In the afterword to “The Old Man” (Старик, 1857), I said the story was different from other things written by Russian women of the time: it had a first-person female narrator and no escape plot (Catriona Kelly says the provincial tale with an escape plot is the prototypical piece of women’s fiction in Russia from 1840-1880). I was nervous to say even that much. I haven’t read enough women’s writing from the period to be confident of anything — even with Ol’ga N., I’ve probably only read 10% of what she wrote. But this week I read something by a different woman that seems to confirm the point. It would be hard to find a purer escape-plot story than “The Ikimsky Family” (Семейство Икимских, 1864), which has several kinds of escape (from the father through marriage, from marriage through adultery, and from adultery through suicide).
It’s a straightforward, enjoyable story, in both a casual “what’s going to happen to so-and-so next?” way and an almost as casual “what’s the lesson of the various sisters’ fates?” way. Ikimsky, the father of four girls and three absent boys, uses all the family’s resources for unrestrained self-indulgence, not even helping his seriously ill wife. He’s mean to his bored and miserable daughters, who long to get married and get away. The family is not poor, and the daughters are not ugly, but they don’t attract even the better provincial prospects. The youngest considers herself beautiful, but her sisters think she’s desirable only because she is young, while the oldest sister, who is “well past twenty,” and the next oldest, who is “about the same age,” consider themselves old maids (!).
Their father hurts their chances by making them live on a small allowance, with no money for nice fabric for pretty dresses, and no chance to go anywhere to meet anyone. He sends away their rare suitors if he doesn’t see any advantage in the match for himself (though when a rich man comes, he uses a shameless trick to compel him to propose).
Long passages read like admonitions that young married women must obey their husbands and resist temptation, but the ultimate didactic message is plausibly that a young single woman’s best guide for happiness is spontaneous physical passion.
The second sister, Lidiia, survives the story but without much happiness; her father gets rid of the one man who wants to marry her, and the other man she’s drawn to prefers her younger, married sister Masha.
The oldest sister, Iuliia, takes a late opportunity to marry a raznochinets doctor in his 50s who loves her, and even though he’s neither rich nor good-looking they seem happy… but she dies in childbirth.
We learn the most about the youngest sister. Masha’s eventual husband is perfect in every respect but his body: he loves her, he’s rich, he’s educated, he’s nice, and he’s willing to help her unmarried sisters escape from their father. But he’s a hunchback. When his future wife first sees him, she exclaims “what a hideous man!” (“Ах, какой урод!” 535). It turns out that none of Masha’s husband’s good qualities can make up for the sexual attractiveness he lacks, and she leaves him for the first dashing flirt to come along (to the latter’s chagrin: he hadn’t been serious). Her husband was willing to send her 100 rubles a month so she could live independently if she didn’t love him, but she kills herself when her lover turns out to be an unkind gold-digger.
The third sister, Tanechka, who spends most of the story abroad with a sick aunt, has better luck. Lively and impulsive, she had once tried to find love and escape by blowing a kiss to an attractive young stranger riding by; he stopped, ran back, kissed her, and then rode on. Years later, he comes back to the house as Tanechka’s brother’s friend and the two instantly recognize each other. At the end of the story, they are on a path toward happily ever after thanks to a moment of chemistry and a coincidence.
It looks like “The Ikimsky Family” was written by Anna Vasil’evna Pavlova. It’s signed “Novinskaia,” Pavlova’s pseudonym according to Prince N. N. Golitsyn’s 1889 bibliography of women writers, a 1902 Czech encyclopedia (where the pseudonym is spelled Novická), and Brokgauz and Efron (1890-1907). The funny thing is that more recent sources (including the online Great Biographical Encyclopedia and at least one scholarly book) give Pavlova’s dates as 1852-1877, which means she would have turned 8 around the time Novinskaia started publishing in 1860.
None of the older reference books gives a birth year, so I suspect the solution is that Pavlova was Novinskaia, but was born before 1852. One book attributed “The Ikimsky Family” to Engel’gardt, but I’m increasingly sure that’s a mistake. Engel’gardt had a different story in the previous month’s issue of the same journal, and my subjective impression is that “The Ikimsky Family” wasn’t written by the same person as the things I’ve read by Ol’ga N.
Click one of the links below to download “The Old Man,” an 1857 short story by Ol’ga N. (Sof’ia Engel’gardt), in English and Russian.
You can get it in .mobi format (for Kindle e-readers), .epub (for many other e-readers and apps), or as a .pdf. It’s licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license. Feel free to read it, distribute it, use part or all of it in an anthology of women writers or Crimean War fiction, or whatever you like under the license terms.
Below is a list of works by Sof’ia Vladimirovna Engel’gardt (1828-1894, a.k.a. Sophie Engelhardt, pseudonym Ol’ga N., in Russian Софья Владимировна Энгельгардт, Ольга Н., Ольга N.). As always, additions and corrections are welcome.
English titles should be treated as provisional; in many cases I have read only the title, and knowing the content of the work would require some of them to be changed. Where possible I have used English titles provided by Mary Zirin, Jehanne M. Gheith, and Steve Dodson.
Only those works with hyperlinks have been verified. Other entries have been compiled from past bibliographies, including this 1891 publication by the Imperial Academy of Sciences, this 1904 entry in the Encyclopedic Dictionary, this list from the Great Biographical Encyclopedia, and the one from Zirin’s article on her in the Dictionary of Russian Women Writers. See also the recent online republications of her works in modern Russian orthography by M. A. Biriukova on proza.ru.
Genre descriptions used as subtitles are translated as follows: rasskaz becomes “story,” byl’ becomes “true story,” and povest’, which indicates a work longer than a rasskaz but shorter than a novel, becomes “novella” (rather than “tale”).
Unfortunately the site gattsuk.ru, which had begun to put up issues of A. Gattsuk’s Gazette, has lapsed, along with several parallel sites for other journals. The archive.org Wayback Machine doesn’t seem to have captured the text of the journal (though you can use it to find some tables of contents formerly on gattsuk.ru). I’ve left links in place in case gattsuk.ru is reactivated in the future.
“Деревня: Повесть” (The Country: A Novella) Otechestvennye zapiski 90 (September 1853).
“Утро вечера мудренее: Повесть” (Night Brings Counsel: A Novella) Otechestvennye zapiski 91 (November 1853).
“Суженого конем не объедешь: Повесть” (There’s No Escaping Your Intended: A Novella) Otechestvennye zapiski 92 (February 1854): 387-458. Zirin translates the title literally as “You Won’t Escape Your Intended Mate on Horseback” and describes it as “a rare first-person tale: a woman writes a letter to a new lover detailing the sad history of her longtime fascination with a monster of egotism named Iurii Nagibin.”
“Не так живи, как хочется, а так, как Бог велит: Повесть” (Live Not As You Like, But As God Commands: A Novella) Sovremennik 48 (December 1854): 269-342. The cerebral Viktor Tarbenev has to decide whether to keep a promise to Anna’s dying mother to marry the young and incurious Anna, or whether he should instead marry the intelligent widow Lizaveta Vasil’evna. (See this post.)
“На весь свет не угодишь” (You Can’t Please Everyone) Otechestvennye zapiski 98 (February 1855).
“Сон в руку: Рассказ” (A Prophetic Dream: A Story) Panteon (April 1855).
“Ум придет — пора пройдет” (By the Time You Figure It Out, It’s Too Late) Otechestvennye zapiski 101 (July 1855).
“Конь и о четырех ногах да спотыкается” (A Horse Has Four Legs, and Even So It Stumbles) (play) Otechestvennye zapiski 108 (October 1856): 270-311.
“Сила солому ломит” (What Can the Mouse Do against the Cat?) Biblioteka dlia chteniia 153 (January 1859).
“Мираж” (Mirage) I-XII in Russkii vestnik vol. 21, book 1 (May 1859): 129-76, second part apparently in Russkii vestnik vol. 21, book 2 (May 1859)
“Обочлись: Повесть” (They Miscalculated: A Novella) Biblioteka dlia chteniia 158 (January 1860): 1-84 (pp. 35-54 are missing from the linked Google Books copy). Title translated by Dodson.
“Княжны Тройденовы: Повесть” (The Princesses Troydenova: A Novella) Russkii vestnik vol. 25, book 1 (February 1860): 554-99. Zirin: “three sisters orphaned as infants by the War of 1812 grow old on their rundown provincial estate. Their personalities are set by the time the family fortune hidden from Napoleon’s troops is recovered in the 1850s, and the money no longer has power to change their lives.”
“Письма из Парижа” (Letters from Paris) Moskovskie vedomosti 162, 180, 199 (1860).
“Скользкий путь” (A Slippery Slope) Russkaia rech’ (1861): 83-89. A different source gives the title as “Скользкий шаг” (A Slippery Step). Gheith describes this story as an “elaborated society tale” (“Women of the 1830s and 1850s,” in A History of Women’s Writing in Russia, ed. Adele Marie Barker and Gheith, Cambridge, England: Cambridge UP, 2002, p. 89).
“Судьба или характер?” (Fate or Character?) Russkii vestnik 36 (November 1861): 125-76. Zirin: Engel’gardt here “contrasts the lot of three women: a principled ‘woman of the ’60s,’ a religious idealist, and a flighty widow who takes life and men as she finds them.”
“Камень преткновения” (A Stumbling Block) Russkii vestnik 42 (December 1862): 590-635. Zirin translates the title as “The Touchstone” and says that in it “the heroine finds men from both ends of the ideological spectrum, an uncritical admirer of Western ways and a fanatic Slavophile, equally repressive and patriarchal in their attitudes toward women.”
“Семейство Турениных” (The Turenin Family) Otechestvennye zapiski 146 (January 1863): 296-402. Gheith notes that Engelgardt here “places a female servant in the key narrative role” (“Women of the 1830s and 1850s,” p. 91).
“Два новоселья: Повесть” (Two Housewarmings: A Novella) Russkii vestnik 52 (July 1864): 170-245.
“Лиза” (Liza) Epokha 8 (August 1864): 1-26. The beginning and end of the story is told by a male narrator, with a section inserted in the middle in the voice of the title character. The plot concerns a love triangle (or quadrangle), the question of whether it’s better to have an illicit affair or not when marriage is impossible, and the characters’ opinions of George Sand. (See this post.)
“Где же счастье?: Повесть в письмах” (Where Is Happiness?: A Novella in Letters) Russkii vestnik 53 (September 1864): 80-154. This work is signed with a Cyrillic “Н. О.” (N. O.) instead of “Ol’ga N.” For its authorship by Engelgardt see L. N. Nazarova, “Sovremennitsa ob ‘Ottsakh i detiakh,’” in I. S. Turgenev: Voprosy biografii i tvorchestva, ed. N. N. Mostovskaia and N. S. Nikitina (Leningrad: Nauka, 1990), pp. 189-94.
See also Dubia, below.
“Два свидания” (Two Meetings) Russkii vestnik 56 (March 1865): 216-76.
“Враг горами качает: Повесть” (The Enemy Shakes the Mountains) Russkii vestnik 59-60 (October-November 1865).
“Не сошлись: Повесть” (They Did Not Come Together: A Novella) Russkii vestnik 68 (April 1867): 776-817. Republished as a separate book the same year: Не сошлись: Повесть Ольги Н. (Moscow: Univ. Tip., 1867). 44 pp.
“Не одного поля ягоды: Повесть” (Not Cut from the Same Cloth: A Novella) Russkii vestnik 76.2 (August 1868): 485-549.
“Сон бабушки и внучки” (The Dream of a Great-Aunt and Great-Niece) Vestnik Evropy (June 1869): 647-?. Zirin: this story “weaves an intricate tapestry about the ways in which older women exercise power in the domestic sphere through control of the pursestrings and the exercise of a superstitious religiosity.”
“Н. Ф. Щербина” (N. F. Shcherbina) Zaria 2 (May 1870): 67-93.
“На родине: Повесть” (In One’s Homeland: A Novella) Russkii vestnik 88 (August 1870).
“Так Бог велел: Повесть” (So God Commanded: A Novella) Russkii vestnik 100 (August 1872): 532-96. Apparently republished as part or all of Так Бог велел: Повести Ольги N. Russkaia biblioteka 5 (Moscow: Univ. Tip., 1907). 92 pp.
Красное яичко (The Little Red Egg). Knizhki dlia shkol 71. Moscow: O-vo rasprostraneniia polezn. kn., 1873. 30 pp.
Рассказ матери Маргариты (Mother Margarita’s Story). Knizhki dlia shkol 73. Moscow: O-vo rasprostraneniia polezn. kn., 1873. 39 pp. [2nd ed.], Moscow, 1878. Knizhki dlia shkol 168. 40 pp. Published on proza.ru in 2015 by M. A. Biriukova.
“Воспоминания на даче: Отрывок из романа” (Recollections at a Summer Cottage: An Excerpt from a Novel) Russkii vestnik 112 (July 1874).
Коробейник: Три рассказа: 1. Звезда 2. Арапка 3. Петушок колдун (The Pedlar: Three Stories. 1. The Star 2. Arapka 3. The Cockerel-Sorcerer). Knizhki dlia shkol 85. Moscow: O-vo rasprostraneniia poleznykh knig, 1874. 46 pp. 2nd ed., Moscow, 1890. 51 pp. 3rd ed., Moscow, 1897. 64 pp.
Oeuvres de Pouchkine, traduites du russe par Sophie Engelhardt, née de Novosiltsoff: Boris Godounoff; le Chevalier avare; Mozart et Saliéri; les Nuits d’Égypte (Pushkin’s Works, Translated from the Russian by Sophie Engelhardt, née de Novosiltsoff: Boris Godunov, The Covetous Knight, Mozart and Salieri, Egyptian Nights), Paris: Berger-Levrault, 1875.
“Марфа: Быль” (Martha: A True Story) Gazeta A. Gattsuka, no. 1-2 (January 8th and 14th, 1876). Just before the emancipation, a peasant girl is seduced by a nobleman, then persuaded by a priest to keep the resulting child; after the child’s early death, she becomes an increasingly proud and uncontrollable faith healer. Her story is mediated through two male voices: the narrator hears about her from the priest who intervened in her life. (See this post.)
“Из давно прошедшего: Рассказ” (From the Distant Past: A Story) Gazeta A. Gattsuka, no. 8-9 (1877).
“Заблудшая: Рассказ” (A Woman Gone Astray: A Story) Gazeta A. Gattsuka, no. 12-17 (1877).
“Черный сургуч: Быль” (Black Sealing Wax: A True Story) Gazeta A. Gattsuka, no. 32-35 (1877).
“Аришина тайна” (Arisha’s Secret) Sovremennye izvestiia (issues from July 1878).
“Рано или поздно: Рассказ” (Sooner or Later: A Story) Gazeta A. Gattsuka, no. 1-2 (1878).
“Отцовский грех: Рассказ” (A Father’s Sin: A Story) Gazeta A. Gattsuka, no. 32-35 (1878). Republished as a separate book the same year: Отцовский грех ([Moscow]: tip. A Gattsuka, 1878). 34 pp.
“Две любви: Рассказ” (Two Loves: A Story) Gazeta A. Gattsuka, no. 4-9 (1879).
“Старая вера: Повесть” (The Old Faith: A Novella) Russkii vestnik 140 (March 1879).
“Царицыны четки: Рассказ” (The Empress’s Beads: A Story) Gazeta A. Gattsuka, no. 35-42 (1879).
“Селехонские: Рассказ” (The Selekhonskys: A Story) Gazeta A. Gattsuka, no. 13-20 (1880). Republished as a separate book the same year: Селехонские: Рассказ Ольги N. (Moscow: Tip. A. Gattsuka, 1880). 71 pp.
“Бабушкин дом: Повесть” (Grandmother’s House: A Novella) Gazeta A. Gattsuka, no. 28-34 (1880).
Клад: Рассказ странника (The Treasure: The Story of a Wanderer), St. Petersburg: Dosug i delo, 1880. 24 pp. Published on proza.ru in 2015 by M. A. Biriukova.
“Злоба дня: Повесть” (The Talk of the Town: A Novella) Russkii vestnik 152 (April 1881): 748-831.
“Вечер на святках: Святочный рассказ” (A Yuletide Evening: A Christmas Story) Gazeta A. Gattsuka, no. 1-7 (1882).
“Один Бог правду видит: Рассказ” (God Alone Sees the Truth: A Story) Gazeta A. Gattsuka, no. 41-46 (1882).
“Не первая и не последняя: Рассказ” (She’s Neither the First Nor the Last: A Story) Russkii vestnik (September 1883). Zirin: this story “depicts a woman’s involvement with a committed revolutionary terrorist and her disillusionment with the cause after the death of her lover in the assassination of Alexander II in 1881.”
“Человеческое сердце — загадка: Рассказ” (The Human Heart is a Riddle: A Story) Gazeta A. Gattsuka, no. 2-7 (1883).
“Доброе дело — красное яичко” (A Good Deed — The Little Red Egg) Detskii otdykh (1884). Cf. Красное яичко under 1873.
“Быль сороковых годов” (A True Story of the Forties) Russkii vestnik 174 (December 1884): 523-75.
“Изгнанница Бориса Годунова: Историческая повесть” (She Was Exiled by Boris Godunov: A Historical Novella) Detskii otdykh (January-February 1885). Published on proza.ru in 2015 by M. A. Biriukova.
“Просьба на Екатерину II” (A Petition to Catherine II) Detskii otdykh (July 1885). Published on proza.ru in 2015 by the Biblio-Biuro Strizheva-Biriukovoi.
“Из воспоминаний” (From My Memoirs) Russkii vestnik (October-November 1887). See also 1889, 1890.
“Из прошлого” (From the Past) Russkii vestnik (July 1889). See also 1887, 1890.
“Русские люди и русский край” (Russian People and the Russian Land) Detskii otdykh (January 1889).
“Николай Алексеевич Северцов” (Nikolai Alexeyevich Severtsov) Detskii otdykh (1889).
“Из воспоминаний” (From My Memoirs) Russkoe obozrenie (November 1890). Published on proza.ru in 2016 by the Biblio-Biuro Strizheva-Biriukovoi. See also 1887, 1889.
“Быль” (A True Story) Sever, no. 20 (1890).
“Петр Иванович Корондеев: Быль” (Pyotr Ivanovich Korondeyev: A True Story) Russkoe obozrenie (May 1891).
Святочный рассказ (A Christmas Story), Moscow: A. A. Levenson, 1891. 27 pp. See also 1882.
“Пропажа: Рассказ старосветского помещика” (What Went Missing: The Story of an Old-World Landowner) Russkoe obozrenie (August 1892).
One source lists “Семейство Икимских: Повесть” (The Ikimsky Family: A Novella) Russkii vestnik 52 (August 1864): 522-89 among stories by Engelgardt. However, that story is signed “Novinskaia” at the end of the story, in the table of contents, and when it was published as a separate book. Novinskaia was apparently the pseudonym of Anna Vasilevna Pavlova (1852?-1877); Pavlova is listed in multiple sources as having been born in 1852, but surely either the birth year or the attribution of the pseudonym is incorrect, as “Novinskaia” began publishing in 1860. (On “The Ikimsky Family,” see also this post.)
Many thanks to all who commented on the last post! With your help, I think I know more or less what I need to do with the repetitions of кокетничать/кокетство and стеснить/стеснять. Now it’s only the лиф ‘bodice (?)’ that remains.
Commenter Gorkovchanin cites an 1847 dictionary where лиф is defined as “Лифъ – Перехватъ на задней части платья около поясницы” (“Lif: a perekhkvat on the back part of a dress around the lower back”) and перехват is in turn defined as “2) Мѣсто въ платьѣ, съуженное надъ поясницею” (“Perekhvat: a place on a dress that is narrowed over the lower back”). So a 1 1/2 vershok– (2 5/8 inch–) lif would mean the woman in the portrait had a mostly bare back, and wouldn’t suggest anything about her chest.
That’s plausible and different from how I read it. I thought I might be misinterpreting what ширина ‘width’ meant in terms of where you’d put a tape measure, and I also wasn’t confident in my arshins and vershoks, but the idea that a lif did not at least include the front part of the upper half of a dress hadn’t occurred to me.
However, I’ve been looking at how contemporary writers used the word lif, and it does seem to typically mean the part of a dress that’s above the waist, as opposed to the iubka ‘skirt’ of the dress. Also, this portrait in “The Old Man” is supposed to be an unsuccessful imitation of a head by Greuze, and in the prototypical head by Greuze I don’t think we see the woman’s back. Details below, if you’re interested; if anyone wants to weigh in on whether lif means “bodice” (OED: “2. The upper part of a woman’s dress, a tight-fitting outer vest or waistcoat, either made in a piece with the skirt or separate […]”) in the relevant passage, and if so what exactly “1 1/2 vershoks of width” means in context, that would be wonderful.
Here are some mid-to-late nineteenth-century uses of lif, the word I’m so far translating as bodice (click the link after each to see the Russian):
“It will probably now seem very strange if we begin to talk about ball gowns. However, we will mention only one, and that merely to marvel at the degree of refinement that women’s taste has today attained. Here it is. Three skirts of blue satin, the lowest of a dark color, the second much brighter, and finally the upper one brightest of all. Each skirt has been matched with a bouquet of roses with velvet leaves. The lif and sleeves are smooth. Wreaths of small roses have been placed at the end of the sleeves, and on the lif a white lace pèlerine or berthe.” (from the fashion column in an 1843 issue of National Annals)
“The clothes worn by boarding-school girls are so well known that it is almost unnecessary to describe them. In the main a green or brown floor-length camlet dress, of the most idiosyncratic and antediluvian cut, a skirt sewn in the back to a smooth, cut-out [вырезанный] lif, with short sleeves, that was fastened with hooks in the back; one breadth of the skirt, which was not sewn to the lif, was fastened to it from the side. With the lif a pinafore — linen on weekdays, calico on holidays — was fastened on underneath with pins and tied on above with a string; white pelerines and sleeves — that is the outer clothing.” (from “Sketches of the Boarding School Life of Former Times [From the Memories of an Old Boarding School Girl]” in an 1870 issue of Dawn)
“The influence of the Marquise de Maintenon (beginning in 1685) on women’s dress was expressed above all in the replacing of the open lif by a high one that covered the entire chest up to the beginning of the neck.” (from an 1879 translation of a German treatise on the history of fashion)
“‘One may base one’s idea of the Ural sarafan,’ writes the author (p. 122, no. 4, Lib. for Reading), ‘on those sarafans in which wet-nurses are here sometimes dressed, with only one difference: that the sarafan is made with a very high lif that goes right up to the throat and with a waist encircled by a gold or pearl belt with long tassels.’ Something isn’t right here; something here doesn’t make sense. The lif, according to the author, goes up to the throat, and then there is the waist — and where is the skirt? One gets quite lost trying to picture it. The sarafan has neither a lif, nor a waist: the sarafan is one continuous mass of fabric that covers the entire figure of the Ural woman, from her neck all the way down to the floor […] If a Cossack woman takes it into her head to wear a belt, then both a waist and a lif will be formed thereby, and otherwise, that is, if the Cossack woman does not wear a belt, as is regularly the case in Cossack women’s day-to-day domestic life, then there will be no sign either of a waist, or of a lif […] and can the dressing-gown [khalat] be said to have a lif and a waist? It seems that it cannot.” (from a work on the Ural Cossacks published posthumously in 1888)
a woman needs help pulling on [стянуть] a lif that is too tight and laments that she no longer has a “slender waist”; later she can’t breathe in it and asks if the lif can be let out [не можете ли вы немножко отпустить лиф?] (paraphrase of a page of “Mortal Combat” [Смертный бой], in Russian Thought in 1894)
And here are some selected portraits by Greuze, of women with or without doves:
Here are three places in “The Old Man” where I wasn’t sure how to translate something. Ideas (confirmation, corrections, refinements, further questions…) are most welcome.
1. Realia: nineteenth-century measurements. From installment #3.
Next to the portrait of the old man, in an ugly gold frame bedecked with stars, hung in all its splendor a pastel depicting a young woman with a long, curved neck and a thirty-inch bodice who had a dove on her shoulder; the whole pose betrayed pretentions to a head by Greuze.
Рядом с портретом старика, в безобразной золотой рамке, усыпанной звездочками, красовался пастель, изображающий молодую женщину, с выгнутой шеей, с лифом в полтора вершка ширины, и голубем на плече; вся поза обличала претензию на Грёзовскую головку.
A word-by-word gloss of the Russian would give you “with bodice at one-and-a-half vershoks width.” A vershok is 1 3/4″. I decided that this was shorthand for 1 arshin + 1 1/2 vershoks (30 5/8″) and that this kind of measurement was assumed to always be 1 arshin + X vershoks, in the way adult height was assumed to be 2 arshins + X vershoks. If I’m right about adding 1 arshin, and if I further assume that ширина ‘width’ here means a circumference around the torso just below (?) the breasts, then this would make the woman in the portrait roughly the opposite of Stepanida Andreyevna: thin, flat-chested, and prone to infelicitously aestheticizing herself in high-culture ways.
There might be an implied physical contrast between Katerina Alexeyevna, the narrator, and the woman in the portrait (who are presumably related) and on the other hand Tatyana Grigoryevna and Stepanida Andreyevna. The ugly but Herculean Rostislav and the still handsome Mikhail Fyodorovich could also be included. But if I have the bodice detail wrong, then this comes crashing down, since all we know about the narrator’s appearance directly is that Mikhail Fyodorovich says she is “pale and thin” while she rests and recuperates in the provinces.
There are three Russian words related to “coquette,” and I’d like them all to be visibly related in English, and perhaps all to use a form of “coquette.”
[the narrator describing Rostislav]
One must give Rostislav his due. His behavior was tactful, and once he had noticed Mikhail Fyodorovich’s liking for him, he very adroitly and with becoming modesty played the coquette with his intelligence and knowledge.
Надобно отдать справедливость Ростиславу: он вел себя с тактом, и заметив расположение Михаила Федоровича к себе, — очень ловко, — с приличной скромностью, кокетничал своим умом и познаниями.
[Rostislav speaking to the narrator about Stepanida Andreyevna]
What if she does [put on more airs]? She even puts on airs without a hint of affectation or insincerity. It isn’t like the calculated high-society coquetry that’s a sign of spiritual decay.
Что же? она и жеманится в простоте душевной, не во вред чувству. Это не то, что великосветское рассчитанное кокетство, которое обличает душевную порчу.
[The narrator misunderstanding the reasons for not telling Mikhail Fyodorovich about the ghost in the summer house]
But Katerina Alexeyevna stuck to her guns this time — the summer house was entirely demolished. This incident allowed my aunt to prove that a woman cannot be rid of a certain kind of coquetry, even in old age, with respect to a man she once loved. She forbade me to tell Mikhail Fyodorovich about the ghost, knowing he was not superstitious and would laugh at us.
Но Катерина Алексеевна на этот раз поставила на своем, беседку сломали до тла. При этом случае, тетка моя доказала, что женщина, даже под старость, не отделывается от кокетства известного рода, в отношении к человеку, некогда любимому. Она запретила мне рассказывать Михаилу Федоровичу о привидении, зная, что он не суеверен, и посмеется над нами.
But Languagehat made a good case that the first кокетничал was a different meaning of the verb.
I liked my initial reading so well that I can’t unsee it: I think the narrator is describing Rostislav’s social tactics in deliberately feminine terms (not just “played the coquette,” but “tactful,” “very adroitly,” “with becoming modesty” — these are not the words one expects for a man unfit for high society who is enchanted by his own broad shoulders). Is Rostislav showing off his knowledge, or strategically revealing some of it while holding some of it back to be sure he continues to be interesting?
The instrumental object is a point in favor of LH’s “showing off” reading, I think, but you can find examples of men figuratively “playing the coquette” with this verb too (e.g., Pushkin about himself: “С Наблюдателями и книготорговцами намерен я кокетничать и постараюсь как можно лучше распорядиться Современником”). Russian speakers, how do you take кокетничал here? English speakers, is “played the coquette” jarringly gender-bending, or the kind of thing a clever narrator might say in a story?
Writing this blog has made me a bit hyper-aware of the issue of preserving repetitions in translation. The main sense of стеснить is “to crowd,” as in to make a bench crowded for someone else by sitting on it when there’s not quite enough room. It can also be used in the sense “restrict someone’s freedom” or in the figurative sense of “make someone feel embarrassed or awkward.”
[Seryozha speaking to the narrator about Mikhail Fyodorovich]
Of course; but he does value my freedom and would not want me so much as to feel constrained.
Конечно; но он сам дорожит моей свободой, и не захочет и стеснить.
[The narrator describing Stepanida Andrevna after the latter had a half-dozen more children]
Stepanida Andrevna was flourishing even more than before: her full figure had reached such an extreme that it seemed she could not gain any more weight out of courtesy, lest others feel embarrassed.
Степанида Андревна процветала еще более прежнего: ее полнота достигла крайних пределов; еще потолстеть Степанида Андревна, казалось, не могла из учтивости, чтобы не стеснять других.
Seryozha seems to be using the “restrict someone’s freedom” meaning. But is the narrator saying that Stepanida Andrevna is so overweight that if she were fatter, other people would feel awkward, as if her physical appearance were a kind of faux pas and they’d be embarrassed for her? Or that she would literally make couches or entire rooms feel crowded by taking up too much physical space? Either way, is there an elegant way to use the same verb in English in the two places, and does it matter in this case? My sense is that the stakes are lower here — I care more about the “coquette” words.
I find I lean heavily on a trick I learned from Boris Dralyuk and Constance Garnett, where if you can’t use the same English word for one Russian word in two places, you use an extra English word just to show the connection, but here I’m not sure that would make things better.
Ol’ga N. wrote “The Old Man” in 1857. Here’s the original publication in Library for Reading. In the same issue you could read Benediktov, Avdeev, Mei, Maikov, Goncharov, Fet, and (in translation) Józef Ignacy Kraszewski.
Ol’ga N. was the pen name of Sof’ia Vladimirovna Engel’gardt, née Novosil’tseva (1828-1894). In French she spelled her name Sophie Engelhardt. I first learned about her from this Languagehat post. Another good place to read about her is Mary Zirin’s entry on her in the 1994 Dictionary of Russian Women Writers.
When I first read “The Old Man” almost two years ago, I found one of my favorite not-quite-new words: шаккендс. Halfway through the translation I was mystified that the WordPress algorithm for recommending posts seemed to know who the author was, and my earlier post on that word probably explains how it could.
By my count Engel’gardt wrote 55 or 60 works of short fiction, plus a play, memoirs, and a famous obituary of Shcherbina. In the e-book of “The Old Man” there will be a bibliography with links to about 20 works that I’ve found online — most of them in the journals they first appeared in via Google Books, but some on proza.ru thanks to recent republications by M. A. Biriukova.
I hope you enjoyed reading “The Old Man” half as much as I enjoyed translating it. I’ll post the author and a link to the original publication on Monday. Before I do, does anyone who hasn’t looked it up want to guess who the author is, or say anything about the story before you find out? This post is your chance to comment — pick any pseudonym you want if you want to guess without going on record.
Soon I’ll put up an e-book of the story in one piece. There are at least three places in the text I want to solicit your collective advice about first, though. One is a problem pointed out to me by Languagehat, with another I think I got something right but am not confident of my knowledge of contemporary realia, and in a third I came up with a solution I’m not sure I’m happy with. Posts on those to come soon.
There are no doubt other things I got wrong, and if you have noticed or do notice any, I’d be very glad if you’d point them out (don’t spare my feelings; I’d rather know!).