Bonawentura Kajetanowicz Chrząrzczkowski
Back in 2013 I was thinking about the use of Ukrainian in Russian literature and how Leskov and Pisemskii dealt with dialogue between Ukrainian and Russian characters. But as I just read in a book by A. V. Kuz’min, “the device of linguistic conflict between characters who belong to different ethnic groups [natsional’nosti]” is “fairly persistent in Leskov’s poetics,” and not just with Ukrainians (22).
In Leskov’s early story “Kuvyrkov” (1863) there is a Polish character named Bonawentura Kajetanowicz Chrząrzczkowski. The comic nature of this character is embedded in his very name, which was deliberately invented by the author — on the model of Polish names — to be difficult to pronounce. However, in the story he is described in a positive way. “No materialism, no nihilism: quiet, pious, respectful, and modest. I’d even wish to have a son like him” (PSS 2:90), the main character of the story, Aleksei Kirillovich Kuvyrkov, says of him. Once, while a guest at someone’s house, Bonawentura Kajetanowicz decided to ask the hostess about the health of one of her daughters:
“Oh, nothing much is wrong with her,” replied the mother, “but she walked a little yesterday and felt worse. There is some unsightly swelling.”
“In her whatsit? [В самой вещи?]” Bonawentura Kajetanowicz asked sympathetically. (PSS 2:91)
Asked in this form, the question shocked those present. One of the guests explained to Bonawentura Kajetanowicz what had happened, and he […] apologized, saying he hadn’t meant to offend anyone and that “‘[where I’m from], instead of в самом деле [‘really, is that so’] people say w samej rzeczi [sic], which literally translates to в самой вещи [‘in the thing itself’] […]’ but everything was already ruined” (PSS 2:92). His apology was accepted, and the incident was quickly forgotten, but it had the most tragic consequences for the main character, Kuvyrkov, who from that moment on began to pay so much attention to how language is used that he soon went out of his mind. The episode involving Bonawentura Kajetanowicz is presented by Leskov in a comic light, but in the context of the Polish problem of the early 1860s (the January Uprising of 1863; significantly, the story was published that same year), it symbolizes, in veiled form, the lack of mutual understanding between Poles and Russians. (23)
Kuz’min spends more time on a pair of travel accounts, “From a Travel Diary” (Из одного дорожного дневника, 1862) and “Russian Society in Paris” (Русское общество в Париже, 1863, 2nd ed. 1867). In them the Russian traveler-narrator begins with a certain “sentimentality” toward the Poles that he picked up in “liberal Petersburg circles” (27-28). He more or less keeps it in Krakow, where he finds the local Poles don’t suffer from any “narrow-mindedness of tribal or religious thinking” (26), but loses it in Lemberg (present-day Lviv), where the Polish population is demonstratively hostile to the larger Rusyn population, which in turn despises them and prefers German domination, to the amusement of the Austrian overlords. The Galician Rusyns, if I understand Kuz’min’s summary of Leskov right, were seen as a subset of Little Russians (Ukrainians), who were in turn a subset of Russians, and therefore the Polish-Rusyn conflict in Lemberg was like the Polish-Russian conflict in the Russian Empire, but with the dominant side reversed (26-30). Later, in Paris, the narrator sees Polish expatriates as less tolerant than Russian expatriates, but envies their patriotism and solidarity, Russians being the only group in a diverse Paris who fail to set up a mutual aid society for their own set (28). (Poles and Russians in Paris is a theme Leskov would return to in The Bypassed [Обойденные, 1865], book 3, chapters 12-18, when Dolinskii meets “M-r le prêtre Zaionczek.”)
Overall it seems like the narrator’s position should make you a little uncomfortable whether you’re a Russian, Ukrainian, Rusyn, or Polish nationalist, or a liberal “people are people” cosmopolitan. The narrator remarks early on that he has often been mistaken for a foreigner: for a Frenchman in St. Petersburg, and for a Jew by women in Orlov Province (because he was dressed “properly, that is, like a foreigner/German,” как следует, то есть “по-немецки,” 21-22).
See A. V. Kuz’min, Инородец в творчестве Н. С. Лескова: Проблема изображения и оценки (St. Petersburg: Filologicheskii fakul’tet SPbGU, 2003). The book is organized into chapters on “Representations of Poles and the Polish Theme,” “Russia and the West,” and “The Jewish Theme and Representations of Jews” in Leskov.