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Drozdenko the “dyed-in-the-wool khokhol

September 4, 2013

The language of Ukrainian characters in Russian novels, and how it might be translated into English, is what I’m still working through today, and I’m going to start with Pisemskii, where the problem seems less overwhelming than in Leskov. Nikolai Silych Drozdenko is a minor character in Men of the Forties (Люди сороковых годов, 1869) — minor in the sense of important, but briefly. He mainly appears in part 1, chapters 10-12 and 18, as the intelligent and misanthropic secondary school math teacher of the Russian (and presumed to be autobiographical) Pavel Vikhrov. Drozdenko singles Vikhrov out as a talented actor and favorite student, goes hunting with him, saves him from being expelled, and parts with him on fairly bad terms after getting the better of Vikhrov in an argument about the history of the Muscovite state.

Some context: in the nineteenth century Ukraine was, like Belarus and part of Poland, part of the Russian Empire; the relationship between Ukrainians and the authorities in Moscow Moscow or St. Petersburg was always a politically touchy subject; and the Ukrainian language in particular was politically charged during and after Poland’s January Uprising of 1863-64. It was in 1863 that the Valuev Circular, by which the Russian government restricted publication of works in Ukrainian for anti-separatist reasons, notoriously included the line “[most Little Russians] themselves make the extremely well-founded argument that there has not been, is not, and cannot be any separate Little Russian language, and that their dialect, used by the common people, is nothing other than the Russian language, only corrupted by Poland’s influence on it; that Common Russian is as comprehensible to Little Russians as to Great Russians, and indeed much easier to comprehend than the so-called Ukrainian language that is being put together for them by certain Little Russians and especially Poles.”

That said, I don’t think politics and censorship limited Pisemskii’s use of Ukrainian too much, to judge by Leskov’s freer use of it in 1864. In Pisemskii’s novel, Drozdenko almost always speaks an in-your-face colloquial Russian with no Ukrainian terms, and the Ukrainianness of his speech is asserted by the narrator as often as it’s shown in dialogue. In a way this makes things easier for a potential translator, but it raises the stakes for the handful of marked words that do appear. Actually, the words москаль (used by the narrator describing Drozdenko’s attitudes), толмач (which the narrator says Drozdenko uses), and паныч (which actually appears in direct speech) can all be found in Russian dictionaries as regionalisms or obsolete terms, but in other contexts we’d expect русский ‘Russian’ for москаль (a term Ukrainians used for Russians), переводчик ‘interpreter’ for толмач, and барчук ‘gentleman’s son’ for паныч. The words used in the novel are more or less identical to the Ukrainian толмач, панич, and москаль — and also to the Polish tłumacz, panicz, and Moskal.

Pisemskii probably knew less Ukrainian (and Polish) than Leskov, and did not revel in language as much; he also might have been thinking of the tastes of his Russian readers, or simply portraying Drozdenko as a Ukrainian who spoke Russian when speaking to “Great Russians” or perhaps all the time, from long habit.

He brings the issue to the fore with “Nikolai Silych was a dyed-in-the-wool khokhol and hated all moskals in general and any figure of authority in particular” (1.11), where the narrator uses the derogatory terms Russians and Ukrainians use(d) for each other in supposed symmetry, though in such cases the power imbalance makes the words seem asymmetrical.

Here is the argument Drozdenko and Vikhrov have as Vikhrov prepares to leave for Moscow University and Drozdenko is about to be fired to make way for a younger man who knows less math but makes fewer enemies:

“But it’s so frustrating,” Pavel continued, “I had to stay here another whole day. To say nothing of the university, I really want to see Moscow itself as soon as I can.”

“What’s so special about it, the two score times two score churches or something?” asked Nikolai Silych in an openly mocking tone.

“All our history, all our days of glory and sorrow took place, for the most part, in Moscow, in the walls of the Kremlin.”

“And how did it claw its way to the top, that Moscow of yours?” asked Nikolai Silych and looked Pavel in the eyes.

“It did it,” replied the latter with a shrug, “because the Muscovite Principality overcame the other minor principalities.”

“And how did it overcome them?” continued Drozdenko, as if interrogating him.

“By the intelligence and tact of its princes,” replied Pavel.

“Their tact?” asked Nikolai Silych rhetorically, “And who, pal, bowed and scraped and kow-towed more than they did for the Golden Horde and gave them gifts…? They’d do their sucking up there, get in the Tatars’ good graces, come home and it’s straight back to oppressing their own — if I had that kind of tact, I could have been a gatherer of the Russian lands too!”

“You can’t explain everything that way,” exclaimed Pavel, “history is not made by villainy alone; more likely the reason for it is hidden in the nature of the tribe around Moscow and on the Volga.”

At these words Nikolai Silych actually went quite red.

“No, the tribe that was more honest,” he began in an angry tone, “all left for the Ukraine, out from under your gatherers of the Russian lands, and others used the Schism as a pretext and hid in the North, away from your pious tsars.”

“Nikolai Silych,” objected Pavel, “I cannot as a Russian take such a view of the Muscovite Principality that became my country.”

“Well, take whatever view you like, who’s stopping you…! Bow down before Messrs. the principals and superintendents, who were about to kick you out of the school; they’re all from the tribe around Moscow.”

Seeing that Nikolai Silych was, probably partly from some sorrow in his heart and partly from the vodka he had drunk, in a highly upset state, Pavel thought it best not to argue.

“So which department are you going to be in?” asked Drozdenko after a few minutes of silence and in a thoroughly dour tone.

“Probably math,” replied Pavel.

Nikolai Silych smirked.

“Why…? What the hell for? So they send you out to be a teacher; and then they’ll give you just enough to scrape by for twenty-five years and then throw you out — you’re no good…! Because you know the multiplication table, and in your place  we’re going to send a new young man who doesn’t know the multiplication table!”

Such a fate awaited Nikolai Silych himself, and of course they were letting him go not because his level of knowledge was insufficient, but because of his obstinate and restless character.

“Your Russian state,” he continued through clenched teeth, “light one end of it on fire, have the bellows pump it higher, till it’s ashes in the mire!”

Pavel actually shuddered at these words. In those minutes he was too happy — the future appeared to him in colors too bright and pleasant — to sympathize with Drozdenko’s embittered thoughts and complaints, so that he sat with him another half-hour, mainly for decorum’s sake, and then got up and started to say goodbye.

– А вот так досадно, – продолжал Павел, – пришлось здесь пробыть другой день. Не говоря уже про университет, самую-то Москву хочется увидеть поскорей.

– Что же в ней такое, сорок-то сороков церквей, что ли? – спросил явно насмешливым голосом Николай Силыч.

– Вся наша история, все наши славные и печальные дни совершились, по преимуществу, в Москве, в Кремлевских стенах.

– А как она вылезла в люди-то, ваша Москва? – спросил Николай Силыч и взглянул Павлу в лицо.

– Вылезла, – отвечал тот, пожимая плечами, – потому что Московское княжество одолело прочие мелкие княжества.

– А чем же оно одолело их? – продолжал как бы допрашивать Дрозденко.

– Умом и тактом своих князей, – отвечал Павел.

– Тактом? – как бы переспросил Николай Силыч. – А кто, паря, больше их булдыхался и колотился лбом в Золотой Орде и подарки там делал?.. Налебезят там, заручатся татарской милостью, приедут домой и давай душить своих, – этакий бы и у меня такт был, и я бы сумел так быть собирателем земли русской!

– Нельзя же все этим объяснять, – воскликнул Павел, – одною подлостью история не делается; скорее причина этому таится в самом племени околомосковском и поволжском.

При этих словах Николай Силыч весь даже вспыхнул.

– Нет, племя-то, которое было почестней, – начал он сердитым тоном, – из-под ваших собирателей земли русской ушло все на Украину, а другие, под видом раскола, спрятались на Север из-под благочестивых царей ваших.

– Не могу же я, Николай Силыч, – возразил Павел, – как русский, смотреть таким образом на Московское княжество, которое сделало мое государство.

– Ну, и смотри, как хочешь, кто тебе мешает!.. Кланяйся господам директорам и инспекторам, которые выгнали было тебя из гимназии; они все ведь из подмосковского племени.

Видя, что Николай Силыч, вероятно, частью от какой-нибудь душевной горести, а частью и от выпитой водки был в сильно раздраженном состоянии, Павел счел за лучшее не возражать ему.

– А по какому факультету ты поступаешь? – спросил Дрозденко после нескольких минут молчания и каким-то совершенно мрачным голосом.

– По математическому, вероятно, – отвечал Павел.

Николай Силыч усмехнулся.

– Зачем?.. На кой черт? Чтобы в учителя прислали; а там продержат двадцать пять лет в одной шкуре, да и выгонят, – не годишься!.. Потому ты таблицу умножения знаешь, а мы на место тебя пришлем нового, молодого, который таблицы умножения не знает!

Николаю Силычу самому предстояла такая участь, и его, конечно, уж не оставляли не потому, что он не годился по своим знаниям, а по его строптивому и беспокойному характеру.

– Государство ваше Российское, – продолжал он почти со скрежетом зубов, – вот взять его зажечь с одного конца да и поддувать в меха, чтобы сгорело все до тла!

Павла покоробило даже при этих словах. Сам он был в настоящие минуты слишком счастлив, – будущность рисовалась ему в слишком светлых и приятных цветах, – чтобы сочувствовать озлобленным мыслям и сетованиям Дрозденко; так что он, больше из приличия, просидел у него с полчаса, а потом встал и начал прощаться. (1.18)

10 Comments leave one →
  1. September 4, 2013 2:53 pm

    What do you think of Muscovite for moscal? The pejorativeness is lost,but it wouldbe lost no matter which word is chosen, the reader would either need a note or some context.

    • September 4, 2013 3:11 pm

      I may be wrong, but I thought москаль could be used for anyone who was a “Great Russian” in nineteenth-century terminology, even if they weren’t born near Moscow or the Volga. The English “Muscovite” makes me think of a person from the city of Moscow, not from the historical state of Muscovy and its successors.

      If you just had москаль by itself, I’d be tempted to translate it with an English pejorative term for Russians, since there are some (like “rooskie” in whatever spelling). But as far as I know, there isn’t a widely known pejorative term in English specifically for Ukrainians. In a sentence with both khokhol and moskal, I wouldn’t want to use a footnote for one and a term with more impact for the other. And then there’s the problem that “rooskie¨ has something of a Cold War feel for me, even though the OED has “Russki” for a person going back to 1840.

      • September 4, 2013 4:38 pm

        Makes sense. Canadians might have a perjorative for Ukrainians that’d be worth stealing for the purpose.

    • September 4, 2013 3:14 pm

      Also, I’d want to somehow convey that the word in the original was not москвич.

  2. September 4, 2013 4:40 pm

    And, of course, given that at the time these were not separate countries, there is always Northerners and Southerners.

  3. September 5, 2013 1:05 pm

    I like your idea of looking to Canada for a derogatory word for Ukrainians, but I wasn’t able to find one in a few minutes’ searching (and living fairly near Canada, have never heard one myself). I did discover from Google Instant that people before me have searched for variations on “derogatory/racist term/word for Ukrainians,” And I learned that Wikipedia has a List of ethnic slurs that says “bohunk” (from Bohemia + Hungarian) was used for Central European immigrants and for Ukrainians in particular in the early 20th c. I don’t think that would work for translating Pisemskii, though.

  4. September 11, 2013 3:56 am

    I’m curious about the source of Drozdenko’s thinking on the rise of Moscow.

    • September 11, 2013 12:59 pm

      I hadn’t thought about that. I guess I assumed that educated Ukrainians back then would hear a pro-Russian line in their history classes, but would supplement this with skeptical interpretations from their families or fellow students. Drozdenko’s position seems like it could come from people reading Russian historians against the grain, with help from an oral tradition. His facts aren’t wildly different from Vikhrov’s.

      • September 15, 2013 6:28 am

        I find it interesting because similar interpretations of the Muscovite state’s role (as opposed to Kiev-Novgorod and to some degree the St. Petersburg empire) can be found in the work of some non-Soviet Russian historians starting from the 1920s, most notably G.P. Fedotov.

        These days, oddly perhaps, there is a marginal strain of Russian nationalism extremely hostile to Muscovy as an “oriental,” Horde-like polity. Some of these nationalists prefer the Russian empire because it was a Westernizing state, while others want to shed the imperial past altogether and advocate for the dissolution of the Russian federation.

      • September 15, 2013 1:41 pm

        Very interesting! I’m out of my depth, but I’m glad to learn about both the historiography and the current nationalist trends. I have the impression that Novgorod, seen as an alternative, democratic Russia suppressed by tyrannical Moscow, has been used in the service of several different worldviews.

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