible garment with the same color or pattern on the inside and the outside—not two-faced, but two-sided.

Along similar lines there is apparently a technical musical meaning of dvulichnost’.

The passage is from Nadezhda Khvoshchinskaia’s Ursa Major (Большая Медведица, 1870), often the first novel of hers people name.

George Eliot

March 7, 2023

A few months ago I took my father’s and Rohan Maitzen’s advice and finally read Middlemarch. Well, listened to the audiobook. It was the best decision I’d made in a while, and right after that I listened to Daniel Deronda, Adam Bede, The Mill on the Floss, and Silas Marner, and now I’m to the point where I’m saving Felix Holt, the Radical and Romola so I don’t run out.

Before that I’d never read a word of Eliot, but now I feel like some of my all-time favorite English and Russian novelists were trying to be like her. And I’ve started seeing her name all over in nineteenth-century Russian writing, possibly because Nadezhda Khvoshchinskaia gets compared to her a lot. For example, V. V. Chuiko in 1889:

Among such commonplaces, incidentally, is the aphorism according to which V. Krestovskii, pseudonym (née Khvoshchinskaia, by marriage Zaionchkovskaia) is our George Eliot or our George Sand. But as the French say, comparaison n’est pas raison—that is in the first place, and in the second place, is it not absurd to use the unfamiliar to explain the familiar? Khvoshchinskaia, as a fairly popular Russian woman writer, we know in any case better than we know George Sand or George Eliot. A few consecutive generations have been raised (at least in part) on Khvoshchinskaia; knowing some of her novels—for example, Ursa Major or In Hope of Something Better—is for some reason considered obligatory for any educated Russian; Khvoshchinskaia is one of the best-known Russian women novelists, and on this basis alone, her overall literary physiognomy seems to us to be much clearer in outline than this or that foreign writer’s. On the other hand, although we once read George Sand or George Eliot, we in any case read them in excerpts we happened to come across, in bad translations, and moreover far from everything written by them, and at the present moment we do not read them at all. George Sand belongs to the 40s, and George Eliot primarily to the 60s. And nevertheless, whenever someone starts to talk about Khvoshchinskaia, the obligatory line surfaces: she is our Russian George Sand, she is our Russian George Eliot.

But above and beyond what you might call these factual considerations, such a comparison is not justified in substance. George Sand is a writer with a striking, clearly defined political subtext [podkladka]; this is her distincitve trait (if we are to speak only of the ideas behind her works). In the French novel she is a representative, and the most talented and versatile one, of the democratic and socialist principles that brought France to the explosion of 1848.

George Eliot, on the contrary, entered the political arena in her works only partially (if memory serves, only in Felix Holt); her characteristic trait is a broad religious and philosophical synthesis that at times achieves considerable depth. She was under the direct influence of Auguste Comte, Darwin—whom she met, thanks to Lewes—and especially Spinoza (she translated his Ethics). Her philosophical education was remarkably wide-ranging; she knew Kant well, as well as Fichte, Schelling, and Hegel, and not by hearsay, through others, but directly. Her favorite thing to read was Plato. In her novels she did not stint on purely scientific details, be they physiological, biological, or anthropological, so that her works are closer in form and content to philosophical tracts in belletristic form than they are to ordinary belles lettres. (paragraph breaks added, 37–38)

Here’s K. K. Arsen’ev a year earlier:

At the beginning of our study we mentioned, along with the name of Krestovskii, the names George Sand, George Elliot, and Currer Bell. Now we can more definitely define Krestovskii’s relationship to these three women writers who anticipated all other women in the realm of the novel. If Currer Bell had written only Shirley, Villette, and The Professor, and George Elliot only Scenes of Clerical Life, Romola, Felix Holt, and Daniel Deronda, they would not stand so far above the mass of their in many cases quite talented female compatriots who were and are working at the same trade; Currer Bell’s glory rests entirely on Jane Eyre, G. Elliot’s entirely on Adam Bede and The Mill on the Floss. These novels have much in common with Krestovskii’s best works: the same responsiveness to suffering and sadness, the same prowess in psychological analysis, the same ability to penetrate into the characters’ inner lives. The author of Jane Eyre might have the advantage of a more compressed and restrained form, but this advantage is in any case not so great that one could put Currer Bell above Krestovskii for this reason alone. Elliot, besides having the same or even greater strengths as a storyteller, knows the art of bringing images to the state of artistic plasticity that makes them last. If Adam Bede, Dinah Morris, Maggie [spelled Меджи, or Madgie, in Russian] Tulliver cannot take places in the central hall we spoke of, it is only because they do not represent a significant type, significant for their time or for all times, that embodies some living and crucial aspect of life… (348)

What odds would you have given me on both of them mentioning Felix Holt, the Radical (1866) and neither mentioning Middlemarch (1871–72)? It’s not that they didn’t know it—the early installments of Middlemarch were being published in Russian translation before the later ones had appeared in English. Here are the first few chapters of Middlemarch in Russian from December 1871 under the title В тихом омуте — буря, literally Storm in Still Waters.

Links to issues of The Cause and articles about N. Khvoshchinskaia

March 4, 2023

On the page for the journal The Cause (Дело), there are now links to almost the full 1866–1888 run, thanks to American, German, and Russian libraries that have digitized parts of their collections. A trick I learned for finding things: take a list of issues on HathiTrust (example), click on a particular issue (example), then go to “Get This Item” in the left sidebar and “Find at Google Books.” Google Books lets you download full issues or page through them quickly, but they make it hard to find multiple issues of the same journal.

There isn’t much new here for the established Khvoshchinskaia scholars, but people just starting to do research on Nadezhda Khvoshchinskaia might find useful sources on this small but growing bibliography. If you scroll down, you’ll find pre-1917 sources arranged chronologically, sometimes with links to the full text and/or a summary.

When was Nadezhda Khvoshchinskaia born?

January 23, 2023

TL;DR probably 1821, but conceivably 1820 or 1822.

In 1890 Vasilii Semevskii said Nadezhda Khvoshchinskaia was born on May 20th, 1825, and other nineteenth-century commentators either agreed or said it was 1824.

In 1956 Aleksandr Mogilianskii wrote that she was born on May 20th, 1824, and her sister Sof’ia Khvoshchinskaia in 1828, without mentioning any uncertainty. In 1963 M. Goriachkina also gave Nadezhda’s birth year as 1824.

In 1988 Evgenii Krupin in Riazanskii komsomolets published a document (more on it below) saying it was actually Sof’ia who had been born in 1824. I haven’t read Krupin’s piece [update 3/1/23: now I have!], but Aleksandr Potapov’s 1996 book about writers from Ryazan says that Krupin argued Nadezhda was born in 1822. Following Krupin and Potapov, Hilde Hoogenboom and Arja Rosenholm used the dates 1822–89 for Nadezhda in 2001, and Hoogenboom did again in 2002 and 2017.

In 2004 Jehanne M. Gheith gave Nadezhda’s dates as 1820?–89 (52), with details in a footnote:

Nadezhda Khvoshchinskaia’s date of birth is usually given as 1824 or 1825. But comparing the register of births (metricheskaia kniga) with P[raskov’ia]. D. Khvoshchinskaia’s account suggests that it is more likely that she was born in 1820. The Riazan’ Registry of Births (Metricheskaia kniga) lists S[of’ia]. D. Khvoshchinskaia’s birth as 1824. P. D. Khvoshchinskaia (iii; and other sources) states that N[adezhda]. D. Khvoshchinskaia was four years older than Sofiia. So it appears that N. D. Khvoshchinskaia was born in 1820, and Sofiia in 1824. Evgenii Nikolaevich Krupin gives 1828 as Praskoviia’s date of birth, though I am not certain of the evidentiary basis for this. I am grateful to Krupin for sharing the entry from the Metricheskaia kniga with me. See P. D. Khvoshchinskaia’s biographical sketch in Sobranie sochinenii V. Krestovskogo (psevdonim). (195n26)

In 2021 Evgeniia Stroganova took another look at the documentary evidence. Here’s what she found:

Nadezhda Khvoshchinskaia’s birth year was given as 1824 by Karrik (1899) and Mogilianskii (1956), and as 1825 by Gerbel’ (1873), Golitsyn (1889), and Tsebrikova (1897) (115). But both 1824 and 1825 are probably incorrect.

She had four siblings: Kesar’ (1826–1873), Liubov’ (1827–1838), and her two fellow writers Sof’ia and Praskov’ia. Those who believe Nadezhda was born in 1824 or 1825 often say Sof’ia was born in 1828 (on May 20th, the same day as Nadezhda) and Praskov’ia in 1831 (115).

The birth registry for the village of Voronki is missing the relevant dates, but on April 22nd, 1833, the writers’ father Dmitrii Kesarevich Khvoshchinskii asked the Ryazan Assembly of the Nobility to certify Sof’ia’s noble birth so she could go to school. The Ryazan Ecclesiastical Consistory issued a document confirming Sof’ia was born on May 20th, 1824, on the testimony of witnesses present at her baptism (115). Stroganova cites both an archival source and Krupin’s 1988 publication for the document issued by the Consistory, and only an archival source for Dmitrii’s 1833 request, though she says the two are together in the archive. My theory is that Kuprin showed Gheith the possibly undated document from the Consistory that was presumably issued sometime after the father’s request dated 1833, but not the request itself. [Update 3/1/23: Krupin 1988 explicitly says the document from the Consistory was dated April 11th, 1833.]

Back to Stroganova’s case. She mentions three other documents besides the retrospective document above:

  1. In a petition from January 1830, Dmitrii lists his children’s ages as Nadezhda 8, Sof’ia 4, Kesar’ 3, Liubov’ 2, Praskov’ia 1. This suggests Nadezhda was born in 1821, Sof’ia in 1825, and Praskov’ia in 1828 (115, and on Kesar’ and Liubov’ see this 2016 article by Stroganova that I learned about from Karen Rosneck, 182n2). [Update 3/1/23: Krupin also mentions this document and theorizes that it was written in early 1829 even though it’s dated 1830, but he doesn’t explain why he thinks so.]
  2. Dmitrii was granted leave from government service on March 20th, 1821, because of “domestic circumstances” (domashnie obstoiatel’stva), which might mean the expected birth of Nadezhda later that spring (115).
  3. Sof’ia’s diploma of March 9th, 1843, says she is 18 years old, which implies she was born in 1825 (116). [But isn’t this also consistent with a birthday of May 20th, 1824?—EM.] [Update 3/1/23: Krupin mentions the diploma too and says it’s evidence for a birth year of either 1824 or 1825.]

Nadezhda herself apparently claimed she was born in 1824, and this claim led to incorrect dates in the scholarly literature for Sof’ia and Praskov’ia as well as herself, but it was not unusual for men and women of her time to lie about their age (116). In letters of May 19th, 1864, and April 1st, 1874, she appears to refer to upcoming round-number birthdays, her 40th and 50th if she had indeed been born in 1824 (116–17).

Stroganova’s conclusion: Nadezhda was born in 1821, Sof’ia in 1824 or 1825, and Praskov’ia in 1828 (116).

The case for Nadezhda being born in 1821 and Sof’ia in 1825 looks strong to me, since the document that clearly says Sof’ia was born in 1824 was (assuming it’s a response to the 1833 request) created several years later. It’s easy to imagine that, since her father asked for the document within a month of her birthday and it may not have been finished until afterward, someone got confused about whether Sof’ia was a 7-year-old turning 8 or an 8-year-old turning 9 and incorrectly subtracted 9 from 1833 to get 1824.

It looks to me like all the documents written about the present instead of the past are consistent with Sof’ia having been born in 1825 (maybe with an asterisk for the 1843 diploma). But if Stroganova thinks 1824 is possible for Sof’ia, why isn’t 1820 possible for Nadezhda, since Praskov’ia says Nadezhda and Sof’ia were four years apart, and the 1830 petition does too? It’s strange to think that the January 1830 petition would be wrong about Sof’ia’s age and right about Nadezhda’s if the two shared a birthday.

I wonder if Krupin has arguments in favor of 1822 separate from the document mentioned by Gheith and Stroganova? [Update 3/1/23: I still don’t understand Krupin’s 1822 theory. The new piece of information I got from reading his article directly was his idea that document (1) above, the petition dated 1830, was actually created in 1829. If he’s right, then that seems like a point in favor of 1820 as the birth year, as Gheith suggested.]

See E. N. Stroganova, “K 200-letiiu Nadezhdy Dmitrievny Khvoshchinskoi: O date rozhdeniia pisatel’nitsy.” Kul’tura i tekst 45.2 (2021): 113–20. doi: 10.37386/2305–4077–2021–2–113-120. I’m very grateful to Karen Rosneck, Hilde Hoogenboom, and Anna Berman for corresponding with me about this question and pointing out sources I hadn’t found [update 3/1/23: and to Hoogenboom for sending me Krupin’s 1988 article].

Men through men’s eyes

January 12, 2023
The first plate in Leigh’s book: Grigorii Chernetsov, Perspective View of the War Gallery of 1812 in the Winter Palace (1829), oil on canvas, 121 x 92 cm.

Androcentrism is everywhere, and it’s easy to move from talking about works by women writers or artists in a negatively coded way (or ignoring them) to a positive coding that still implies a comparison to works by regular people. One solution: take the category a culture considers the default, in this case men, and force people to see it. Instead of asking what men have to say about the universe and what women have to say about the female experience, why not ask what men have to say about the male experience?

That’s part of what Allison Leigh is doing in Picturing Russia’s Men: Masculinity and Modernity in Nineteenth-Century Painting (2020), I think. She uses evolving Russian ideas about masculinity to take us through some of the biggest artistic names of the century: Karl Briullov, Alexander Ivanov, Pavel Fedotov, Il’ia Repin, and Ivan Kramskoi (who is prominent in a chapter on the Artel of Artists and sneaks into the end of Repin’s in addition to getting his own). This means we don’t get Kiprenskii, Bruni, Venetsianov, Ge, Perov, or Surikov, or fin-de-siècle figures like Serov or Vrubel’, or, unsurprisingly, people famous for landscapes and seascapes like Aivazovskii or Levitan.

The tone of the book is so unified that it took me a while to see that Leigh’s questions and approaches change from chapter to chapter. Some of my favorite parts are her detailed readings of artworks that seem unremarkable (rows of portraits of military men, 1–11) or images that aren’t widely known (depictions not just by, but of the Artel of Artists, 151–75). With Kramskoi and Repin, she gives us new interpretations of famous canvases—the Unknown Woman, Ivan the Terrible and His Son Ivan, 16 November 1581, the portrait of Musorgskii—using their biographies and writings and her own analyses of less famous works to add context. With Fedotov the paintings fade to the background, and we get a lot about his life through the lens of masculinity. In the chapter on Ivanov, “Desire and the Male Nude,” life and art seem inseparable. Here Leigh contrasts drawings of two male nudes that Briullov and Ivanov separately made at the Academy:

In Briullov’s study, the two men are seen from behind with both models turning away from him. He carefully captured the musculature, but the figures’ connection to one another was not made all that convincing. The seated man is shown looking dramatically away from his partner while the sightline of the standing man was made ambiguous. They look utterly posed, a means to an end for an artist seeking to show his technical skill and his understanding of classically ideal forms.

Ivanov’s rendering, on the other hand, is a tour de force of masculine spectacle and dramatic engagement. The standing man is seen utterly frontal, with his rather short right arm grasping a long rod, allowing Ivanov to concentrate on the sumptuous bulging bicep. The other arm sweeps intensely across his body, forcefully grasping the wrist of his partner. The seated man has reached up and placed his hand high across his partner’s thigh. The fingers of that hand curve convincingly around the upper quadriceps, but Ivanov fumbled somewhat the standing man’s hand—creating ambiguity as to whether that figure is pushing his partner’s hand off of his thigh or pulling it upward. This is a stark change from the figures’ arrangement in Briullov’s drawing. In that work, the standing figure does not clutch at his partner’s thigh, but instead places his hand on the opposing man’s shoulder. (111–13)

I think my view of Kramskoi has been changed the most by Picturing Russia’s Men, and it’s nice how the masculinity framing lets Leigh go in a direction that’s a skew line to Elizabeth Kridl Valkenier (Kramskoi is one of the theorists of socially engaged realism, and by leading the Revolt of the Fourteen and founding the Artel of Artists, he moved Russian art past the academic approach of Briullov/Ivanov/Bruni to the high realist era of the Peredvizhniki) and Evgeny Steiner (the Revolt of the Fourteen was motivated by Kramskoi’s personal ambition and his fear of losing the Academy contest, while the Peredvizhniki and the Academy of Arts were institutionally and aesthetically much closer than the old narrative will admit). This I thought was daring:

Ivan Kramskoi, Unknown Woman, 1883; oil on canvas, 76.1 x 102.3 cm

For the critic who ventured to call the picture what it was—“a portrait of an expensive Camellia”—painting such a subject was a serious mistake on Kramskoi’s part […]

What neither this critic nor the others at the time seem to have accounted for was the possibility that Kramskoi identified with his heroine. Scholars since have likewise failed to recognize the artist’s solidarity with a woman in her position, as well as the sympathy he felt for those women in his immediate familial circle. These were difficult years for the painter. He began to have health problems in late 1879 and he became increasingly fearful that he would not live to provide for his wife and children. He took on more and more portrait commissions to earn the income his family needed, nonetheless his debts continued to mount. In the two months that he was completing the Unknown Woman, his financial concerns reached a fever pitch. He sent a series of frantic letters to the collector Pavel Tretiakov a mere seven weeks before the exhibition opened. In them, he described his willingness to sell himself to anyone willing to buy him:

Since the autumn, when my affairs were revealed to me completely, I have made myself for sale [ia sebia prodaiu]—who will buy? With this proposal, I went first to Betgrov and told him: “Would you like to rent me [vziat’ na arendu]? Everything I’ll do will be yours (except for my paintings), and you pay me (that is, give out) 1,000 rubles a month.” He says: “What do you intend to give me?” — “Everything that I’ll do!”

This is a man in a desperate position, offering himself, much like the “Camellia” on the street in his painting. He uses the language of the commodity domain—sell, buy, rent, pay—yet he has turned all this inward on himself. He does not advertise his skills as a painter, instead injecting an almost bizarre level of vagueness and innuendo into the proposition. (209)

See Allison Leigh, Picturing Russia’s Men: Masculinity and Modernity in Nineteenth-Century Painting (London: Bloomsbury Visual Arts, 2020).

Celebrating the Baptism of Rus

January 11, 2023

Sean Guillory: What’s the story behind this baptism in 988?

Sean Griffin: That depends on your sources and who you ask, right? So by far the most famous story, and the one that Putin and [Patriarch] Kirill and the Kremlin propagandists, the one that they’ve been repeating all these… these last 25, 30 years—it’s the story found in the Rus Primary Chronicle, right, in the Povest’ vremennykh let. And this is the story that, exactly as you said, so many of us would know. This conversion narrative of the great sinner Vladimir to the great saint. This speech he has with the philosopher. The miraculous conversion he has at the siege of Kherson, and then he goes back to Kiev and he oversees the mass baptism of Rus in the Dnieper River in 988.

That is the myth about Vladimir and the Baptism of Rus. Professional historians, of course, have a… well, I mean, to be frank, there’s very… points of consensus are relatively few, and disagreements are many. And the reason for that is that none of the surviving records… there’s no eyewitnesses’ accounts to what happened. And the earliest accounts that we do have were written down 150 years after the event. So as the eminent early twentieth-century philologist Aleksei Shakhmatov said, the chroniclers basically… it all had been lost to time, and the chroniclers were forced to build an edifice upon the sand. And then, of course, what I’ve argued in my first book was that what they used to build that edifice was the stories they got from the liturgy.

But the stories that professional historians today use, the most common construction goes something like this. It’s 987. A Byzantine usurper, basically, named Bardas Phokas, he puts together an army and starts the march towards Constantinople. The legitimate emperor, Basil II, is not prepared to fight him, and so he negotiates with the northern barbarian Vladimir to basically come and save his city. And the agreement they reach is—this is Basil II saying this—“I will give you the hand of my sister Anna in marriage, a princess born in the purple”—so of the imperial Byzantine family—“I will give you her hand in marriage if you agree to convert to Byzantine Christianity, to our religion.”

Vladimir agrees, he sends 6,000 troops, they play a decisive role in helping Basil retain his throne, and then Vladimir goes back to Kiev and awaits his Byzantine bride. But she never shows up! So he marches back down to Chersonesos, seizes the city, and rather than make yet another enemy, Basil II decides to fulfill his promise, and he sends Anna, Vladimir is baptized, and they and a party of clerics return to Kiev and oversee the gradual conversion of Rus. Historians today understand this was not an instantaneous, one-time thing that happened, it was a much longer, much more gradual process.

So those are the two basic narratives, one kind of well-known and mythological, the other probably the most plausible and most consistent historiographical reconstruction of scholars. (19:28–23:04)

The Baptism of Rus, in 1986 a dull if prominent fact young people neglected to memorize, is surprisingly important to twenty-first-century ideological projects, and Griffin studies those as well as the medieval chronicles.

Here I’m going to paraphrase Griffin and reorder things a little. In 2000 Patriarch Alexy II of Moscow and All Rus met with President-Elect Putin, Ukraine’s Kuchma, and Belarus’s Lukashenka for a ceremony that involved something called the Bell of the Brotherly Unity of the Three Slavic Nations. A saint represented each nation on the bell, and at that time Ukraine was represented by St. Volodymyr.

After the Orange Revolution in 2004, the Russian Orthodox Church and Putin’s government no longer approved of classifying Volodymyr/Vladimir as a distinctively Ukrainian figure. Instead they began to promote what Griffin calls a “neo-imperial” ideology, the “propaganda of Holy Rus,” “an old mythology… revitalized for the current political situation,” where Russians, Ukrainians, and Belarusians are all one people because they all trace their origins to the Baptism of Rus.

From 2005 to 2008 there is a campaign to begin celebrating the unity of the Slavic peoples with a ceremony in Kyiv on Volodymyr/Vladimir’s feast day every July 28th. Putin comes out in favor of the holiday. The campaign succeeds, and the first celebration is in 2008, while Viktor Yushchenko is president of Ukraine.

This holiday is presented as old but is actually an “invented tradition.” There had been celebrations in 1888 and, surprisingly, 1988, “when Mikhail Gorbachev shocks Party stalwarts by permitting the Church to celebrate the millennial of the Baptism of Rus” (24:41–24:50), but people had hardly been commemorating the baptism every year since 988. In Griffin’s view the important late Soviet celebration doesn’t have much to do with the post–Orange Revolution ones, which have another purpose:

When the Moscow Patriarchate or when Putin is pushing this idea of the Baptism of Rus, and when they’re pushing for this holiday, what they’re really pushing for is, of course, not the past as it actually happened, and not Vladimir, whoever he was as a real historical figure in the late tenth/early eleventh century—what they’re pushing is a politics of memory, a version of the past which is basically complete make-believe based on ancient myths. They’re pushing a version of the past that serves their political interests in the present.

And what were those political interests? Well, we know very well, of course, that Putin has called the collapse of the USSR the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the twentieth century, and we now know that he has launched one of the most irrational and brutal wars in recent memory to try to keep it within the Russian sphere of influence. At this point, however, they were still using soft-power tools. And one of the main soft-power tools that they were using was this ideology of Holy Rus. (32:57–34:03)

There is much more, including Griffin’s take on the “four to eight” factions within the current Russian Orthodox Church, which he says is not a simple “handmaiden of the state” and not adequately described by Soviet-era clichés (35:18–40:53) and the dispute over whether the Moscow Patriarchate or the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople has the power to grant autocephaly to the Ukrainian church (40:53–49:37). Toward the end he discusses how Ukrainian leaders have used the Baptism of Rus for their own political purposes, with St. Volodymyr choosing to bring Ukraine into Europe (49:37–53:09).

See the SRB Podcast episode “The Day of the Baptism of Rus” (November 18th, 2022) and Griffin’s Eve Levin Award–winning article “Revolution, Raskol, and Rock ’n’ Roll: The 1,020th Anniversary of the Day of the Baptism of Rus,” The Russian Review 80.2 (2021): 183–208.

“…and it was completely invisible to everyone else.”

January 10, 2023

I just listened to Sean Griffin on the always fascinating SRB Podcast. I want to do another post on what he has to say about the mythological and historical stories of Saint Volodymyr/Vladimir and the Baptism of Rus, and how that long-ago event has been put to political use since the Orange Revolution, but this struck me:

What led me to study the Russian Orthodox Church is that, as a twenty-year-old young man living a very hedonistic life in Malibu, California, I had a very unexpected conversion to Christianity and eventually became a member of the Orthodox Church in the Russian tradition. It wasn’t a Moscow Patriarchate church, but it was a very Russian church in what’s called the Orthodox Church of America. And I was very into it, I was one of these very annoying fiery convert types. And I went to all of the services, and I became what’s called a reader, which is basically the most minor type of cleric, ok? And so I chanted the services, you know, on an almost daily basis for several years, and so I knew the church books. I kind of knew lots of them, large sections of them, by heart. And so when I got to graduate school, I quickly realized that when it came to Russian studies, this was a very unusual skillset to have. Because I could see this plain as day in a lot the foundational monuments of East Slavic civilization, and it was completely invisible to everybody else. (10:11–11:30)

What Griffin could see was that the writers of the medieval Primary Chronicle used stories from the Orthodox Liturgy to fill in the gaps in the stories they were writing down that were said to have happened several generations earlier. This is the argument of his 2019 book The Liturgical Past in Byzantium and Early Rus (reviewed by Simon Franklin at LARB).

I was the opposite kind of student, the one whose background was so secular that I needed my advisor to explain that “Lord, help my unbelief” in a Tiutchev poem—in quotation marks!—was an allusion to the New Testament. But lately I’ve been realizing how much culture works the way the chronicles work for Griffin and his fellow grad students. There are texts with explicit allusions to other texts, and there are texts where you sense the presence of an implicit allusion even if you don’t recognize it or have enough information to look it up. But it turns out there are also texts that feel complete and self-contained to one set of readers, while another set sees a second layer “plain as day.” I don’t mean the kind of thing where you have to argue about whether Pushkin could have read some obscure English poem when the pages of that book in his library hadn’t even been cut, or whether Flaubert could have known about an unpublished manuscript of Goncharov’s—I mean things like this, from Sasha Senderovich’s How the Soviet Jew Was Made (2022):

cover of Red Cavalry by I. Babel’

Let’s return to the phrase [in Isaak Babel’s short story “Rebbe” (Рабби, 1924)] that precedes Lyutov’s response about Hershele, “Otkuda priekhal evrei?” This is a direct Russian calque of the Yiddish phrase “Fun vanen kumt a yid?” (Where has the Jew come from?) At first glance, the wording of the rebbe’s question seems no more than a direct rendering of the implied Yiddish original. However, the Yiddish a yid is idiomatic and does not actually mean evrei (Jew) in translation. Because Yiddish assumes its speakers to be Jews, a yid in this and other similar locutions means “a person” or, simply, “you.” An idiomatic translation of the implied Yiddish phrase would be simply, “Where are you from?” (256)

In the notes to David McDuff’s translation of “Rebbe,” Efraim Sicher points out that a 1926 Russian edition puts in a comma (Otkuda priekhal, evrei?) so that the sentence would mean not “where have you come from?” or even “where has the Jew come from?” but “where have you come from, Jew?”—evidence that the non-existent implied Yiddish text that the Russian dialogue is translated from was invisible not just to many readers, but to some editors. Without Sicher and Senderovich I would have had no idea that this brief Russian question indicated the characters were speaking Yiddish.

The same thing can happen in the other direction, as we learn from Harriet Murav talking about Yiddish-language writer David Bergelson (1884–1952), who went from the Pale of Settlement to interwar Germany to the Soviet Union, where he was executed on his 68th birthday:

Bergelson said that he imagined the characters he wrote about […] to actually be speaking Russian, that a young, progressive person at a certain point, before everyone became a Yiddishist, was a Russian, wanted to be at home in the Russian-speaking world. So he said that part of the reason people thought his prose was a little odd was that he was in effect translating back what they might have said in Russian into Yiddish, and that might account for some of the sense of strangeness or awkwardness or distance in some of the Yiddish that he uses. (37:09–37:55)

You can read Babel in Russian without knowing Yiddish just as you can read Bergelson in Yiddish without knowing Russian just as you can read the Primary Chronicle without knowing the Orthodox Liturgy inside and out, but if you don’t know those things, you won’t even know you’re missing what’s invisible to you. And if you do know, you see it without looking.

Khvoshchinskaia before Krestovskii

October 12, 2022

Natal’ia Kulikova:

Another gem of our collection is a portrait in miniature of Nadezhda Dmitrievna Khvoshchinskaia as a child. Here she is four or five years old. The artist is unknown. (2:44–2:56)

The same picture appears in black and white on page 61 of Jehanne M. Gheith’s 2004 Finding the Middle Ground: Krestovskii, Tur, and the Power of Ambivalence in Nineteenth-Century Russian Women’s Prose, where it’s described like this: “Portrait of Nadezhda Khvoshchinskaia by Sofiia Khvoshchinskaia, in watercolor. Riazan’ Historical-Architectural Museum.”

You can take an online tour of the current exhibit at that museum, Nadezhda Dmitrievna Khvoshchinskaia: “An Honest Soul.” This painting by Sofiia Khvoshchinskaia is also on display:

Free e-book: The Meeting by Nadezhda Khvoshchinskaya

July 18, 2022

The translation of The Meeting (Свидание, 1879) is mostly the same as the one that appeared on this blog a year ago, but I caught a few mistakes and changed my mind on a few stylistic things. You can download the e-book in .pdf, .epub, or .azw3 format from the University Digital Conservancy at the University of Minnesota. It’s published under a CC license that gives you a lot of freedom about how you use it.

Maybe you can translate Gogol into Ukrainian after all

July 15, 2022

Eleven years ago today I put up a post summarizing an article by Iurii Barabash that asked the question “why did Gogol write in Russian?” Barabash’s argument, as I understood it then, was that Gogol chose to write in Russian instead of Ukrainian because it was the language of prestige in the Russian Empire, and he’d have more readers. But (still paraphrasing Barabash) the Russian that Gogol wrote included Ukrainian features. This gave his language a special flavor, lost when the text was translated into Ukrainian and what had been exotic became ordinary. Gogol could have made another choice: he could have rejected Russian for Ukrainian like Taras Shevchenko.

Four years ago Robert Romanchuk disagreed with Barabash:

I will argue that Gogol’’s writing was in Ukrainian; and that, despite the changing linguistic economy of his native nook, Gogol’ never ceased writing Ukrainian—in Russian. In other words, the particular literary-historical formation in which Gogol’ soon found himself inscribed (alongside [Antonii] Pogorel’skii [the pen name of Aleksei Perovskii]) did not substitute for the circulation of the Ukrainian language that of Russian, as is sometimes claimed (e.g., by Barabash). Its vampirizing operations, which circumvent substitution and circulation altogether, were rather the incorporation and recycling of the Ukrainian language in Russian. (272–73)

The literary-historical formation Romanchuk has in mind is what came after “Little Russian literature,” a term used by 1830s critics for a constellation of writers associated with Ukraine (then called Little Russia) who wrote on Ukrainian themes in Ukrainian and/or Russian. This imperial phenomenon died out when Russian literature and Ukrainian literature went their separate ways. Gogol’s evolution from Evenings on a Farm near Dikanka (Вечера на хуторе близ Диканьки, 1831–32) to Mirgorod (Миргород, 1835) is connected to a broader cultural shift from Little Russian prose to an era of having to pick either Russian or Ukrainian, though, as Romanchuk goes on to show, it’s complicated (275–76). Where Barabash contrasts Gogol to Shevchenko, Romanchuk chooses Hryhorii Kvitka-Osnovianenko as a foil: Kvitka came out of Little Russian literature, like Gogol, but published in Ukrainian in the mid-1830s (275).

Little Russian literature included poetry as well as prose, and to show how each fit in the cultural system of the Russian Empire, Romanchuk uses the Greimas square. He gives Winfried Nöth’s example showing how the four points of the square work: “S1 = life, S2 = death, ¬S1 = non-life (e.g., stone), and ¬S2 = non-death (e.g., vampire).” Little Russian prose gets the vampire position: “S1 = Imperial Russian literature, S2 = its forbidden contrary, as yet unnamed (e.g., the Ukrainian Kapnist’s Iabeda (Chicanery)), ¬S1 = Little Russian verse, and ¬S2 = Little Russian prose” (274n6).

The heart of Romanchuk’s argument (275–87) answers the question “where does Gogol’’s Ukrainian go, once he begins writing (it) in Russian?” (276) through an examination of a scene from one of the stories of Mirgorod, “Vii” (Вий, 1835) and a story Romanchuk argues is a source of Mirgorod, Pogorel’skii’s Convent Girl (Монастырка, 1830–33). (He also mentions the link between “Vii” and Vasilii Narezhnyi’s Bursary Student [Бурсак, 1824], which I first learned about from Languagehat, but which was evidently pointed out in the 1830s.) If you want to get your mind around Romanchuk’s ideas of “incorporation” and “recycling,” two answers to “where does Ukrainian go,” read his whole article—I can’t do them justice in a blog post.

Romanchuk has a delightfully detailed response to Barabash’s point about the difficulty of translating Gogol into Ukrainian (287–90).

First he discusses a 1902 (!) piece where Iosif Mandel’shtam argues Gogol’s language is “Ukrainian, displaced in what he refers to as a myslennyi perevod [mental translation]” (288) and spells out what this means with examples:

Typical Ukrainian cumulative-distributive verbal prefixation (rare in Russian): svin’i povlezali v okna; vse poraspivalos’;

Ukrainian prepositional usage and governance: Poshli v Akademiiu khudozhestv po khudozhnika Zen’kova (cf. Russian za khudozhnikom);

Ukrainian adverbial usage: Inogda chto-nibud’ khochetsia delat’ — pochitat’… no ne mozhno (in a draft of The Inspector General; cf. Russian nel’zia);

Shared lexicon with Ukrainian semantics: Revizor sygran — a u menia na dushe tak smutno (cf. Russian grustno na dushe); Vsiakii vzgliad ee polonil serdtse, dusha zanimalas’ (cf. Russian dusha trogalas’); chudno (meaning “strange” or “comical,” cf. Russian udivitel’no.)

(288; for clarity I’ve removed Romanchuk’s references to page numbers in his source)

Then Romanchuk compares published translations of Gogol’s “Ivan Fedorovych Shpon’ka and His Auntie” (Иван Федорович Шпонька и его тетушка, 1831) into Ukrainian, and the actually existing translations are more interesting than the linguistic drabness Barabash led me to expect. Poet Mykola Zerov, in his “brilliant, eccentric translation,” kept the text strange “by transposing its ‘semi-foreignness’ […] from space to time, employing late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century Little Russian linguistic features (from both Ukrainian and Russian as then spoken in Ukraine)” (288). Ivan Malkovych later publishes a modified version of Zerov’s translation that undoes a lot of this brilliance, but again in an interesting way: he adjusts Zerov’s word order to more closely follow Gogol’s, so Malkovych is transporting Gogol’s Russian into Ukrainian almost the way Gogol incorporated Ukrainian into Russian in the first place (289).

See Robert Romanchuk, “Mother Tongue: Gogol’’s Pannochka, Pogorel’skii’s Monastyrka, and the Economy of Russian in the Little Russian Gothic,” Slavic and East European Journal 62.2 (2018): 272–92.