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More ты and вы

February 7, 2013

I continue to be surprised by the freedom with which Baklanov switches between ты and вы in Pisemskii’s Troubled Seas (Взбаламученное море, 1863).

With Kazimira, who is always in love with and by part 4 economically dependent on Baklanov, his conversation is mostly вы both ways, as one would expect. He addresses her as ты in his thoughts when he dramatically promises he will not ruin her (2.2) – at the time this seems an effective way of showing his naive self-absorption, but we later learn he will seduce her and drive her to her death (4.10). When he enters her room in his house at night (she is nanny to his children, and his wife Evpraksiia is in the house too), there are some ты/вы changes that apparently follow from the extremity of the situation and the tension between the formality of official friendship and the “intimacy” of Baklanov forcing himself on Kazimira. She pleads “Aleksandr! I beg you, leave [formal] me alone, leave [informal] me alone!” (“Александр! Умоляю, оставьте меня, оставь!”) and he threatens “If you [ты] don’t do this for me, I shall hate you!” (“Если ты для меня этого не сделаешь, я возненавижу тебя!”) between two lines — “Let’s go, my angel” (“Пойдемте, ангел мой!”) and “Well, put something on then!” (“Ну, наденьте!”) — with formal forms.

These changes from вы to ты and back again are temporary and the reasons for them are obvious, although I had not realized that such changes are as possible as they apparently are. On the other hand, with Evpraksiia, his wife, Baklanov goes from вы both ways (social acquaintances) to ты both ways with momentary exceptions (when engaged) back to вы when he addresses her (when he grows bored with marriage); she continues to call him ты even after he switches back (4.4). This is similar to Baklanov’s switch from a long-standing ты to a new and stable вы with Sophie (3.10), but in that case it was prompted by a sudden revelation of her supposed unfaithfulness, while with Evpraksiia the shift back to вы appears to depend only on his general dissatisfaction.

Do Raskolnikov and Pierre Bezukhov and Rudin and other characters from nineteenth-century novels do this sort of thing all the time, and I’d never noticed? Or is Pisemskii making freer use of the pronoun-switching device than others feel they can?

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