Skip to content

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.

Words new to me: мурмолка

April 18, 2017

K. E. Makovskii, “The Old Man” (Старик), 1890s

murmolka was a men’s hat like the one in this 1890s painting. (There’s a very nice gallery of them here.) A Wikipedia contributor helpfully explains that “in the mid–nineteenth century, the murmolka became fashionable among Russian Slavophiles; it was worn by K. S. Aksakov, A. S. Khomiakov, and others; and it was used polemically as a symbol of Slavophilism by opponents of that movement.”

That’s just how it turns up in Sophie Engelhardt’s (Ol’ga N.’s) “A Stumbling Block” (Камень преткновения, 1862):

“Listen, Boris Pavlovich,” he began. “You’re one of the most honest men in the world; you wear a caftan and a murmolka: you’re an out-and-out Russian peasant, and for all that — it’s a strange thing! — you bear a striking resemblance to a man of my acquaintance, a man of high society who could not be said to be beyond reproach, a genuine eighteenth-century marquis. He is no more, and I will not take it upon myself to lie for a dead man.” (623)

This is the female main character’s friend and onetime suitor Mukhranov, leading up to the speech that lets her see the similarity between her late husband, a bad man of ultra-Western tastes, and her current love Tramonin, a good man of unfortunately rigid Slavophile views. Neither would let her be free.

The story had some themes I’ve seen in Ol’ga N. before:

  • characters discuss the proper attitude to take toward a male relative fighting in the Crimean War, as in “The Old Man” (Старик, 1857)
  • gender roles are fought over through characters explicitly discussing George Sand, as in the 1864 story “Liza” (other Russian authors do this too, of course)
  • we learn about a woman (the Slavophile love interest’s great-grandmother, who, he asserts, was just like the woman he loves and is writing to) exclusively through the words of a male character, as in “Martha” (Марфа: Быль, 1876)
  • and the way men try to control the main character’s language (her husband would only let her speak French; her Slavophile beau gives her a Russian dictionary as a gift to help her prune Gallicisms from her conversation, 608-09) reminded me of the post where I first heard of Ol’ga N.

I thought I’d found some other new words in “A Stumbling Block,” but голлоу was just a typo for (очертя) голову, and as far as I can tell, янтарные сливки wasn’t the forgotten special thing I first took it to be, but just a description of the color of some cream. Unless anyone knows another kind of amber cream?

New World

March 27, 2017

Samuil Marshak (1887-1964) translating William Blake’s “I askd my Dear Friend Orator Prigg” in 1962 in Novyi mir

Via Nikolai Podosokorskii, I see that many issues of Novyi mir (New World) are online; as of now they have most of 1925-30, everything since mid-1993, and isolated issues in between. November 1962 is there, presumably for Solzhenitsyn’s One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich (Один день Ивана Денисовича); you can see him sharing the issue with Samuil Marshak, Viktor Nekrasov, and Ernest Hemingway (“The Butterfly and the Tank”). In other issues you’ll find Fedin, Erenburg, and Zabolotskii; Grin and Grossman; Marietta Shaginian in 1934 on mentoring beginning writers; and a certain “Outsider” endorsing Sen. William Borah’s views on a 1920s Anglo-American dispute about the “freedom of the seas.” I hadn’t realized that Russian at the time used the abbreviation САСШ, which would be like NAUS (North American United States) instead of USA. There’s plenty of fun to be had browsing (the half- or fully forgotten names are maybe the most interesting — Solzhenitsyn is not hard to find elsewhere), and I’m sure the issues will be useful to people looking for something specific, too.

Gippius and Tsvetaeva

March 15, 2017

Armand Louis de Gontaut, duc de Lauzun, later duc de Biron (1747-1793) is a newborn, 17, 28, 29, and 46 in the five scenes of Tsvetaeva’s Fortuna

I’m still reading mostly nineteenth-century prose, but I also love early twentieth–century poetry, and I’ve been meaning to recommend these posts from the last few months:

  • Two excellent translations of one of my favorite poets, Zinaida Gippius, by Boris Dralyuk,
  • Here and here you’ll find Languagehat perceptively reading my very favorite writer, Marina Tsvetaeva,
  • And Maya Chhabra (a.k.a. between4walls) is translating a Tsvetaeva play about Biron, Fortuna (Фортуна, 1923). It’s this Biron, not this Biron. Besides knowing Russian, Chhabra is a writer and an expert on the French Revolution; you can support her work on Patreon here at levels starting at a dollar.

Words new to me: колодка

March 12, 2017

A колодка can be a shoe-tree or the sole of a hand plane, but in the nineteenth century it could also be “a section of a tree, cut in two, with an opening carved in the center, in which in former times a prisoner’s legs were secured by fastening the ends of the two halves.” Not to be confused with колода ‘log, object made of a hollowed-out log, deck (of cards)’ or колодец ‘well.’

In Leskov’s early story “The Mocker” (a.k.a. “The Stinger,” “A Spiteful Fellow”; Язвительный: Рассказ чиновника особых поручений, 1863), some peasants get so angry at their overseer that they beat him and drive him away, while burning down the manor house of the absent landowner. One of them is put in a kolodka:

Начались допросы. Первого стали спрашивать Николая Данилова. Перед допросом я велел снять с него колодку. Он сел на лавку и равнодушно смотрел, как расклиняли колодку, а потом так же равнодушно встал и подошел к столу. (section 7)

The interrogations began. First to be questioned was Nikolai Danilov. Before the interrogation I ordered his kolodka to be taken off. He sat on a bench and watched indifferently as the kolodka was wedged apart, and then, just as indifferently, he stood up and walked over to the table.

Later he asks to sit down during his interrogation, because his “legs hurt from the kolodka.”

The overseer was an Englishman who had spent six years in Russia and thought he was “used to our people (narod) and our ways (poriadki),” even as he believed he could make his employer’s estates more productive by imposing a system (section 2). He gave the peasants less work, never used corporal punishment, and was thought kind and honest by all. But he wouldn’t give the peasants permission to go work in Ukraine or Chernigov province, and he imposed non-violent punishments that made the peasants call him язвительный ‘cruelly mocking,’ notoriously making a man who’d run off without permission sit without working in front of the men who were working and, when he ran away from this too, attaching him to a chair from the manor house with a pin and some string, “like a sparrow.” They’d rather be beaten than endure such shame, and they’d rather be sent to Siberia than take the overseer, Dane, back and be forgiven.

In Hugh McLean’s reading, “intellectually, Leskov is on the side of Dane, who represents progress, a more rational organization of labor, and civilized methods of discipline. But emotionally, and, as it were, nationally, Leskov cannot help gloating over Dane’s catastrophe” (114). I think he’s more on the side of the narrator’s merchant friend Rukavichnikov, who understands both Dane and the peasants and knows Dane will fail (section 5); the narrator and Rukavichnikov are men of good sense who want what’s best for everyone, but recognize that neither the peasants’ nature nor Dane’s nature will let them be anything but what they are, like the scorpion.

Leskov’s narrator, who is sent by the provincial governor to investigate first complaints and then the crimes against Dane, is a “special agent” (чиновник особых поручений), just like

Konstantin Aleksandrovich Saks in Druzhinin’s Polinka Saks (1847)
the author Pisemskii (1848-50)
Pavel Vikhrov in Pisemskii’s Men of the Forties (1869)
Andrei Ivanovich Druckart in Leskov’s Episcopal Justice (1877)

and no doubt others; if I remember I’ll add them to this list as I find them.

Slave, free, and kind of free

September 8, 2016
tags:

Alex K. catches Gary Saul Morson saying this:

Four years earlier [1861], the “tsar-liberator” Alexander II (reigned 1855–1881) had at last abolished serfdom, a form of bondage making 90 percent of the population saleable property.

Which, AK says, is “quite an exaggeration. The serfs made up 34% of the empire’s total population and 38% of the total in its European part.” These figures are for the years leading up to the 1861 emancipation.

I turned to Peter Kolchin:

In 1678, according to [historical demographer Ia. E.] Vodarskii’s estimates, the male population of Russia, excluding the newly acquired Left-bank Ukraine and the Baltic region, was about 4.8 million. […] Nine-tenths of these people, or 4.3 million, were peasants. The peasant population was composed of the following groups:

Privately held peasants 2.3 million (53.5%)
Clerical peasants 0.7 million (16.3%)
Court peasants 0.4 million (9.3%)
State peasants 0.9 million (20.9%)

Thus, serfs (privately held and clerical) made up about seven-tenths of the peasant population [or 60-65% of the total population – EM]. (27)

Later, Kolchin gives these figures, citing V. M. Kabuzan: in 1795, the male population was 89.8% peasants (53.9% serfs and 36.0% state peasants), while in 1858 the male population was 83.0% peasants (39.2% serfs and 43.8% state peasants). Noblemen were 2.0% of the population in 1795 and only 1.6% in 1858. Interestingly the ratios of serfs to nobles (between 24 and 27 to 1) and peasants to nobles (between 45 and 52 to 1) are relatively constant, but the percentages of serfs, peasants, and noblemen out of the whole population all decline as the category of “other” jumps from 8.2% of the population in 1795 to 15.4% in 1858 (52, 366).

A charitable and, I think, a likely way to interpret Morson’s remark is that he meant that in 1861, Alexander II abolished a system that had once, as in 1678 and 1795, enslaved about 90% of the population, if you consider court peasants and state peasants “saleable property.” I could even imagine an editor changing “a form of bondage that once had made” to “a form of bondage making,” believing it made no difference.

I still don’t know if I get the status of state peasants (I imagine them as the ones who “used the Schism as a pretext and hid in the North, away from your pious tsars”). Kolchin says that “over the course of the eighteenth century hundreds of thousands of them had the misfortune of being converted into serfs as part of huge grants of land and peasants made by the tsars to favored noblemen” (39) and compares them to “free blacks in the slaveholding United States, like whom they were ‘slaves without masters’” (26). If combining them with serfs sensu stricto for an impressive 90% is questionable, it also seems misleading to group state and court peasants with the nobles, clergy, merchants, and raznochintsy when calculating this sort of percentage.

“The Ikimsky Family”

August 21, 2016

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.