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Words new to me: колодка

March 12, 2017

A колодка can be a shoe-tree or the sole of a hand plane, but in the nineteenth century it could also be “a section of a tree, cut in two, with an opening carved in the center, in which in former times a prisoner’s legs were secured by fastening the ends of the two halves.” Not to be confused with колода ‘log, object made of a hollowed-out log, deck (of cards)’ or колодец ‘well.’

In Leskov’s early story “The Mocker” (a.k.a. “The Stinger,” “A Spiteful Fellow”; Язвительный: Рассказ чиновника особых поручений, 1863), some peasants get so angry at their overseer that they beat him and drive him away, while burning down the manor house of the absent landowner. One of them is put in a kolodka:

Начались допросы. Первого стали спрашивать Николая Данилова. Перед допросом я велел снять с него колодку. Он сел на лавку и равнодушно смотрел, как расклиняли колодку, а потом так же равнодушно встал и подошел к столу. (section 7)

The interrogations began. First to be questioned was Nikolai Danilov. Before the interrogation I ordered his kolodka to be taken off. He sat on a bench and watched indifferently as the kolodka was wedged apart, and then, just as indifferently, he stood up and walked over to the table.

Later he asks to sit down during his interrogation, because his “legs hurt from the kolodka.”

The overseer was an Englishman who had spent six years in Russia and thought he was “used to our people (narod) and our ways (poriadki),” even as he believed he could make his employer’s estates more productive by imposing a system (section 2). He gave the peasants less work, never used corporal punishment, and was thought kind and honest by all. But he wouldn’t give the peasants permission to go work in Ukraine or Chernigov province, and he imposed non-violent punishments that made the peasants call him язвительный ‘cruelly mocking,’ notoriously making a man who’d run off without permission sit without working in front of the men who were working and, when he ran away from this too, attaching him to a chair from the manor house with a pin and some string, “like a sparrow.” They’d rather be beaten than endure such shame, and they’d rather be sent to Siberia than take the overseer, Dane, back and be forgiven.

In Hugh McLean’s reading, “intellectually, Leskov is on the side of Dane, who represents progress, a more rational organization of labor, and civilized methods of discipline. But emotionally, and, as it were, nationally, Leskov cannot help gloating over Dane’s catastrophe” (114). I think he’s more on the side of the narrator’s merchant friend Rukavichnikov, who understands both Dane and the peasants and knows Dane will fail (section 5); the narrator and Rukavichnikov are men of good sense who want what’s best for everyone, but recognize that neither the peasants’ nature nor Dane’s nature will let them be anything but what they are, like the scorpion.

Leskov’s narrator, who is sent by the provincial governor to investigate first complaints and then the crimes against Dane, is a “special agent” (чиновник особых поручений), just like

Konstantin Aleksandrovich Saks in Druzhinin’s Polinka Saks (1847)
the author Pisemskii (1848-50)
Pavel Vikhrov in Pisemskii’s Men of the Forties (1869)
Andrei Ivanovich Druckart in Leskov’s Episcopal Justice (1877)
[update 6/23/20] Liab’ev in Pisemskii’s The Masons (1880), who is based on the composer Aleksandr Aliab’iev (1787–1851) (see book 2, chapter 9)

and no doubt others; if I remember I’ll add them to this list as I find them.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. March 15, 2017 8:17 am

    The Oxford dictionary defines колодки (in this sense) as “stocks,” and as far as I can see that’s what they are; they’re not (like кандалы) something attached to your legs to make it difficult to move, they’re something you’re put in so you can’t go anywhere (and have to put up with whatever passersby might feel like doing to you).

    • March 15, 2017 10:28 am

      Interesting. I don’t know how typical Leskov’s use of the word is, but here the колодка seems to be something mobile, and not fixed to one place. When we first see Nikolai Danilov (and first see the word колодка in “Язвительный”), he’s in a two-horse sleigh, apparently having been transported with the колодка on. Then he’s inside where the interrogation will happen, still in the колодка, and has enough freedom of movement to sit down on a bench while the колодка is removed. I thought it was more like primitive “footcuffs” than like the stocks as I picture them. Here’s the earlier passage:

      “У самого крыльца стояли сани парой, и на них сидел Николай Данилов, с ногами, забитыми в березовую колодку. Он в черной свите, подпоясан веревкой и на голове меховая шапка. На вид ему лет тридцать пять, волосы темнорусые, борода клинушком, взгляд тревожный и робкий. Вообще лицо выражает какую-то задавленность, но спокойно и довольно благообразно, несмотря на разбитую губу и ссадину на левой скуле. Он сидит без движения и смотрит то на меня, то на толпу.”

  2. March 15, 2017 11:30 am

    Huh. The only illustrations I’ve been able to find are in the Russian Wikipedia article:Колодки
    As you can see, they don’t look very mobile, but they may not be representative.

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