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Words new to me: боскетная

August 13, 2020

On my third pass through Pisemskii’s The Masons (Масоны, 1880) I’m noticing a bunch of words that already sounded old-fashioned then and helped give the novel its 1830s period piece flavor. One is bosketnaia, from the French word bosquet ‘grove,’ a diminutive of the Occitan bosc ‘woods,’ related to the French bois ‘woods.’ It’s clearly a kind of room:

Sin’kovo, which Petr Grigor’evich had let fall into neglect, was being renovated and rebuilt day by day. First of all the interior of the manor house was repaired: the marble walls in the great hall, which had cracked in a few places, were made entirely anew; the walls of the living room were covered with the green cloth hangings then beginning to come into fashion; the bosketnaia was repainted; but as Catherine wished, most sumptuous of all were the new decorations of her and her husband’s bedroom: its walls were entirely covered with a doubled-over pink damask; its furniture was upholstered with the same fabric. The ordinary stove that used to be in the bedroom was replaced with an attractive fireplace, and finally the newlyweds’ marriage-bed was an improbable sight: it was extremely wide, made out of an entire alder, and enormous mirrors had been installed at its head and foot, so that anyone lying on the bed could see themselves from head to toe. (part 3, chapter 2; Russian text)

The focus is on the bed, of course—Catherine, a previously single 28-year-old who has inherited a lot of money from her late father Petr Grigor’evich Krapchik, recently married Chentsov, a broke spendthrift, gambler, heavy drinker, and ladies’ man, with her eyes wide open because, as the narrator almost tells us in so many words, she wants to have lots and lots of sex with him. I’ve been reading Maya Jenkins’s excellent dissertation on Pisemskii, and she occasionally seems surprised nineteenth-century critics found Pisemskii so risqué, but sometimes it’s easy to see why. Besides the mirrors, we have Catherine constantly trying to get rid of everyone else to be alone with Chentsov, the two of them reading the erotic Paul de Kock and Boccaccio (undoubtedly “Putting the Devil Back in Hell”), and Chentsov making remarks about how insatiable Catherine is until he starts escaping by playing checkers at night with the estate manager (who will become Catherine’s second husband). But what is this bosketnaia?

It really is a “grove room”: the definition in Efremova’s dictionary is “room (usually in a manor house) whose walls are painted to look like a park scene.” It gets a page on a Russian website devoted to forgotten words, which gives a different work by Pisemskii as a usage example. And it’s not a recently forgotten word:

I was evidently destined never to find the count at home. This time too he was absent. The same servant informed me that “his lordship has gone riding to the water mill, and her ladyship is in the bosketnaia [italics in original].”

I did not entirely understand what sort of a thing this “bosketnaia” was at first. But I gathered enough courage to ask to be taken to the countess. I was dirty all over, and although they did brush me off a bit in the entryway, there were several pounds of dust on my face and in my beard. I paid no heed to any of this.

I was taken through a large, long dining room into another corner room, painted to look like a garden with a “hill” in the corner covered with all kinds of stones and shells. This, it turned out, was the “bosketnaia.” The count kept up this decoration from the era of Alexander. (Russian text)

That’s from Pisemskii’s former colleague Petr Boborykin’s novel Half a Life (Полжизни, 1873). The phrase I translated as “servant,” by the way, is vyezdnoi lakei, a highly specific bit of realia in its own right.


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