“The Pearl Necklace”
Leskov’s “The Pearl Necklace” (Жемчужное ожерелье, 1885) is not full of regionalisms and colloquialisms and neologisms. It looks as easy to translate as some of his others look terrifying. But his work is supposed to be so varied that hardly anyone has read enough to get a complete picture of him, which means he can do blandly elegant literary language too.
The language is transparent, but of course I don’t know every word. It might say something about Leskov that even in a story this linguistically normal, when I looked something up, the dictionaries usually gave “The Pearl Necklace” as their usage example. I liked these ones:
- жох – “rascally skinflint, rogue” – someone who gets what he’s after, by hook or by crook
- набаламутить – “make trouble, upset” – get people worked up about nothing, some definitions specify stirring up trouble by “false rumors and gossip”
- быть бычку на обрывочку – more often “быть бычку на веревочке,” of an unpleasant thing that can’t be avoided
- кто думает три дни, тот выберет злыдни – the sense of the saying, that indecision means trouble, was clear enough, but I hadn’t realized that злыдни were some sort of spirit from East Slavic mythology
The story is good but not my favorite by Leskov. I thought I remembered Hugh McLean calling it the best of Leskov’s Christmas stories, but after reading the story I checked and McLean mainly recommends “The Wild Beast” (Зверь, 1883). “The Pearl Necklace” is instead the programmatic, metaliterary Christmas story, and both it and “The Wild Beast” repeat “the basic theme of Dickens’s Christmas Carol, the moral transformation, under psychological pressures associated with Christmas, of a bad man into a good one” (385).
Characters in “The Pearl Necklace” talk about Dickens and Turgenev as reified classics, which shows how far the 1880s are from the 1850s.