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It Didn’t Come Off (3)

June 28, 2017

The only strong emotion I felt in my childhood and youth was hatred for Madame Petitpierre. In her I saw nothing more nor less than a domestic spy, attached to me solely to teach me not to think, and it must be said that she carried out her duty to perfection. In our garden there was a meadow where my brother and I would play in our free time; but I would often refuse to play, instead lying on the grass and looking at the sky. Space awakened in me a vague idea of freedom. It seemed to me that I was flying into the air and looking down at maman and Madame Petitpierre, and they were vainly trying to reach me and sternly ordering me to come back down to the earth. When Madame Petitpierre would notice me lying in the grass, she would shout right away, “Eh bien, qu’avez-vous à regarder là-haut d’un air hébété…? Elle est toujours là à rêver à quelque chose! Levez-vous.”

However, Madame Petitpierre’s fears were rather unfounded: I thought very little and looked quite the little fool.

My brother Misha was sent to Moscow to take his degree, and I had to spend the last three years of our sojourn in the country between maman and my governess. I was kept away from the neighbor girls my age because they were of less than aristocratic lineage.

“You won’t learn anything good from any Mukhranovs,” maman would say.

I shed few tears for my grandfather’s death: he was severe and unaffectionate. After burying him, maman decided to move the household to Moscow, which made me extremely happy. I was at last to be free from Madame Petitpierre, and therefore also from Les Annales de la vertu and the questions, Where are you going? What are you thinking about? and so on. She was let go decently, with thanks for her service.

My mother had lived a few years in the country out of necessity; she very much liked society and renewed her former acquaintance directly upon our arrival in Moscow. We received a circle of friends and family twice a week. My female cousins looked upon me as a fool, though my aunts considered my education to have been a success.


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“It Didn’t Come Off” is a translation of “Не сошлись” (1867) by Ol’ga N. (Sophie Engelhardt).


Единственное резкое чувство, которое испытала я в детстве и юношестве, была ненависть к мадам Петипьер. Я в ней видела ни более ни менее как домашнего шпиона, приставленного ко мне для того только, чтоб отучить меня думать, и надо сказать, что свою должность она иcправляла в совершенстве. У нас в саду был лужок, на котором мы играли с братом в свободные часы; но я часто отказывалась от игры, ложилась на траву и смотрела на небо. Пространство пробуждало во мне смутное понятие о свободе. Мне казалось, что я лечу к небу и смотрю с высоты на maman и мадам Петипьер, а они стараются напрасно меня достать и грозно приказывают возвратиться на землю. Как, бывало, заметит мадам Петипьер, что я лежу на траве, так сейчас и крикнет: «Еh! bіen? qu’avez-vous à regarder là-haut d’un air hébété?… Еllе est toujours là à rêver à quelque chose! Levez-vous.»

Однако опасения мадам Петипьер были довольно неосновательны: я очень мало думала и смотрела совершенною дурочкой.

Брата Мишу отправили в Москву для окончания наук, а мне пришлось провести три последние года нашего житья в деревне между maman и моею гувернанткой. Меня удаляли от соседних девочек, моих родственниц, потому что они были неаристократического происхождения.

— Добру не научат какие-нибудь Мухрановы, говаривала maman.

Смерть моего деда я мало оплакивала: он был угрюм и не ласков. Похоронив его, maman решилась переселиться в Москву, чтó меня чрезвычайно обрадовало. Я освобождалась, наконец, от madamе Петипьер и вместе с тем от «Annales de la vertu» и от вопросов: куда ты идешь? о чем думаешь? и т. п. Ей отказали прилично, пoблагодарив за услуги.

Мать моя прожила по необходимости несколько лет в деревне; она очень любила свет и возобновила прежние знакомства тотчас по приезде нашем в Москву. Мы принимали два раза в неделю приятельский и родственный кружок. Кузины смотрели на меня, как на дурочку, зато тетки нашли, что мое воспитание удалось.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. June 28, 2017 8:05 am

    I am continuing to really enjoy this story. What’s next for the heroine? I found ‘I little mourned’ a rather jarring phrase; it seems rather formal and stilted for this character and for the style you’ve developed so far, but that might be just me. Would you consider for ‘я мало оплакивала’ ‘I wept little for Grandfather’s death’ or ‘I shed few tears for…’, or less literally, ‘Grandfather’s death caused me little grief’? Interested to hear what you think.

    • June 28, 2017 11:00 am

      I’m glad you’re enjoying the story, and thanks for your comment! I was trying for a somewhat formal, if not quite stilted, register for the narrator, but I think you’re right and at best I overshot the mark with “I little mourned,” a phrase that turns out to be much rarer than I realized (even “I mourned but little” is uncommon). I also noticed this morning that I have three littles close together (translating мало думала, дурочка, мало оплакивала), perhaps one too many.

      All your suggestions are clear improvements, and I especially love the sound of “I shed few tears.” It loses the repetition of мало + imperfective past — I don’t think I can change the earlier phrase to “I thought few thoughts” to go with “I shed few tears” — but perhaps that’s not critical with a common word like мало.

      If you don’t mind, I’ll adopt your version in the text without any footnote or strikethrough to show the change, to keep it easy to read, and let these comments show that it’s your contribution.

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