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“We lived together” or “you made my life worth living”?

June 22, 2022

I’ve been comparing four Russian versions of Nadezhda Khvoshchinskaia’s “The Meeting” (Свидание, 1879) as I work on a dual-language e-book of it. There are so many small differences (even though the story is essentially the same), in four categories of increasing importance:

  1. idiosyncratic typos (доктор for директор, ей-Бйгу for ей-Богу)
  2. changes in spelling, punctuation, and grammar norms over time (успокоивал or успокаивал, тоже or то же, родня по мужу or родня по муже, whether commas are used after sentence-initial time expressions, when dashes are used as copulas, how direct speech is indicated)
  3. attempts to normalize the text, in particular an effort by the editors of the 1912–13 edition to tone down graphic indications of emotion (italics disappear, two exclamation points become one) and spoken language (!.. and ?.. and … become ! and ? and a single period, что ж becomes что же), to turn free indirect discourse into direct speech, to break up long paragraphs or (less often) combine short ones, and to add specific characters’ names for clarity where earlier versions had only a pronoun (сказала она с упреком becomes сказала с упреком Табаева, which undermines the later scenes that emphasize that two women share this surname, but not a third)
  4. actual substantive differences

Some people in the early twentieth century apparently thought Khvoshchinskaia’s ways of emphasizing characters’ feelings overdid it:

In posthumous editions Сестра!!.. becomes Сестра!!.. and finally Сестра!

There are enough places where this happens that I think it would have a cumulative effect on a reader. It’s complicated: the 1912–13 edition gets rid of some exclamation points from 1879 and 1880, but also preserves some that had been added in 1892. This means the differences affect not only how explicitly emotion is rendered overall, but also which characters get exclamation points when.

On the “actual substantive differences” front, I’ve mentioned a couple in the past, but I wanted to bring up two more. Near the end of the story Alexandra Sergeyevna makes an insulting remark and then falls silent, but in the 1879 and 1880 editions she involuntarily (невольно) falls silent, while in the 1892 and 1912–13 editions she awkwardly (неловко) falls silent. Both are plausible, and I think the difference is significant. I don’t know if this was an error or an editorial choice, but I’m going to go with 1880.

There’s one other that I’m less sure about. The two editions published in the author’s lifetime disagree. When Tabaev is dying and decides to marry his longtime partner Anna Vasilyevna, they have this exchange:

“Marry me?” she echoed. “Why?”

“Why? So that after I kick the bucket, they don’t chase you away before my body’s even cold.”

“Who would dare?”

“Someone will turn up who will,” he replied, getting agitated. “They’ll chase you away and bawl you out too… I lived with you [or “we lived together” or “you’re the one I lived with” or “you made my life worth living”?]. I’m not going to let them insult you…”

— Обвенчаться? повторила она. — Зачем?

— Зачем? чтоб тебя от моего тела не прогнали, когда я ноги протяну.

— Кто ж это осмелится?

— Осмелятся, найдутся, отвечал он, раздражаясь. — И прогонят, и наругаются… Я — тобой жил [1879 text: Я с тобой жил]. Я тебя на оскорбления не отдам…

I wrote “I lived with you” based on the 1879 text (“Я с тобой жил”). But later the preposition vanishes: 1880 and 1892 have “Я — тобой жил,” and 1912–13 removes the dash and changes the final period to a comma going into the next sentence, which now ends in a period instead of an ellipsis: “Я тобой жил, я тебя на оскорбления не отдам.”

How big is the difference between я с тобой жил and я — тобой жил? I hear с тобой жил as more down-to-earth, with a possible sexual connotation. That they were sexual partners can’t be too shocking (they have a daughter, and their years-long love is central to the story), but did the very expression с тобой жил sound risqué in 1879–1913? Meanwhile, тобой жил sounds quite gallant to me, like he’s saying she was what made his life worth living. How Tabaev phrased this thought—while imagining his family’s reprehensible treatment of his at least de facto widow—could influence how we see him.

Does that seem right, or is/was the difference between жить кем and жить с кем something else? Does either of the two expressions seem so out of place here that we can be reasonably sure Khvoshchinskaia wanted the other one? (Or that she must have wanted the less likely option—lectio difficilior potior?) Did a typesetter just read a dash as “с” in 1879 or “с” as a dash in 1880, or could an editor or censor have been responsible for one of the variations?

6 Comments leave one →
  1. June 22, 2022 8:55 am

    Interesting question! I agree with you about preferring невольно, but I have no intuition about я с тобой жил vs. я — тобой жил. (I’m surprised about что ж becoming что же — why?)

    • June 22, 2022 9:42 am

      With что ж and что же, I think Khvoshchinskaia thought dialogue should sound like an actual person talking, and some of her posthumous editors thought everything in a literary work should sound dignified and proper. To me this seems similar to English speakers disagreeing about when to use contractions in writing, but I’m curious if others see it the same way.

  2. July 6, 2022 1:34 pm

    Your question immediately made me curious about the publication process–did NDKh go through the 1879 page proofs? Looking through my copy of «Я живу от почты до почты», which is made up primarily of ND’s letters (also some of Sofia’s), many with publishers, I didn’t find any evidence that she was mailed page proofs in Ryazan. Looking at vol. 51-52 of Письма к Некрасову (easily findable online), there are plenty of Ot. zap. authors discussing page proofs (корректура) with Nekrasov or at least mentioning them to him (editor at the time). Although there are a few letters from Khvoshchinskaya/Zaiochkovskaya to Nekrasov and some interesting background (pp. 287-290), there’s nothing about page proofs. Still, I would tend to lend more weight to the edition that came out in her lifetime. It’s still tricky picking the right wording. “I lived with you” sounds a bit crude. Do you think “I shared my life with you” would be taking too much license?

    • July 6, 2022 2:22 pm

      Thank you! I actually spent the morning wondering exactly this about page proofs. I think NDKh might very well have had the opportunity to see proofs of both the 1879 journal and 1880 book versions, which disagree.

      This was just after Saltykov-Shchedrin had taken over OZ after Nekrasov’s death in Dec. 1877, and rather frustratingly we have letters from S-S about NDKh’s previous (Былое, 1878) and subsequent (Семья и школа, 1880) pieces in OZ, but seemingly nothing about Свидание. I imagine many, perhaps most, of the practical letters between authors and editors did not survive, and even those that do still exist have not necessarily been published (I know the editors of Nekrasov’s 1981–2000 PSS had trouble deciding which of his massive trove of dry business letters were worth their attention and didn’t publish all of them).

      “I shared my life with you” (or maybe “You’re the one I shared my life with”?—I kind of want her role in his life, not his role in hers, to be prominent) is an interesting suggestion! That splits the difference between the way I understand с тобой жил and the way I understand тобой жил.

  3. August 16, 2022 10:24 am

    Today, “я с тобой жил” would be read as “you were (or you’ve been, depending on the context) my common-law wife.” Not so sure about the author’s intended meaning. Anyway, “я – тобой жил” is a completely different statement. “You were/have been my reason to live?” “You were/have been my life, my everything?”

    • August 17, 2022 11:55 am

      Thank you! It’s tricky since either of those statements would fit the context of the story, but as you say they’re very different from each other.

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