Eclectium on Matuzalevna
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 People, Russia’s New People, etc.), as in Saltykov-Shchedrin’s review of it.