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Eclectium on Matuzalevna

January 27, 2014

In book 1, chapter 8 of Leskov’s No Way Out (Некуда, 1864), we learn that Liza Bakhareva’s mother’s cat is named Matuzalevna. I think this is supposed to sound like “daughter of Methuselah,” but in modern Russian Methuselah is usually Mafusail, so I thought I should check. After some looking, I think I’m reading it right and Матузал is a variant of Мафусал / Мафусаил, but on the way I had a reassuring and demoralizing reminder that native speakers don’t understand every detail of a text either. To wit I found the blog Eclectium, where the author, who seems to be a native speaker of Russian who has studied Japanese, published notes about difficult places in No Way Out, mostly nineteenth-century realia. In many cases it’s the same things Victoria Thorstensson and I have been working through, and it includes both Matuzalevna the cat and hair watch-chains. The entire blog looks interesting. Unfortunately the last post is dated just over a year ago, but then some posts are backdated to the 1980s and 1990s, so I don’t want to rush to assume it’s been abandoned. [Update: that blogger’s Twitter feed and Livejournal are more active.]

The name Matuzalevna got Leskov’s contemporaries’ attention too: Daniil Mordovtsev (1830-1905) mentions that cat, which isn’t very important in No Way Out, in his own novel The New Men: A Story of ’60s Life (Новые люди: Повесть из жизни шестидесятых годов, 1868, 1886), which seems to have originally been called (The) New Russian Men (or possibly New Russian PeopleRussia’s New People, etc.), as in Saltykov-Shchedrin’s review of it.

11 Comments leave one →
  1. January 27, 2014 9:35 am

    Yes, Mordovtsev’s first novel appeared in Всемирный труд 5-8 (1868) as «Новыя русския люди».

    • January 27, 2014 12:52 pm

      I saw that too and I assume it’s right, but in the 1886 edition Mordovtsev gives the year of publication in Всемирный труд as 1867. Presumably it’s a typo or his memory betrayed him, but I can’t say for sure. I don’t see that journal online anywhere to check – did you happen to find it?

      • January 27, 2014 1:05 pm

        Alas, no, but you can confirm the name and pub info in DLB238 and with page numbers in Наталия Александровна Варганова, ‎Адольф Андреевич Демченко, «Д.Л. Мордовцев: саратовские страницы биографии и творчества» (Изд-во Саратовского университета, 2003), p. 110: “Новые русские люди (материалы для истории сонремениого русского общества) //Всемирный труд. 1868. No 5. С. 33-75; No 6. С. 1-47: No 7. С. 83- 129; No 8. С. 1-92. “

    • January 27, 2014 1:16 pm

      That’s a convincing-looking reference. Thanks!

  2. January 27, 2014 9:36 am

    Give or take a dotted i.

    • January 27, 2014 1:46 pm

      Erik reminds me that -ыя is only for feminine and neuter adjectives; he obviously spends a lot more time reading prerevolutionary printed material than I do! Here‘s a useful cheat sheet for those who, like me, need a refresher.

  3. vikathoria permalink
    January 27, 2014 11:09 am

    Thank you for the Mordovtdev quote!!!! It’s great! I never noticed. Of course, Mordovtsev was on the other side of the ideological divide, so his remark about Mathusalevna in “Stebnitsky” is a mockery. His later work, The Sign of the Time (Знамение времени) is actually a very good populist novel (as far as populist novels go, it is not much inferior to Turgenev’s Virgin Soil).

    • January 27, 2014 1:03 pm

      I haven’t read Mordovtsev, and I take your word for it that he would be anti-Leskov, but in this case how is he mocking him? To me it seems like it’s already a joke in Leskov, directed against Ol’ga Sergeevna. (And even if they didn’t see it at the time, the pro-nihilist writers should have liked the way Leskov praises Liza and makes fun of her mother.)

      • vikathoria permalink
        January 27, 2014 1:16 pm

        I guess the mocking would consist at picking at a cat with a ridiculous name as if it says something important about No Way Out in general. It could be implying that Leskov’s novel is all about мещанство of this kind. I take your point that in Leskov it is satirical to begin with–but I do not think any “democratic” writers appreciated or understood satire in Leskov. Take for example the ridiculous criticism of Fathers and Sons–for example, “Asmodeus of Our Time.” It is all about getting at small little episodes, details or even individual words that are not that crucial for the novel as a whole, and then deliberately (it seems) misinterpreting them. In general, I think anything that is written about No Way at that time is mocking and dismissive. I do not think there is any positive evaluation. I can understand how Pisarev, with a whole lot of “buts” and “of course we all know the novel is trashy” can find something of value in Liza or Reiner–but I can’t imagine someone would ever look at Mathusalevna that way.

    • January 27, 2014 1:19 pm

      Good point. That sounds about right, especially for Antonovich!

  4. vikathoria permalink
    January 27, 2014 1:27 pm

    Thank you for the publication reference for New People, languagehat. The Signs of Time is 1869 (also in Всемирный труд)–so Mordovtsev was very active in these couple of years.

    I just saw that his pen-names included Мистер Плумпудинг and Берне из Бердичева. He looks like a fun character.

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