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Free e-book: The Meeting by Nadezhda Khvoshchinskaya

July 18, 2022

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

Maybe you can translate Gogol into Ukrainian after all

July 15, 2022

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

Four years ago Robert Romanchuk disagreed with Barabash:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“We lived together” or “you made my life worth living”?

June 22, 2022

I’ve been comparing four Russian versions of Nadezhda Khvoshchinskaia’s “The Meeting” (Свидание, 1879) as I work on a dual-language e-book of it. There are so many small differences (even though the story is essentially the same), in four categories of increasing importance:

  1. idiosyncratic typos (доктор for директор, ей-Бйгу for ей-Богу)
  2. changes in spelling, punctuation, and grammar norms over time (успокоивал or успокаивал, тоже or то же, родня по мужу or родня по муже, whether commas are used after sentence-initial time expressions, when dashes are used as copulas, how direct speech is indicated)
  3. attempts to normalize the text, in particular an effort by the editors of the 1912–13 edition to tone down graphic indications of emotion (italics disappear, two exclamation points become one) and spoken language (!.. and ?.. and … become ! and ? and a single period, что ж becomes что же), to turn free indirect discourse into direct speech, to break up long paragraphs or (less often) combine short ones, and to add specific characters’ names for clarity where earlier versions had only a pronoun (сказала она с упреком becomes сказала с упреком Табаева, which undermines the later scenes that emphasize that two women share this surname, but not a third)
  4. actual substantive differences

Some people in the early twentieth century apparently thought Khvoshchinskaia’s ways of emphasizing characters’ feelings overdid it:

In posthumous editions Сестра!!.. becomes Сестра!!.. and finally Сестра!

There are enough places where this happens that I think it would have a cumulative effect on a reader. It’s complicated: the 1912–13 edition gets rid of some exclamation points from 1879 and 1880, but also preserves some that had been added in 1892. This means the differences affect not only how explicitly emotion is rendered overall, but also which characters get exclamation points when.

On the “actual substantive differences” front, I’ve mentioned a couple in the past, but I wanted to bring up two more. Near the end of the story Alexandra Sergeyevna makes an insulting remark and then falls silent, but in the 1879 and 1880 editions she involuntarily (невольно) falls silent, while in the 1892 and 1912–13 editions she awkwardly (неловко) falls silent. Both are plausible, and I think the difference is significant. I don’t know if this was an error or an editorial choice, but I’m going to go with 1880.

There’s one other that I’m less sure about. The two editions published in the author’s lifetime disagree. When Tabaev is dying and decides to marry his longtime partner Anna Vasilyevna, they have this exchange:

“Marry me?” she echoed. “Why?”

“Why? So that after I kick the bucket, they don’t chase you away before my body’s even cold.”

“Who would dare?”

“Someone will turn up who will,” he replied, getting agitated. “They’ll chase you away and bawl you out too… I lived with you [or “we lived together” or “you’re the one I lived with” or “you made my life worth living”?]. I’m not going to let them insult you…”

— Обвенчаться? повторила она. — Зачем?

— Зачем? чтоб тебя от моего тела не прогнали, когда я ноги протяну.

— Кто ж это осмелится?

— Осмелятся, найдутся, отвечал он, раздражаясь. — И прогонят, и наругаются… Я — тобой жил [1879 text: Я с тобой жил]. Я тебя на оскорбления не отдам…

I wrote “I lived with you” based on the 1879 text (“Я с тобой жил”). But later the preposition vanishes: 1880 and 1892 have “Я — тобой жил,” and 1912–13 removes the dash and changes the final period to a comma going into the next sentence, which now ends in a period instead of an ellipsis: “Я тобой жил, я тебя на оскорбления не отдам.”

How big is the difference between я с тобой жил and я — тобой жил? I hear с тобой жил as more down-to-earth, with a possible sexual connotation. That they were sexual partners can’t be too shocking (they have a daughter, and their years-long love is central to the story), but did the very expression с тобой жил sound risqué in 1879–1913? Meanwhile, тобой жил sounds quite gallant to me, like he’s saying she was what made his life worth living. How Tabaev phrased this thought—while imagining his family’s reprehensible treatment of his at least de facto widow—could influence how we see him.

Does that seem right, or is/was the difference between жить кем and жить с кем something else? Does either of the two expressions seem so out of place here that we can be reasonably sure Khvoshchinskaia wanted the other one? (Or that she must have wanted the less likely option—lectio difficilior potior?) Did a typesetter just read a dash as “с” in 1879 or “с” as a dash in 1880, or could an editor or censor have been responsible for one of the variations?

Streltsy as revolutionaries

June 14, 2022

How do other people get to know an opera? I start looking at the libretto after I’ve heard the whole thing a few times. By then I’ve learned the words to a handful of catchy melodies, often sung by one person with a medium-range voice, and these words often aren’t dramatically important—someone saying “I don’t know anything, I don’t know anything,” or a back-and-forth about whether something made a noise in the bushes.

The part of my brain that has started recombining poems I memorized when I was young (Я научилась просто, мудро жить, Смотреть на небо и молиться Богу, Как нам велели пчелы Персефоны) also likes taking words I know from elsewhere and fitting them to tunes I’m learning, and there’s one from Musorgskii’s Khovanshchina (Хованщина, 1886) I want to share here:


Where people are actually singing, for example,

Бойтесь, бойтесь, молодцы,
Сплетни бабы злой-презлой,
Что грозит-то лих бедой,
Что казнит весь род людской. (1:41:09–1:41:17)

[translation from the subtitles of the linked clip: “Be fearful, good people, of the gossip of the vilest women! It threatens us with grief and with the end of mankind.” My reading of the Russian is that there is only one “most evil woman” as a kind of personified Gossip, not several “vilest women.”]

I want them to be singing Blok’s

Мы на горе всем буржуям
Мировой пожар раздуем,
Мировой пожар в крови —
Господи, благослови!

[We will fan the flames of a worldwide fire and show all the bourgeois! The worldwide fire is in our blood. God bless!]

It seems to fit, and it’s not only the meter—it doesn’t work with Не слыхал ли ты о Клике, О трамвае-горемыке, О двоюродном моем С бледно-розовым огнем.

In the 2012 Mariinsky Theater production directed by Valery Gergiev, this short song was omitted entirely (I can’t tell if that was Gergiev’s decision, or Pavel Lamm’s, or Shostakovich’s). These must be hard choices—to me this section of Act 3 is one of the most attention-getting parts of the opera, but the rest can stand without it, and I get why you’d want to make a three-plus hour opera shorter rather than longer.

Why the title has to be vague

June 13, 2022

One of the vaguest of Nadezhda Khvoshchinskaia’s many vague titles is “From a Notebook” (Из записной книжки, 1877). Here’s what it’s about.

Usually in N., men play cards at the club and women either sit at home alone or play cards at home, but one night our narrator is lucky enough to find a party at Anna Aleksandrovna’s that didn’t have a quorum for a game. The guests include the seventeen-year-old Elena Nikolaevna Goresheva and her husband, a “practical man” who keeps an eye on his wife so “the ‘child’ doesn’t do or say anything foolish” (105); a lady who kept giving Goresheva sympathetic looks, “but then, this honorable lady seemed dissatisfied with too many things and consoled herself only with her own sense of dignity” (105–06); and Vykhin, who is just back from Moscow and describes Aida (1871) in great detail, saying “Verdi has started down a new path. I prophesy he will go far!” (106). The hostess has also seen Aida, but thinks it is all darkness and noise (106).

Then the guest arrives who will take charge of the gathering, Mme Munovskaia. Energetic and outspoken, constantly setting up “philanthropic and pedagogical enterprises,” she announces she has had a fight with her husband. After spending the morning riding around on business in an open carriage on a cold day, she finds he has come home before her and is already eating lunch. He tells her she does not “take care of her precious health,” so she calls him stupid and leaves without eating anything. Young Elena Nikolaevna opens her eyes wide when she hears this, and her husband frowns.

For quite a while these characters discuss Verdi, Victor Hugo, Shakespeare, reduced-price pencils for schoolchildren, and the “woman question,” and we’re not necessarily on anyone’s side (pp. 105–20). Then Munovskaia mentions a story about an “old maid” who had come to her in St. Petersburg looking for work and who “has dedicated her days to a very good-looking young man”:

“Oh, she’s forty, he’s twenty! When foolishness is just bursting out of you, what can you hold it in with? All the tricks in the world, to the point of forgetting your dignity altogether, just to keep the flame of passion burning. Passion at forty—you know what that’s like! And this one is special on top of that: a parental-servile-old-maidly passion. She gives him food and drink, and teaches him things, and praises him: ‘you’re a genius, you’re so smart, and don’t you dare look at any women!’” (120–21)

We’re almost halfway through the text, but the main story starts here, and the whole interesting discussion at Anna Aleksandrovna’s isn’t an overgrown framing device (we’ll never come back to it, or to any of the characters except the narrator and this forty-year-old woman), but a long introduction.

The narrator knows this woman, Vera, extremely well. Vera came from a far from rich noble family that valued culture and genuine human communication over wealth and the art of smooth conversation. The family sent her sister to boarding school instead of her because the sister was better-looking and therefore had better prospects in life. After the death of her parents, Vera has little choice but to go live with her sister—now married with two daughters—who has abandoned her birth family’s value system in favor of bourgeois comforts and small talk. Vera can’t stand this and leaves to go live with a much younger artist, Kartsov; Vera’s sister is so ashamed that she tells people Vera had died.

Now we hear Vera’s side of the story and see how unfair Mme Munovskaia had been to her. Kartsov was attractive and talented, but Vera was not his lover; she supported him materially so that he could devote his great talent to projects worthy of it instead of making money by painting quick genre paintings and portraits.

The narrator learned this when Vera came to see him, but when he goes to see her, he meets Kartsov in person. Kartsov is going blind and resents the fact that other artists his age are more famous than he will ever be. Not just that—one of his colleagues saw his sketch for a historical painting he had spent countless hours researching, painted his own modified version, and submitted it to an exhibition before Kartsov’s painting was ready. And now we see a third interpretation of Vera and Kartsov’s relationship:

“Damn it!” he shouted, bumping into the easel.

“What are you…” she couldn’t help starting to say.

“Oh, my apologies,” he said, suddenly stopping in front of us. “My apologies, I’m sorry. But I hope sincere old friends…”

He courteously turned toward me.

“We were made acquainted in advance, you’ve been warned about my personality, my education… I hope you will make allowances…”

“Wouldn’t it be better to hope for sympathy?” I interrupted him, “Do you really not see how difficult this is for both Vera Mikhailovna and me?”

“I don’t see,” he said quietly, insistently, and despairingly, and went on with a laugh, “but I can feel it very well. A bit less sympathy would be better!”


“Yes! When so much is offered all at once—sympathy, meekness, care, generosity—there’s no way to accept it. What can you do? Poor human nature! Pile goodness on top of it, and it can’t crawl out from underneath, it doesn’t have the strength. It just lies down and dies… And as it dies, it doesn’t say ‘thank you’!” (139)

Vera hates the less prestigious genres of painting as passionately as she hates small talk, but after we hear Kartsov’s Dostoevskian confession of his feelings, we see Vera’s story in another new light. As they were struggling but reasonably happy early on, Kartsov had surprised her with opera tickets bought with money from selling a genre painting (“a scene from peasant life, it was nice”) he’d painted in secret at a friend’s studio (132). This makes Vera unhappy, and she gets Kartsov to agree that it was a waste of his talent, and he should focus on larger projects. But he disappoints her again with an exhibition of portraits, and the fact that the portraits Vera wishes he hadn’t painted were “a whole flower-garden” of different types of women makes us wonder if the uncharitable Mme Munovskaia saw Vera somewhat clearly after all (“you’re a genius, you’re so smart, and don’t you dare look at any women!”).

I’m no writer, and I don’t know what I’d call this story, but “From a Notebook” is ostentatiously vague. It feels like a placeholder to signify humility: I couldn’t really come up with anything worth mentioning, so here’s some old thing I pulled out of my archive. But I think its actual purpose is to lay the groundwork for Khvoshchinskaia’s favorite trick (at least in the late 1870s): having the story take a single 90-degree swerve in the middle, so when you finish you’re not sure if you care more about the main character’s story or its elaborate setup. If the title were specific enough to let you know the post-swerve story existed, you’d be ready for the swerve. After readers had seen the story in National Annals, Khvoshchinskaia changed its title to “Vera: A Sketch” (Вера: Очерк) in later collections, where it would be awkward if too many things had similarly vague titles. (In the posthumous 1912–13 collected works, for example, “Vera” is in the same volume as a piece called “An Unfinished Notebook: A Fragment,” though it uses a different word meaning “notebook,” the general tetrad’ instead of the slightly more specific zapisnaia knizhka in the original title of “Vera.”)

Contents of Volume Five: “Vera: A Sketch” [formerly “From a Notebook”], “Temptation: A Novella,” “Ursa Major: A Novel,” “At an Evening Gathering: A Fragment from a Notebook of Drafts,” “Old Sorrow: A Sketch,” “A Farewell: A Novella,” “An Unfinished Notebook: A Fragment”

Jehanne M. Gheith’s reading of “Vera” is that in it Khvoshchinskaia “problematizes and even mocks female emancipation” (181):

The juxtaposition of the story of Vera’s life to Munovskaia’s words valorizes Vera’s self-sacrifice: Munovskaia looks particularly selfish and empty-headed against the background of Vera’s depth and integrity. At the same time, the narrator (a male admirer of Vera’s) vividly describes Vera’s misery and the futility of her sacrifice. The options presented in “Vera” are between different unhappinesses: one can be unhappy like Vera (poor, self-sacrificing, and scorned by society), or one can be unhappy like the grape-popping Mme Munovskaia, who self-assuredly thinks she is happy as she bustles about “doing good,” but who is shallow, poshlaia, and ridiculous. Or one can be a timid and terrified wife like Goresheva, who is almost incapable of independent thought or action. Her husband’s control represents the negative side of the lack of emancipation for women in Russia. Emancipation may lead to shallow types like Mme Munovskaia, but lack of it leads not only to the self-sacrifice of a Vera, but also to the complete slavery of the Mme Goreshevas. (182)

I think there is something to this, but for me it’s not obvious that we should trust Vera’s point of view so much or Kartsov’s (as well as Munovskaia’s) so little. Vera’s key trait is her absolute hatred of poshlost’ (that special Russian version of vulgarity—this story actually forced me to concede that Nabokov was right, and English “vulgar” isn’t enough). Explaining to the narrator why she left her materially comfortable life at her sister’s for poverty with Kartsov, Vera says “poshlost’ is a swamp: it pulls you in” (129). But I think one way to read the story is as a journey to the revelation that Vera was wrong, that she ruined Kartsov’s life when she thought she was rescuing him from poshlost’, and that happiness is available if you’re willing to compromise with the vulgar world by letting your artist roommate work on genre paintings and portraits or, if you’re Goresheva, by going to talk about Othello with a feminist who’s also a conceited socialite who eats too many expensive grapes and comes up with reductive interpretations of Hugo and Shakespeare.

Why did Panaeva stop writing fiction?

June 10, 2022

Quite by chance I found a lecture on YouTube from November 11th, 2021, called “Being a Woman at The Contemporary: Poetry and Truth in the Fiction of Avdot’ia Panaeva.”

I was already happy about this, and then it turned out that one of the co-presenters was Pavel Uspenskii, who I’d just seen on a different channel talking about a different century. Everyone else involved—Uspenskii’s co-presenter Andrei Fedotov, the discussant Mariia Nesterenko, and the host Aleksei Vdovin—was excellent too.

Uspenskii and Fedotov were pushing back against Soviet-era conventional wisdom about Panaeva: that only her memoirs were worth reading and even these were unreliable; that if you were going to read her fiction, it should be the two novels she co-wrote with Nekrasov, and he probably wrote all the good parts; that she stopped publishing after she and Nekrasov separated because she couldn’t write without his help, or because she had never had serious literary ambitions, or because she now had a daughter and that was all that mattered to her. She was defined in relation to men: “Nekrasov’s wife, Panaev’s companion, Chernyshevskii’s friend, Dobroliubov’s protector.” She was made out to be crafty and dishonest so Soviet scholars could blame her for the Ogareva affair (and thereby exonerate Nekrasov).

So Uspenskii and Fedotov looked at her fiction in The Contemporary from the 1840s to the 1860s, finding literary responses to Nekrasov’s “Panaeva cycle” of rather dark love poems and his “When, out of the darkness of error” (Когда из мрака заблужденья, 1845). One thing Panaeva knew well was the contrast between the egalitarian, pro–women’s emancipation position of the feminist men of The Contemporary and the way they lived their lives, with trips to brothels and all-male gatherings for chernoknizhie, the writing of humorous pornographic poetry. She implies the progressive man’s attempt to rescue a prostitute is a pretext for visiting a prostitute.

Kornei Chukovskii apparently suggested Panaeva only cared about children, not writing, and this is why she stopped publishing for many years after 1864. But in Uspenskii and Fedotov’s opinion, the real reason was the reception of her “most radical, most feminist” novel, A Woman’s Lot (Женская доля, 1862). (This is the same novel Margarita Vaysman focuses on.) Panaeva hoped the novel would appeal to the most progressive parts of society, but it didn’t. Pisarev gave it a bad review called “A Puppet-Show Tragedy with a Bouquet of Civic Sorrow” (“Кукольная трагедия с букетом гражданской скорби,” 1864), finding its ideal of women’s emancipation inadequate, and Nadezhda Khvoshchinskaia criticized it on aesthetic grounds. Meanwhile, after the young generation saw itself in the new men and new women in Chernyshevskii’s What Is to Be Done? (Что делать?, 1863), Panaeva’s less optimistically drawn new people were even less relevant (41:50–47:01).

This provoked a lively discussion about whether contemporaries would have known that Khvoshchinskaia’s article had been written by a woman. They came down where I would have (after reading Jehanne M. Gheith’s 2004 Finding the Middle Ground): from early on many readers knew that the name Khvoshchinskaia used for fiction, V. Krestovskii, was a woman’s pseudonym, but only a handful would have realized she was the author a series of nonfiction “Provincial Letters” signed “Porechnikov.” Gheith, by the way, discusses Khvoshchinskaia/Porechnikov’s and Pisarev’s reviews of Panaeva’s A Woman’s Lot in detail (see pp. 111–15). (Uspenskii and Fedotov explicitly mention Gheith and Vaysman, among other scholars—I’m definitely not pointing out things they missed!)

“…without her I need literally nothing, and everything has lost its light.”

June 9, 2022

In a letter to an unidentified female friend, seemingly written in 1880, Nadezhda Khvoshchinskaia said that a creative hot streak from roughly 1874 to 1879, “which critics found surprising, considering my age”—she was in her fifties—ended with The Meeting (Свидание, 1879) because two months later she lost her closest friend, an adolescent girl, a cook’s daughter, named Sofiia or Sonia (just like Nadezhda’s late middle sister, to whom she had been close):

After all, she [the young Sonia who died in 1879] did more for my moral life in those four years than my sister Sonia. My sister had education, authority, age. We grew up and came of age [muzhali, sometimes translated as “reached manhood”] together. This one found me broken: the child could hardly read and naturally did not know life. What was it she had? I cannot name it. But I know that without her I need literally nothing, and everything has lost its light. Now a year has passed, and she isn’t a daughter to me or… well, etc. You must understand: I am suffering, and I am sure that I am cut off from everything. How could I write in such a state. Take a whiff of Family and School [Семья и школа, 1880; this novella was later republished as The Teacher, Учительница].

(quoted in this 1897 piece by Tsebrikova, pp. 16–17; Jehanne M. Gheith cites the part of the letter right before this, p. 72)

Much of what I’ve read by Khvoshchinskaia so far is from this fertile period, and it really is impressive. I’ve posted about Times Past (Былое, 1878) and translated The Meeting. Sometime soon I want to post about An Album: Groups and Portraits (Альбом: Группы и портреты, 1874–77, 1889), which has delighted critics and scholars from Skabichevskii to Karen Rosneck, and “From a Notebook” (Из записной книжки, 1877), later published as “Vera: A Sketch” (Вера: Очерк).

After the cook’s daughter Sonia (who, if I understand things correctly, met Khvoshchinskaia at age eleven and died at age fifteen), the writer became close to a certain Moskaleva, about whom Gheith writes

The relationship between Krestovskii and Moskaleva again, in some senses, replaced [Nadezhda’s sister] Sofiia. V. Semevskii [who wrote about Nadezhda’s life and works in 1890], using the language of chivalry (an encoded language?) calls the relationship between the two “the most tender friendship” and also terms Moskaleva Khvoshchinskaia’s “faithful cohabitress and friend” (neizmennaia sozhitel’nitsa i podruga). Perhaps the strongest evidence of the intensity of the friendship, though, is Praskoviia Khvoshchinskaia’s hostility toward it. In her short biography of her sister, Praskoviia accused Moskaleva of separating Nadezhda from her family, of taking over Nadezhda’s literary inheritance, and of destroying Sofiia’s manuscripts. These manuscripts were Nadezhda’s most treasured possession; if, as seems likely, she did entrust them to Moskaleva, it indicates the depth of their friendship. (73, link added)

As Gheith says, we’ll “probably never know” whether Nadezhda Khvoshchinskaia’s relationships with her series of female muses were sexual—apart from the taboo against homosexuality and the passage of time, Khvoshchinskaia was an unusually private person (73). But Gheith calls them “‘erotic’ in Audre Lorde’s terms,” as “they were Khvoshchinskaia/Krestovskii’s primary source of emotional and creative energy¨ (74).

More on Times Past

June 8, 2022

Nadezhda Khvoshchinskaia’s nineteenth-century biographer V. I. Semevskii gives a little more of the story of the unfinished novel Times Past (Былое, 1878) than I got from reading Saltykov-Shchedrin’s letters. He summarizes the five chapters that were published as well as three more that weren’t:

In contrast to these negative types [in the five published chapters, that is, Dolotov and Mrs. Ganevich], honest, sincere young people are depicted in the next three chapters, which remained unpublished. In these chapters the student Krylitsyn, among others, takes the stage, having just been expelled from the university for non-payment of tuition because of poverty and having made up his mind to go to the country to live and work there, despite the fact that at the last minute a friend offered to give him his hard-earned money so he could pay his tuition. The last chapter to be written ends with a scene of Krylitsyn saying goodbye to a young woman whom he had known for a long time and loved platonically.

Semevskii then quotes a paragraph that apparently concludes this last chapter (have chapters 6–8 ever appeared in print in full, or are they as unpublished now as they were in 1890?):

They had known each other for two years. From the first day they had told each other that it was dishonest, even shameful, to be happy while there are so many unfortunates on every side. Love was a possibility; they did not seize it. Passion, they said, was egoism; it distracts people, gets in the way, places itself before work, before duty. People forget others for themselves; affection for all is replaced by a personal affection. Passion blinds people, it doesn’t let them be objective, it makes it impossible to offer instruction, support, or stern advice; it restricts people’s opinions, it takes away their freedom. Time for love is stolen from the common cause. One cannot study when one’s heart is pining, one’s head is burning… They figured all this out. Brother and sister… better yet: two workers with one task. They took up this work with so much enthusiasm, inspiration, joy! The hours they had of study, arguments, dreams, aspirations, of labor’s salutary fatigue…!

Then we get excerpts from two letters Khvoshchinskaia wrote to different unnamed female friends about Times Past. Letter #1, of March 11th, 1878 (that is, 17 days before Saltykov-Shchedrin wrote to say that the fact that they both had offended an ex-governor of Ryazan province was causing problems for Times Past, and 39 days before Khvoshchinskaia wrote to National Annals to announce the novel would not be continued):

What possessed me to write on social themes! I ought to have been content with tender feelings, a magnifying glass, and some lawyers, since the former is back in style, the second is different every day, and the latter is out of style.

Letter #2, of January, 1879:

You know that my novel, which I began last year, died before it was born, and trying to write it now would be like knocking my head against a brick wall [все равно, что воду толочь]. So I abandoned it. It was said of me in print that I do not know how to finish it and have not continued it for this reason. Let people say what they like… Henceforth I limit myself and return to questions of the family and the heart, which, after all, are also not unfruitful in a society that has put aside all analysis of feelings and of [?] all reflection [отложило в сторону всякий анализ чувства и всякого размышления]. These questions, though, are “a dime a dozen” [непочатый угол], as the late Dudyshkin once said. How lucky they all are to be “late”!

See the last four paragraphs of section 5 of part 2 of Semevskii’s 3-part 1890 article on Khvoshchinskaia (pp. 98–99).

One more Dead Souls translation

June 3, 2022

Year after year, the most read post on this blog is Translation Comparison: Dead Souls. I didn’t claim to include every published translation of Gogol’s 1842 novel, but it’s been bothering me that I called C. J. Hogarth a trailblazer for what he published in 1915 without mentioning Isabel Hapgood’s 1886 translation. So here’s what Hapgood did with the beginning of part 1, chapter 5:

Nevertheless, our hero was thoroughly frightened. Although his britchka was rolling along at full speed, and Nozdreff’s village had long since disappeared from his sight behind meadows, declivities, and hillocks, he still kept looking behind him with terror, as though in the expectation that a pursuing party would suddenly make its appearance. He breathed with difficulty; and when he tried to lay his hand upon his heart, he found that it was beating like a woodcock in a cage. “Eh, what an experience he has given me! Only think of it!” (121–22)

You can find the Russian and five other English translations in the old post. In this short excerpt Hapgood anticipates quite a bit of what later translators would go on to do. The things that stand out to me as different and a bit odd are “declivities” for отлогости (Hogarth has “hillocks,” Magarshack has “the sloping ground,” English has “hills,” Pevear and Volokhonsky have “slopes,” Rayfield has “sloping hills”) and the final two sentences in quotes. “What an experience he has given me!” strikes me in 2022 as so weak and flavorless compared to the idiom “какую баню задал!” that I wonder if what’s happened is a shift in the stylistic character of the English word “experience” in the last 136 years.

Pasternak and idiomatics

June 2, 2022

This spring I noticed that the B. L. Pasternak Museum has a YouTube channel where you can watch, among other things, two lectures by Tat’iana Krasil’nikova and Pavel Uspenskii, whose combination of erudition, humility, and joy is wonderful throughout.

The first one, from May 2021, is based on their book Pasternak’s Poetic Language: My Sister Life through the Lens of Idiomatics (Поэтический язык Пастернака. “Сестра моя — жизнь” сквозь призму идиоматики, 2021, as a .pdf here).

By “idiomatics” they mean not just idioms in the strict sense, but also set phrases, proverbs, and sayings. They argue that Pasternak (and other modernist poets like Blok and Mandel’shtam) played with set phrases, and that this was an important ingredient for making a kind of poetry that people love and respond to without always being confident that they understand what it means. Their book gives a typology of the forms this play could take in early Pasternak.

In January 2022 they gave another lecture that extends this approach from Pasternak’s My Sister Life (Сестра моя — жизнь, 1922) to Second Birth (Второе рождение, 1932), which they describe as a transitional work on his path from modernist obscurity to “unheard-of simplicity.”

I hope you don’t mind a post about the twentieth century, but if you’re reading this blog and speak Russian, I suspect you’ll enjoy these lectures as much as I did.