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It Didn’t Come Off (3)

June 28, 2017

The only strong emotion I felt in my childhood and youth was hatred for Madame Petitpierre. In her I saw nothing more nor less than a domestic spy, attached to me solely to teach me not to think, and it must be said that she carried out her duty to perfection. In our garden there was a meadow where my brother and I would play in our free time; but I would often refuse to play, instead lying on the grass and looking at the sky. Space awakened in me a vague idea of freedom. It seemed to me that I was flying into the air and looking down at maman and Madame Petitpierre, and they were vainly trying to reach me and sternly ordering me to come back down to the earth. When Madame Petitpierre would notice me lying in the grass, she would shout right away, “Eh bien, qu’avez-vous à regarder là-haut d’un air hébété…? Elle est toujours là à rêver à quelque chose! Levez-vous.”

However, Madame Petitpierre’s fears were rather unfounded: I thought very little and looked quite the little fool.

My brother Misha was sent to Moscow to take his degree, and I had to spend the last three years of our sojourn in the country between maman and my governess. I was kept away from the neighbor girls my age because they were of less than aristocratic lineage.

“You won’t learn anything good from any Mukhranovs,” maman would say.

I little mourned my grandfather’s death: he was severe and unaffectionate. After burying him, maman decided to move the household to Moscow, which made me extremely happy. I was at last to be free from Madame Petitpierre, and therefore also from Les Annales de la vertu and the questions, Where are you going? What are you thinking about? and so on. She was let go decently, with thanks for her service.

My mother had lived a few years in the country out of necessity; she very much liked society and renewed her former acquaintance directly upon our arrival in Moscow. We received a circle of friends and family twice a week. My female cousins looked upon me as a fool, though my aunts considered my education to have been a success.

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“It Didn’t Come Off” is a translation of “Не сошлись” (1867) by Ol’ga N. (Sophie Engelhardt).

Единственное резкое чувство, которое испытала я в детстве и юношестве, была ненависть к мадам Петипьер. Я в ней видела ни более ни менее как домашнего шпиона, приставленного ко мне для того только, чтоб отучить меня думать, и надо сказать, что свою должность она иcправляла в совершенстве. У нас в саду был лужок, на котором мы играли с братом в свободные часы; но я часто отказывалась от игры, ложилась на траву и смотрела на небо. Пространство пробуждало во мне смутное понятие о свободе. Мне казалось, что я лечу к небу и смотрю с высоты на maman и мадам Петипьер, а они стараются напрасно меня достать и грозно приказывают возвратиться на землю. Как, бывало, заметит мадам Петипьер, что я лежу на траве, так сейчас и крикнет: «Еh! bіen? qu’avez-vous à regarder là-haut d’un air hébété?… Еllе est toujours là à rêver à quelque chose! Levez-vous.»

Однако опасения мадам Петипьер были довольно неосновательны: я очень мало думала и смотрела совершенною дурочкой.

Брата Мишу отправили в Москву для окончания наук, а мне пришлось провести три последние года нашего житья в деревне между maman и моею гувернанткой. Меня удаляли от соседних девочек, моих родственниц, потому что они были неаристократического происхождения.

— Добру не научат какие-нибудь Мухрановы, говаривала maman.

Смерть моего деда я мало оплакивала: он был угрюм и не ласков. Похоронив его, maman решилась переселиться в Москву, чтó меня чрезвычайно обрадовало. Я освобождалась, наконец, от madamе Петипьер и вместе с тем от «Annales de la vertu» и от вопросов: куда ты идешь? о чем думаешь? и т. п. Ей отказали прилично, пoблагодарив за услуги.

Мать моя прожила по необходимости несколько лет в деревне; она очень любила свет и возобновила прежние знакомства тотчас по приезде нашем в Москву. Мы принимали два раза в неделю приятельский и родственный кружок. Кузины смотрели на меня, как на дурочку, зато тетки нашли, что мое воспитание удалось.

It Didn’t Come Off (2)

June 26, 2017

O virtue! How early did our preceptors teach us, in their naïveté, to hate you. Was it not boredom brought on by you that impelled us toward slyness and deception? My governess did not notice that I had made myself a secret nook in which to read that bugbear of a book. We usually spent the summer in my grandfather’s village, and how vividly I remember his old house, and especially my favorite place by the drawing room window, which was draped with a curtain in an advanced state of deterioration along its folds. My grandfather was a lover of flowers; by the windows of the house at Tolychevo there had been planted roses and carnations, as well as a tall geranium in a faience pot. To this day I love geraniums out of nostalgia. How many times I hid as best I could behind the flowers, settled comfortably on the couch opposite an antique desk surrounded by a bronze lattice screen, and, with a hand trembling from fear and joy, I would take out of one of its many drawers Florian’s novel Gonzalve de Cordoue. My mother had read it in her youth, and ever since then it had dwelt in an old cabinet under a thick layer of dust with a heap of my grandfather’s calendars and expense ledgers. I read it from cover to cover in the hours prescribed for reading Les Annales de la vertu. Florian’s hero became mine. I was mad for knights and chivalry, and the ideal of a man was etched onto my imagination as equipped with a sword, suit of armor and helmet. For a long time my world was limited to the antipodes of Alhambra and Tolychevo.

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“It Didn’t Come Off” is a translation of “Не сошлись” (1867) by Ol’ga N. (Sophie Engelhardt).

О, добродетель! как рано наши наставники, в простоте душевной, учили тебя ненавидеть. Не тобой ли наведенная скукa пoбуждала нас к хитрости и обману? Моя гувернантка не замечала, что я себе завела заветный уголок для чтения пугалa-книrи. Лето мы проводили обыкновенно в деревне моего деда, и кaк живо помню я его старый дом, и в особенности мое любимое место в гостиной у окна, драпированного истлевшею по складкам занавеской. Дедушка был охотник до цветов; около окон Толычевского дома распуcкались розаны, гвоздики и, между прочим, выcoкая герань в фаянсовом горшке. До сих пор я люблю герань по воспоминанию. Сколько раз я скрывалась, по возможности, за цветами, устроивалась уютно на диване против старинного стола, обнесенного медною решеткой, и вынимала, дрожащей от страха и радости рукой, из одного из многочисленных его ящиков роман Флориана «Gonzalve de Cordoue». Мать моя прочла его в молодости, и он с тех пор пoкoился в старом шкaпе под густым слоем пыли, вместе с грудой календарей и расходных книг моего деда. Я его прочла от доски до доски в часы, назначенные для чтения «Аnnаles dе lа vertu». Флориановcкий герой сделался моим героем. Я бредила рыцарством, и идеал мужчины врезался в мое воображение вооруженный мечом, латами, шлемом. Долго мир ограничивался для меня антиподами: Аламброй и Толычевом.

It Didn’t Come Off (1)

June 23, 2017

It Didn’t Come Off

A Novella

I had turned 17 when my mother moved to Moscow from the country for my coming out. My education was over, though I remained a child in the literal sense of the word. I still played with dolls, and everything that might have left me inclined to any even slightly serious occupation was painstakingly kept away from me.

Now I am forty, and the system of educating children has changed significantly since my youth. Then the task was not complicated: to bring the child to the point where it would think as it was told, or would not think at all. Once I started a sentence this way:

“I think…”

Madame Petitpierre, my governess, interrupted me: “You think? In that case you will have dinner in your room tonight. Children do not think.”

Thought was hateful to our preceptors, and no less hateful was the word “love.” It was not only avoided in conversation, but inked out in books. Speaking of books: at 17 I knew the name Pushkin only by hearsay, and in our house Gogol was called a “hayseed writer.” One understands that his works were not permitted in the drawing room. As for our children’s library, it was composed, as if by design, of the dullest books, mostly French ones. I remember one in particular that was called Les Annales de la vertu. It was given to me on my name-day to distract me from my lessons, but they made an instrument of torture out of it. The moment you would do something wrong, the voice of the governess was raised: “Prenez à l’instant Les Annales de la vertu.”

next installment
“It Didn’t Come Off” is a translation of “Не сошлись” (1867) by Ol’ga N. (Sophie Engelhardt).





Мне минуло 17 лет, когда мать моя переселилась из деревни в Москву, чтобы вывозить меня в свет. Мое воспитание было кончено, хотя я осталась ребенком в буквальном смысле слова. Я еще играла в куклы, и от меня тщательно удаляли все то, чтó могло бы меня приохотить к cколько-нибудь сериозному занятию.

Мне теперь сорок лет, и cистема воспитания значительно изменилась с моей молодости. Тогда задача была не сложная: довести ребенка до того, чтоб он думал как прикажут, или вовсе не думал. Раз я начала фразу таким образом:

— Я думаю…

Мадам Петипьер, моя гувернантка, меня перебила:

— Вы думаете? в таком случае вы будете обедать сегодня в своей комнате. Дети не думают.

Нашим наставникам была ненавистна мысль, и точно тaк же ненавистно слово любовь. Его не только избегали в разговоре, но вымарывали чернилами в книгах. Кстати о книгах: в 17 лет я знала имя Пушкина лишь понаслышке, а Гоголя у нас прозвали избeным писателем. Понимается, что его произведения до гостиной не допускали. Наша же детская библиотека была составлена, как на подбор, из самых скучных книг, большею частию французских. В особенности мне памятна одна, под заглавием «Les annales de la vertu». Мне ее подарили в имянины для развлечения от уроков, но сделали из нее орудие пытки. Кaк, бывало, в чем-нибудь провинишься, возвышался голос гувернантки: «Рrenez à l’instant «Les annales de la vertu».

It Didn’t Come Off: A Novella

June 22, 2017

I really enjoyed translating an Ol’ga N. (Sophie Engelhardt) story in this space last summer, and I think I’ll do another, again a few hundred words at a time. This time it’ll be “It Didn’t Come Off” (Не сошлись, 1867). The title was harder to translate than I thought it would be. “They Did Not Come Together,” the literal placeholder I used here, doesn’t really work, and nothing I could think of is perfect for both the title and the uses of the same verb in the text. For now at least, I’ll go with “It Didn’t Come Off.” I’ll start installments soon, and as always, I’ll be grateful for any corrections and suggestions you offer in the comments.

Thanks to everyone who’s already helped me think through the options for the title: Melissa Miller, Molly Peeney, Shannon Donnally Spasova, Victoria Thorstensson, and Jose Vergara.

Words new to me: пахитоска

May 21, 2017

This in context clearly means something like a cigarette:

I realized how awkward I had been, got embarrassed, and muttered something. Elena gave a short laugh. Red spots appeared on her cheeks; she kept discarding the butt of one pakhitoska and lighting up another.

Я поняла свою неловкость, смутилась и что-то пробормотала. Елена усмехнулась. Красные пятна выступили на ее щеках; она беспрестанно бросала кончик докуренной пахитоски и зажигала другую. (792)

That’s from Ol’ga N.’s (Sophie Engelhardt’s) “They Did Not Come Together” (Не сошлись, 1867). I’ve seen the word пахитоска here and there and it seemed odd to me that it was so close in both meaning and sound to папироска ‘kind of cigarette,’ but was still different enough that it didn’t look like another form of the same word.

It turns out that pakhitoska is thought to be “from the Spanish pajitos ‘straws’” (though Spanish dictionaries seem to think the word should be feminine, at least in the modern language: pajapajita). And Spanish plays a part in the story of the word papiroska too: “from the Polish papieros, formed from papier ‘paper’ by analogy with the Spanish cigar[r]os.”

Here’s how popular the words пахитосы, папиросы, and сигареты have been over time (in each case the diminutive is common enough for an Ngram, but less common with this ending than the non-diminutive).

Oblomovs and Goncharovs

May 19, 2017

Languagehat on Ivan Goncharov’s Oblomov (Обломов, 1859):

Unfortunately, the first segment is by far the best, and it makes up only a quarter of the novel (the first of four parts). Oblomov and his lazy, incompetent, but loyal servant Zakhar (who’s looked after him since childhood, pulling off and putting on his boots and brushing his coat) are magnificent characters, straight out of Gogol […]

But alas, the main characters apart from Oblomov are his childhood friend Stolz (whose father was German and mother Russian) and his great love Olga, and they are both straight from the prop room. They are of the finest cardboard and lovingly decorated, but still, he is the active Role Model (to set against Oblomov’s passive Bad Example), and she is the Angelic Woman, and as soon as they enter the picture the novel goes dead as a work of art. […] There are wonderful moments and descriptions throughout, but basically the book turns into one of those sad realist works in which the characters illustrate life principles that it hopes to inculcate into the reader and society at large (Chernyshevsky’s What Is to Be Done being the locus classicus). The last section should have been cut altogether, and the previous two should have been much shorter and funnier.

Tom agrees:

You may make it sound worse than it is, but everything you say is accurate. The Rousseau-like section, the pedagogical idyll, is brutal.

Alexei K. sees it differently:

Like most novels, Oblomov would benefit from a skilled editor’s scissors but cutting out part four – the story of the protagonist’s slide into a numb, drowsy, half-conscious happiness in Agafia’s soothing arms – would disfigure the novel, destroying the sombre symmetry between its beginning and ending. “Shorter” is almost always sound advice; “funnier,” not necessarily – Oblomov is one of the saddest books I’ve read.

laowai adds:

It would be odd if a novel whose primary theme is inertia didn’t involve repetition and longueurs.

Pisarev in 1861 thought Oblomov did anything but try to inculcate life principles into the reader:

Anyone who has read The Frigate Pallas or Oblomov will not find my opinion surprising. Ever tranquil, never carried away, our novelist brashly walks up to the convoluted problems of the public and private life of his heroes and heroines; without passion or prejudice he examines the situation, giving himself and the reader a most clear and detailed account of its minor idiosyncrasies, adopting the point of view of each of the characters in turn, without manifesting a strong sympathy for any of them, but understanding all of them in his way. He picks apart the situation and the qualities of his characters, but always refrains from pronouncing a final verdict.

Similarly, Dostoevskii called Goncharov a man who had

the soul of a petty official, not an idea in his head, and the eyes of a steamed fish, whom God, as if for a joke, has endowed with a brilliant talent.

In the 1860s the story of Oblomov and Ol’ga was so romantic it made women swoon like Pushkin, Turgenev, or Ostrovskii could:

Goncharov’s “Ol’ga,” before our eyes, made such an impression on one very lovely, intelligent, and young lady that she covered her eyes with her hand, began to shake her little head, and declared, “Oh, how I would like to meet Oblomov, fall in love with him, and make him love me.”

And by the 1880s some readers found Oblomov shockingly sexy:

“I know he’s a great artist, but so much the worse—you must admit there are arousing subjects in him.” Asked what she means, she whispers “elbows” and goes on to elaborate, “Don’t you remember… how that one… the hero at some point… admires the bare elbows of his… of some very simple lady?” (words in quotes translated by Pevear and Volokhonsky)

Goncharov thought Turgenev was stealing his ideas around the time Oblomov came out, and would eventually think Auerbach and Flaubert were also parasites on his genius.

Once I complained that I’d heard too much about Oblomov before reading it to find it interesting. I think I’m coming around to where I’ve heard enough that’s contradictory that it’s interesting again. Do read LH’s full post, including the comments.

Peter M. Lee

April 21, 2017

This remembrance of Peter M. Lee, the champion of Bayesian statistics who posted passages from dozens of translations of Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin and Bronze Horseman, makes him sound as delightful as I’d expect someone with that combination of interests to be. My condolences to all who knew Dr. Lee, who passed away last month.