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“Her long-dormant shame should have been awakened by degrees…”

February 5, 2016

In Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852), the slave George Harris worked in a factory “where his adroitness and ingenuity caused him to be considered the first hand in the place,” but his master, against his own interests, puts him to work in the fields in an attempt to show him his place (chapter 2). You see this story in Russian literature, but the Russian Georges are women. Before Stowe’s novel, there was the woman in Nekrasov’s “On the Road” (В дороге, 1845), raised in the manor with the master’s daughter, then sent back to peasant life. Later, Marina in Goncharov’s “The Precipice” (Обрыв, 1869) “surpassed one and all with her adroitness and abilities, and exceeded [Raiskii’s] grandmother’s expectations” (304). We are made to sympathize with Marina’s then-owners more than with George’s, but she loses her privileged position too, for a different reason:

Marina fell out of  the mistress’s good graces because she came to know “love and its troubles” in the form of Nikita, then Petr, then Terentii, and so on, and so on.

There was not a lackey among the house servants or an eye-catching man in the village on whom she failed to rest her benevolent gaze. Her loves knew no bounds or limitations.

Had she been in Moscow or Petersburg, or in another city and situation, then fear, the dread of being deprived of bread or of her place, would have done something to rein in her inclinations. But in her secure position as an enserfed house servant [крепостная дворовая девка], there were no reins at all. (305-6)

Besides this analysis of why female house slaves might end up like Marina (and all but one on the estate are like her, except “the others all hide it, they can still feel shame,” 310), we have a comparison that got my attention:

An artistic sketch of Marina also struck [Raiskii] as appealing. He saw in her not merely a debauched house-servant woman [дворовая женщина], after the fashion of the hopeless confirmed drunkards among the men, but a selfless priestess of a cult, a “mother of pleasures”… (309)

In that case, Raiskii does not think promiscuous women are like drunken men (where does this comparison creep into the text from?). However, in a later episode, when he visits a friend’s wife to lecture her on chastity but somehow ends up sleeping with her, he’s thinking along those lines: “At that moment he understood that her long-dormant shame should have been awakened by degrees, if it had not died completely, but only fallen silent: ‘It’s just the same,’ he thought, ‘as how you shouldn’t suddenly tear a drunkard away from his cup: that causes a fever!’” (111).

The promiscuous дворовая is a type outside Goncharov (separate from the common trope of noblemen being attracted to дворовые) — take Irodiada from Pisemskii’s Troubled Seas (Взбаламученное море, 1863) or Fenia from Leskov’s Bypassed (Обойденные, 1865; see pp. 18-19), who mysteriously get pregnant. Marina, Irodiada, and Fenia all have mistresses who disapprove of their sexual independence. In Leskov, the narrator seems to imply that what is unnatural is not Fenia’s pregnancy but the princess’s (rather amusing) shock. Pisemskii gives us to understand that Irodiada was the illegitimate daughter of a nobleman, and shows a nobleman of her own generation trying to seduce her, while he is also critical of the strict religiosity of Irodiada’s female owner: the masters are to blame for the ways of the servants.

As usual, it’s hard to pin down how Goncharov wants us to take Raiskii’s and the narrator’s thoughts about shame and the unrestrained condition of female house servants (especially since I haven’t finished the novel). So far Raiskii seems torn between the worlds of his grandmother (and Marfa) and of the nihilist Mark Volokhov (and Vera). His grandmother offers tradition, community, good management (or despotism), and Volokhov proclaims freedom, change, individuality (or irresponsibility). Raiskii was Marina’s legal owner. When he ignores a letter asking whether he gives permission for Marina to marry, is he respecting her intrinsic human freedom or washing his hands of his responsibility? What about when he goes back to the country and finds Marina’s husband beating her?

I’m curious to see where things go from here, but so far I think, using the novel’s terms, women’s lack of shame is supposed to be a drawback of Volokhov’s freedom. On the other hand the rather extreme innocence and chastity of the engaged Marfa, heir to Raiskii’s grandmother’s worldview, is presented as silly as much as virtuous. It’s unclear. The promiscuous female characters are all somewhat sympathetic, and Raiskii’s own lack of sexual self-discipline is mocked. The theme gets a treatment in every class: Marina; Raiskii’s friend’s wife, Ul’iana Andreevna; and also the flirtatious noblewoman Polina Karpovna, or “Delilah Karpovna” as she’s called before Raiskii stands up for her during a superb scandal scene.

Pisemskii in Russian and English, story by story

January 29, 2016

And novel by novel, play by play. English titles of works are those used by Charles A. Moser in Pisemsky: A Provincial Realist (Cambridge, MA, 1969), except as noted.

Chronological by date of publication. Titles in bold have been translated into English. Bibliography of English translations below. Additions/corrections welcome.


Нина: Эпизод из дневника моего приятеля (Nina: An Episode from My Friend’s Diary)
ПСС 1895-96 volume 4: pp. 264-292
Translated by Maya Jenkins as “Nina” in Nina; The Comic Actor; An Old Man’s Sin (1987)


Тюфяк (The Simpleton)
ПСС 1895-96 volume 2: pp. 5-230
Translated by Ivy Litvinov as The Simpleton (1959)
Other titles: The Lump (Steve Dodson)


Сергей Петрович Хозаров и Мари Ступицына: Брак по страсти (Sergey Petrovich Khozarov and Mari Stupitsyna: A Marriage of Passion)
ПСС 1895-96 volume 5: pp. 5-180

Комик (The Comic Actor)
ПСС 1895-96 volume 2: pp. 231-324
Translated by Maya Jenkins as “The Comic Actor” in Nina; The Comic Actor; An Old Man’s Sin (1987)


Богатый жених (A Rich Fiancé)
ПСС 1895-96 volume 4: pp. 5-263


Ипохондрик (The Hypochondriac)
ПСС 1895-96 volume 22: pp. 5-117

M-r Батманов (M. Batmanov)
ПСС 1895-96 volume 3: pp. 100-216

Питерщик (The Petersburger)
ПСС 1895-96 volume 3: pp. 60-99


Раздел (The Division)
ПСС 1895-96 volume 22: pp. 119-185

Леший: Рассказ исправника (The Wood Demon: The Story of a District Police Officer)
ПСС 1895-96 volume 3: pp. 5-59


Фанфарон: Один из наших снобсов (The Braggart: One of Our Snobs)
ПСС 1895-96 volume 3: pp. 217-289

Ветеран и новобранец: Драматический случай из 1854 года (The Veteran and the New Recruit: A Dramatic Incident of 1854)
ПСС 1895-96 volume 23: pp. 5-33


Виновата ли она? (Is She to Blame?) [NB: Виновата ли она? was also the title of a suppressed early version of Боярщина]
ПСС 1895-96 volume 3: pp. 290-393

Плотничья артель: Деревенские записки (The Carpenters’ Guild: Country Notes)
ПСС 1895-96 volume 4: pp. 293-362

Сочинения Н. В. Гоголя, найденные после его смерти: Похождения Чичикова, или Мертвые души, Том второй (Works of N. V. Gogol Found After His Death: Chichikov’s Adventures, or Dead Souls, Volume Two)
ПСС 1895-96 volume 6: pp. 344-374


Очерки из крестьянского быта (Sketches of Peasant Life)
[See Питерщик, Леший, and Плотничья артель]


Старая барыня (The Old Proprietress)
ПСС 1895-96 volume 4: pp. 363-405
Translated in part, possibly by Leo Wiener, as “The Old Proprietress” in Anthology of Russian Literature from the Earliest Period to the Present Time (1903)


Путевые заметки (Travel Notes) [Moser doesn’t give a collective title]
ПСС 1895-96 volume 6: pp. 108-280
Астрахань (Astrakhan) (ПСС 1895-96 volume 6: pp. 108-130)
Татары (Tatary) (ПСС 1895-96 volume 6: pp. 130-143)
Астраханские армяне (Astrakhan Armenians) (ПСС 1895-96 volume 6: pp. 144-163)
Калмыки (Kalmyki) (ПСС 1895-96 volume 6: pp. 163-207)
Бирючья коса (Biryuchua kosa) [name of an island] (ПСС 1895-96 volume 6: pp. 207-211)
Баку (Baku) (ПСС 1895-96 volume 6: pp. 211-223)
Тюк-Караганский полуостров и Тюленьи острова (The Tyuk-Karagan Peninsula and the Tyulen Islands) (ПСС 1895-96 volume 6: pp. 224-229)
Пребывание черноморских моряков в Москве и прием их Астраханскими жителями (The Sojourn of Some Black Sea Sailors in Moscow and Their Reception by the Residents of Astrakhan) [no title given by Moser] (ПСС 1895-96 volume 6: pp. 229-280)


Боярщина (Boyarshchina) [based on the Виновата ли она? written 1844-46 that was suppressed by the censors] [title is a place name]
ПСС 1895-96 volume 1: pp. 1-211

Тысяча душ (One Thousand Souls)
ПСС 1895-96 volume 7 (parts 1 and 2)
ПСС 1895-96 volume 8 (parts 3 and 4)
Translated by Ivy Litvinov as One Thousand Souls (1958)


Горькая судьбина (A Bitter Fate)
ПСС 1895-96 volume 23: pp. 35-109
Translated by Alice Kagan and George Noyes as “A Bitter Fate” in Masterpieces of the Russian Drama (1933)


Старческий грех: Совершенно романическое приключение (An Old Man’s Sin: A Completely Romantic Adventure)
ПСС 1895-96 volume 5: pp. 181-296
Translated by Maya Jenkins as “An Old Man’s Sin” in Nina; The Comic Actor; An Old Man’s Sin (1987)

Записки Салатушки (Salatushka’s Notes) [feuilletons written with the pseudonym Salatushka, not given a collective title by Moser]
ПСС 1895-96 volume 6: pp. 281-306


Фельетоны Никиты Безрылова (Feuilletons by Nikita Bezrylov) [not given a collective title by Moser]
ПСС 1895-96 volume 6: pp. 317-335


Батька (The Father)
ПСС 1895-96 volume 5: pp. 297-334

Обличительное письмо из ада (An Accusatory Letter from Hell) [no title given by Moser] [publication date not verified]
ПСС 1895-96 volume 6: pp. 307-316

Завещание моим детям: Василию и Николаю (Last Will and Testament to My Children Vasily and Nikolay) [no title given by Moser] [publication date not verified]
ПСС 1895-96 volume 6: pp. 336-343


Взбаламученное море (Troubled Seas)
ПСС 1895-96 volume 9 (parts 1-3)
ПСС 1895-96 volume 10 (parts 4-6)


Русские лгуны (Russian Liars)
ПСС 1895-96 volume 6: pp. 23-107


Самоуправцы (The Unbridled Ones)
ПСС 1895-96 volume 23: pp. 111-181

Поручик Гладков (Lieutenant Gladkov)
ПСС 1895-96 volume 23: pp. 183-262


Бывые соколы (Former Falcons)
ПСС 1895-96 volume 23: pp. 263-317


Люди сороковых годов (Men of the 1840’s)
ПСС 1895-96 volume 11 (parts 1 and 2)
ПСС 1895-96 volume 12 (part 3)
ПСС 1896-96 volume 13 (parts 4 and 5)
Other titles: People of the Forties (R. E. Steussy), Men of the Forties


В водовороте (In the Whirlpool)
ПСС 1895-96 volume 14 (parts 1 and 2)
ПСС 1895-96 volume 15 (part 3)


Подкопы [=Хищники] (Mines [=The Plunderers]) text from Гражданин as Подкопы, in old orthography text as Хищники, in modern orthography

Ваал (Baal)
ПСС 1895-96 volume 23: pp. 319-417
Translated by Andrew Donskov as “Baal” (1974)


Просвещенное время (An Enlightened Time)
ПСС 1895-96 volume 23: pp. 419-488


Финансовый гений (The Financial Genius)
Газета А. Гацука act 1 act 2 act 3 act 4


Мещане (The Bourgeois)
ПСС 1895-96 volume 20 (parts 1 and 2)
ПСС 1895-96 volume 21 (part 3)


Уже отцветшие цветки: Капитан Рухнев (Faded Flowers: Captain Rukhnev)
ПСС 1895-96 volume 6: pp. 5-22


Масоны (The Masons)
ПСС 1895-96 volume 16 (parts 1 and 2)
ПСС 1895-96 volume 17 (part 3)
ПСС 1895-96 volume 18 (part 4)
ПСС 1895-96 volume 19 (part 5)


Бойцы и выжидатели (Warriors and Temporizers)
apparently written 1864
ПСС 1895-96 volume 24: pp. 133-177

Милославские и Нарышкины (Miloslavskys and Naryshkins)
written 1866-67
ПСС 1895-96 volume 24: pp. 63-132

Птенцы последнего слета (Fledglings of the Last Flight)
ПСС 1895-96 volume 24: pp. 5-62

Старые счеты [=Семейный омут] (Old Accounts [=A Domestic Pool])
begun in 1877, left incomplete
ПСС 1895-96 volume 24: pp. 195-243

year not yet verified

Матери-соперницы (Rival Mothers [provisional translation of title]) [no title given by Moser]
unfinished historical play in verse
ПСС 1895-96 volume 24: pp. 179-193


Translations by translator’s name with links to WorldCat

Donskov, Andrew, trans. “Baal.” Russian Literature Triquarterly 9 (1974). Reprinted in The Unknown Russian Theater: An Anthology, vol. 1, ed. Michael Green and Jerome Katsell. Ann Arbor: Ardis, 1990.

Jenkins, Maya, trans. and intro. Nina; The Comic Actor; An Old Man’s Sin. Ann Arbor: Ardis, 1987.

Kagan, Alice, and George Noyes, trans. “A Bitter Fate.” In Noyes, ed., Masterpieces of the Russian Drama. New York: D. Appleton, 1933. When Masterpieces was republished in 2 volumes in 1961, “A Bitter Fate” appeared in volume 1.

Litvinov, Ivy, trans. One Thousand Souls. Moscow: Foreign Languages Pub. House, [1958]. Reprinted New York: Grove, 1959.

Litvinov, Ivy, trans. The Simpleton. Moscow: Foreign Languages Pub. House, [1959].

Wiener, Leo, trans. [?]. “The Old Proprietress.” In Wiener, ed., Anthology of Russian Literature from the Earliest Period to the Present Time. New York: Putnam’s Sons, 1903. Vol. 2: pp. 311-319.

Online Russian editions

Pisemskii, A. F. Polnoe sobranie sochinenii. 2nd ed. 24 vols. St. Petersburg: Vol’f, 1895-1896. [Follow links marked ПСС 1895-96. Vols. 1-12 were published in 1895, vols. 13-24 in 1896. Described on the title page as the “second complete posthumous edition, expanded, corrected, and newly checked against the manuscripts.”]

See also Pisemskii’s page on, with most of his works and criticism about him in .html format.

A Marriage of Passion

January 28, 2016

Last month Languagehat read A Marriage of Passion [Сергей Петрович Хозаров и Мари Ступицына: Брак по страсти, 1851] and his opinion of Pisemskii improved:

[…] I now realize that [Pisemsky’s The Lump, a.k.a. The Simpleton, Тюфяк, 1847-50] was a poor introduction to a fine author. The upsetting thing is that I only read his 1851 follow-up, Sergei Petrovich Khozarov i Mari Stupitsyna: Brak po strasti [Sergei Petrovich Khozarov and Marie Stupitsyna: Marriage for passion], because Apollon Grigoryev, the best Russian literary critic of the nineteenth century, ended his survey of 1851 with it and clearly considered it the best novel of the year. I am in hearty agreement with that judgment, but if it weren’t for Grigoryev I would never have heard of it […] I’m glad to have happened on this wonderful short novel, which should be translated and added to the reading lists of Russ. lit. classes.

The rest of the post is delightful but hard to summarize, so head over there to read it. I haven’t read A Marriage of Passion yet, but Charles Moser’s description of it makes me realize how little I still understand imperial censorship:

A Marriage of Passion, like The Simpleton, may be regarded as a revision of “Nina” [Нина, 1847], the difference being that the suitor achieves his aim of marriage and then is disillusioned with his own wife rather than someone else’s. By Pisemsky’s lights such a denouement was unavoidable when a fuzzy-minded young man became infatuated with a shallow girl. However, since the author had reason to fear that a pessimistic ending might attract the censor’s disfavor, and since one story [Is She to Blame?, Виновата ли она?, 1844-58] had already been blocked by the censorship, he added a happy conclusion to the journal publication, which was quite out of joint with the body of the story. As this ending had it, Khozarov almost miraculously acquired sufficient funds and ceased borrowing; Mari matured rapidly and approached becoming a model wife. When the novelette was republished for the first time, Pisemsky eliminated this epilogue, as he was fully aware of its falseness. (22)

Over time I’ve learned various facts about the government censor and the church censor; about censorship becoming more or less strict from year to year and reign to reign; about the idiosyncrasies and corruptibility of particular censors; about the change from requiring a censor’s approval before publication to making journals accountable after the fact for what they published and “arresting” already printed books. I think modern readers can easily see that there were lines authors had trouble crossing when it came to politics, religion, or sex. But there were other lines in nineteenth-century Russia, less analogous to the ones that exist today, that I still don’t have much of a feel for, like this “pessimistic ending” business. I suppose the story without the happy ending would have been seen as an implicit assault on marriage, but would it have been “worse” than things other people published in those years?

There’s plenty of half-forgotten Pisemskii. His fiction takes up 20 20 1/2 volumes of this 24-volume edition (vol. 1 half of vol. 1 is others writing about him, and vols. 22-24 are plays). In the last few years I’ve read what’s in vols. 7, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, and part of 3 and 8, and I still haven’t overlapped with LH’s reading at all (see also his post on The Lump).

Words new to me: склаваж

January 21, 2016

Pisemskii in 1858 is the most recent of 5 uses of склаваж in the National Corpus of Russian:

Для кареты на лежачих рессорах, для бархатной мантильи, обшитой лебяжьим пухом, для брильянтового склаважа готовы нынешние барышни на всевозможную супружескую муку. (Тысяча душ [One Thousand Souls], part 1, chapter 2)

A diamond what? Today’s young ladies may be enslaved by their love for diamonds, but склаваж turns out to be something concrete.

This French Wikipedia page explains that the collier d’esclavage ‘slave collar’ was “very much in fashion in the second half of the eighteenth century.” And according to the entry on склаваж in the Historical Dictionary of Russian Gallicisms, “in France in the 1760s, there arose a fashion for bagatelles, pieces of jewelry in the form of a modest-sized necklace that fit tightly around one’s neck and brought to mind a ‘slave collar,’ whence the name.”

That dictionary of Gallicisms has “bracelets adorned with diamonds and other precious stones connected by a thin gold chain” as another meaning of склаваж, which is how Ivy Litvinov takes it:

Our great Pushkin, destined, one would think, to be the favorite of women for all time, Pushkin, whose poetry the young ladies of my time knew almost by heart, for whom Tatyana was an ideal — why, the young ladies of today hardly know him, though they have devoured hundreds of volumes of Dumas and Paul Féval. And why is this, you ask? Simply because these authors describe the court, the magnificent drawing-rooms of the heroines, and their splendid equipages […] It may be confidently asserted that the young ladies of bygone days suffered when they loved, and that those of the present-day suffer when their papas have not sufficient means. Formerly a young girl was ready to flee with the poor but noble Waldemar; now there is no fleeing any more, but the author has seen, with an aching heart, scores of examples of seventeen-year-old girls employing all their coquetry to capture some wealthy oldster. Formerly the maiden’s dream was a demi-god, now he is a future general or the possessor of five hundred souls. There is not a trace left of the dreaminess, the sensibility which the kindly Karamzin once did so much to make popular. Vanity and again vanity, outward brilliancy and inward hollowness have eaten into youthful hearts. Modern young ladies are ready to undergo all sorts of connubial tortures for the sake of a carriage on horizontal springs, a velvet mantle trimmed with swan’s-down, diamond slave bracelets. (21-22)

Young people these days! In 1858 Pisemskii just has generation 1 (girls who liked romance, poetry, reading, and impractical love affairs) and generation 2 (girls who wanted money and luxury). In another authorial intrusion in 1863 he promises to describe a third formation of women. He also returned to how much women loved Pushkin.


Dralyuk on translations of Crime and Punishment

October 20, 2015

Via Robert Chandler on SEELANGS, here is a review of Oliver Ready’s new translation of Crime and Punishment by translator Boris Dralyuk, who compares Ready’s work to earlier efforts by Constance Garnett, David McDuff, and Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky:

The challenges that [the] polyphony [of Crime and Punishment] poses to a translator are staggering. The brave soul must shuttle back and forth between the gestalt — the great unwieldy whole — and its parts, sinking into scenes of violence and casual terror, into fever dreams, into the dramas — little and big — of conversations in tenements and police stations. Ready, who has a practiced ear for Russian dialect and a natural grace with English, is exceptionally deft at navigating these challenges. I’ll point to one instance in which a translator must take note of a number of elements (the structure of dream logic, the use of dialect and folkloric reference, and vividness of imagery) and be honest to them all without bursting the reader’s suspension of disbelief — without, as it were, waking the reader up. In Part I, Chapter 5, Raskolnikov dreams of a scene from childhood — a cart-driver has overloaded his cart with passengers and is beating his nag, urging her to move when she clearly can’t manage:

“Daddy! Daddy!” he shouts to his father. “What are they doing, Daddy? Daddy, they’re beating the poor little horse!”

“Come on, boy!” says the father. “Just drunken idiots fooling around: off we go, boy, don’t look!” — and tries to lead him away, but he breaks free of his grasp and, quite beside himself, runs to the horse. But the poor little horse is in a bad way. She’s struggling for breath, stops, gives another tug and almost falls.

“Flog ‘er till she drops!” shouts Mikolka. “She’s asking for it. I’ll flog ‘er dead!”

“Where’s your fear of God, you mad beast?” yells an old man in the crowd.

A great deal goes right in Ready’s treatment of this nightmare, which continues for another two pages. The father’s pained and abashed dismissal, “Just drunken idiots fooling around,” which he delivers in choked-off fragments in Russian (“пьяные, шалят, дураки”), sounds far fresher and produces a far more poignant effect than previous efforts: “They are drunken and foolish, they are in fun” (Constance Garnett, 1914); “They’re drunk, playing mischief, the fools” (David McDuff, 1991); “They’re drunk, they’re playing pranks, the fools” (Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky, 1992). “They are in fun,” is, of course hopelessly dated, while “playing mischief” and “pranks,” though close translations of the verb “шалить,” are not really appropriate to the situation or to the father’s register or mental state.

The “mad beast,” too, is an inspired choice. The Russian original has the old man calling Mikolka a “леший (leshii),” that is, a “wood demon” — a creature from the Russian pagan past, which worked its way into the syncretic faith of the village but, by the 19th century, was, for the most part, an element of idiomatic speech. For instance, to send someone to the wood demon is to send them to hell. Under certain circumstances, where the wood demon’s attributes are central to the exposition of a scene, a translator might want to preserve his presence — but here, where he is very much part of an idiom, suggesting wildness and inhumanity, Ready’s rendition works perfectly, allowing us to speed through the passage nervously, just as we ought to.

I love the criteria Dralyuk uses to judge the translations of шалить (cf. Joe Peschio on the broadness of that word’s meaning, and mid-century authors’ disapproval of cruel шалости). Ready’s “mad beast” is not Pevear and Volokhonsky’s “hairy devil” — it’s the other instance of леший in the horse-beating scene — but it’s interesting to compare Richard Lourie reviewing McDuff’s and Pevear and Volokhonsky’s translations in 1992 and Dralyuk reviewing Ready now. Dralyuk makes the new translation sound wonderful. I’m intrigued to read that Ready handles Porfirii Petrovich’s speech especially well. The first Russian novel I read was Crime and Punishment in what must have been Garnett’s translation, and I remember having trouble getting a handle on that character.

Words new to me: потатчик

October 19, 2015

In Pisemskii’s A Thousand Souls (Тысяча душ, 1858), Ekzarkhatova, the loudly angry wife of a history teacher, complains to two consecutive school inspectors (штатный смотритель уездного училища) about her husband’s drinking. This is the result when she goes to the first one, Petr Mikhailovich Godnev, before he retires:

“You are beginning to yield to your unfortunate habit again, Nikolai Ivanich! I think you know the Greek saying: ‘Drunkenness is madness in miniature.’ Why should you want to be mad? With your mind, your education… it’s too bad, it is really!”

“Forgive me, Pyotr Mikhailich, no man could feel it more than I do,” replied Ekzarkhatov, bending his head still lower.

“You ugly mug, you!” interpolated his wife, no whit abashed by the presence of the inspector. “It’s all talk—in your heart you’re not a bit sorry! Five children and what do you do for them? Am I to steal, am I to go begging because of you?”

“Dear, dear! [Так, так]” said Godnev, shaking his head.

“Forgive me, Pyotr Mikhailich!” repeated Ekzarkhatov.

“I know you are sorry and I trust you will never do it again. Kindly go to your class,” said Pyotr Mikhailich.

“And you, Madam,” he added when Ekzarkhatov had gone, “you see I did not spare him. I gave him a good dressing-down. You need no longer fret…”

But Madame Ekzarkhatova was not to be so easily consoled.

“I needn’t fret? What did you say to him? You patted him on the back again, the cur!” she cried.

“Tck, tck! A lady should be ashamed to use such language!” said Pyotr Mikhailich. “Husband and wife should correct one another’s faults with loving kindness, not with abuse.”

“A fig for his love! He’s not worth a fig, the ugly fellow!” retorted Mrs. Ekzarkhatova. “If I had known how it would be I would never have come—you and he are as thick as thieves! [Кабы знала, так бы не ходила, потатчики этакие!]” she cried as she went out. (part 1, chapter 1; pp. 15-16 in Ivy Litvinov’s translation)

Godnev’s younger replacement (Kalinovich, the hero of the novel and possibly Pisemskii’s most famous character) listens to Madame Ekzarkhatova and sends an official report to the next higher level of the school administration. This is a disaster for the whole Ekzarkhatov family, and when Ekzarkhatova goes to Godnev for help, he reminds her that she had called him a потатчик (part 1, chapter 6).

Потатчик ‘indulgent person’ is related to the verb потакать / потакнуть ‘indulge,’ as are a number of variations on the theme: потакатель, потакальщик, потакала, потаковник, потаковщик, потатуй. The last one is interesting: according to Dal’, потатуй can mean someone indulgent or it can mean ‘yes man,’ from такать / потакать ‘say так a lot.’  I first took Ekzarkhatova’s use of потатчик as related to Godnev’s earlier “так, так” — it seemed as if she were angry that he had seemed to agree with her, but then didn’t take any decisive action. But of course there’s no problem with the “indulgent man” reading here.


“I don’t like to say вы to servants…”

August 28, 2015

I’ve occasionally posted about how the informal pronoun ты and the formal вы were used in nineteenth-century literature. Within the nobility, Dostoevskii characters talk about Tolstoi characters talking about how hard it can be to switch from вы to ты, while Pisemskii characters express feigned or serious displeasure by switching from ты back to вы with (what seems to me) comparative freedom. An ex–house slave in Turgenev is offended when a still enslaved man calls him ты, and answers sarcastically with вы-с. For most of the century nobles addressed slaves as ты as a matter of course, but after February 19th, 1861, some nobles started using вы with newly freed peasants and servants on egalitarian grounds, and others didn’t. In an 1867 Nekrasov poem, a man can be driven to suicide not by material hardship, but by the petty disrespect of never being addressed formally, while in an 1864 Tolstoi play, freed serfs themselves see the new use of вы to address them as improper, ridiculous, offensive, bemusing.

One more for my collection: long after 1861, a woman hires a servant named Fedora, but doesn’t like her name and insists that she answer to Katia:

I say to her, “My dear, I don’t like your [informal] name” — I don’t like to say “you [formal]” to servants — “I’m going to call you Katia.”

Я говорю ей:

— Моя милая, мне твое имя не нравится (я не люблю говорить людям вы), я буду звать тебя Катею. (chapter 3)

She goes on to complain that although the servant answers to Katia, she stubbornly says “Fedora” when someone asks what her name is, because she refuses to lie for religious reasons. This the employer finds impudent, and she quotes her brother as saying “even though it’s not pleasant, still, ever since our blessed Nineteenth of February it’s been inevitable”; the woman she is telling all this to remarks, “Yes, ever since that February they’ve had us where they wanted us.”* I haven’t finished the story, but I gather both women are awful human beings and paid police informers.

This is from Leskov’s “A Winter’s Day” (Зимний день, 1894). Leskov is full of retrospective abolitionist fervor. The anti-egalitarian woman in the 1894 story is also anti-Tolstoyan, which may or may not strike you as ironic given Tolstoi’s attitude on the narrow question of ты and вы in 1864.

See also this post on Boris Bukhshtab’s article about “A Winter’s Day” and the atypically large amount of dialogue in it. I’ve gotten to the first mysterious allusion to the Shah of Persia, but I haven’t figured it out.

* The story was translated by William Edgerton in 1969 and David McDuff in 1987. Quotations above are from Edgerton’s translation, p. 367, except the first one, which I glossed, since for understandable reasons, neither Edgerton nor McDuff directly translates the parenthetical remark about pronouns. For the Russian see here.


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