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Words new to me: мурмолка

April 18, 2017

K. E. Makovskii, “The Old Man” (Старик), 1890s

murmolka was a men’s hat like the one in this 1890s painting. (There’s a very nice gallery of them here.) A Wikipedia contributor helpfully explains that “in the mid–nineteenth century, the murmolka became fashionable among Russian Slavophiles; it was worn by K. S. Aksakov, A. S. Khomiakov, and others; and it was used polemically as a symbol of Slavophilism by opponents of that movement.”

That’s just how it turns up in Sophie Engelhardt’s (Ol’ga N.’s) “A Stumbling Block” (Камень преткновения, 1862):

“Listen, Boris Pavlovich,” he began. “You’re one of the most honest men in the world; you wear a caftan and a murmolka: you’re an out-and-out Russian peasant, and for all that — it’s a strange thing! — you bear a striking resemblance to a man of my acquaintance, a man of high society who could not be said to be beyond reproach, a genuine eighteenth-century marquis. He is no more, and I will not take it upon myself to lie for a dead man.” (623)

This is the female main character’s friend and onetime suitor Mukhranov, leading up to the speech that lets her see the similarity between her late husband, a bad man of ultra-Western tastes, and her current love Tramonin, a good man of unfortunately rigid Slavophile views. Neither would let her be free.

The story had some themes I’ve seen in Ol’ga N. before:

  • characters discuss the proper attitude to take toward a male relative fighting in the Crimean War, as in “The Old Man” (Старик, 1857)
  • gender roles are fought over through characters explicitly discussing George Sand, as in the 1864 story “Liza” (other Russian authors do this too, of course)
  • we learn about a woman (the Slavophile love interest’s great-grandmother, who, he asserts, was just like the woman he loves and is writing to) exclusively through the words of a male character, as in “Martha” (Марфа: Быль, 1876)
  • and the way men try to control the main character’s language (her husband would only let her speak French; her Slavophile beau gives her a Russian dictionary as a gift to help her prune Gallicisms from her conversation, 608-09) reminded me of the post where I first heard of Ol’ga N.

I thought I’d found some other new words in “A Stumbling Block,” but голлоу was just a typo for (очертя) голову, and as far as I can tell, янтарные сливки wasn’t the forgotten special thing I first took it to be, but just a description of the color of some cream. Unless anyone knows another kind of amber cream?

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One Comment leave one →
  1. April 19, 2017 8:38 am

    I had been vaguely aware of the word, but thanks to the very nice gallery I now have a much better idea of them; I also learned (having verified it from Vasmer) that the word is probably from the better-known «ермолка».

    Ol’ga N. seems to have a very clear-eyed view of male behavior; just yesterday I was reading a bunch of women complaining that men are constantly pushing books and other cultural material on them, while taking no interest in the things they recommend in return!

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