A False Jump.

I’m on part 3 of Anna Karenina, and I’ve just gotten to the part where Anna has gone to visit Princess Betsy in the hopes of finding Vronsky there, only to have Betsy open a note from him in her presence: “Алексей сделал нам ложный прыжок, — сказала она по-французски, — он пишет, что не может быть.” [“Alexei has made us a false jump,” she said in French — “he writes that he can’t come.”] At first I was trying to figure out if there was an idiom “ложный прыжок” in Russian (there isn’t), but then I paid attention to the “in French” part and quickly discovered there’s a colloquial phrase faire faux bond which Wiktionary defines as “To let someone down, to leave in the lurch, stand someone up.” What struck me about this is that Tolstoy assumes his readers will know enough French to recognize it; as I said last month with reference to Dostoevsky, I’m surprised that French was still so prevalent among (educated) Russians in the 1870s.

In general, there’s a surprising amount of not only French but English in the novel. Tolstoy uses phrases like grande dame and les sept merveilles du monde in narrative passages, and he’s constantly referring to people’s use of the languages: when Lyovin visited the Shcherbatskys as a young man he was befuddled and enchanted by the girls’ habit of speaking French and English on alternate days (I:6), Ivan Ivanovich’s French is amusing (I:23), Karenin is reading the Duc de Lille’s Poésie des enfers (I:33; author and book are invented), Betsy can’t stand a “sneering” tone (II:7), Petritsky sings “Il était un roi de Thulé” (II:20: “Он вышел в дверь перегородки, поднял руки и запел по-французски: «Был король в Ту-у-ле»”; the French is, of course, a translation of Goethe’s “Der König in Thule”), Karenin suggests to his wife in French that they leave together (II:29), little Lily says to a priest while taking communion “Please, some more” (III:8), later in that chapter Dolly asks her daughter Tanya in French why she’s come in (and when she answers in Russian tells her she should respond in French — Lyovin, who’s come to visit, wonders irritatedly why she’s always speaking French to the children, which in his irritation he finds unnatural and false), and Betsy says to Anna “we’ll have a cosy chat” (III:17). Then there are these parallel passages, in which first Vronsky and then her husband address Anna in French for the same reason:
II:22:

“Forgive me for coming here, but I couldn’t spend the day without seeing you,” he [Vronsky] continued in French, as he always did in speaking, to avoid the Russian vy, impossibly cold between them, and the dangerous ty.

– Простите меня, что я приехал, но я не мог провести дня, не видав вас, – продолжал он по-французски, как он всегда говорил, избегая невозможно-холодного между ними вы и опасного ты по-русски.

III:14:

He [Karenin] wrote to her without a salutation and in French, using the pronoun vous, which doesn’t have the cold character that vy has in Russian.

Он писал без обращения к ней и по-французски, употребляя местоимение “вы”, не имеющее того характера холодности, который оно имеет на русском языке.

Nothing to do with French or English, but in III:17 Anna notices that Vronsky’s manservant (who brings the note I referred to at the start of the post) not only looks like a Kammerjunker but pronounces the letter r like a Kammerjunker; I guess in 1870s Russia people would know how a Kammerjunker pronounced r. Also, I noticed that in III:12 Lyovin looks up at the clouds in the night sky and thinks “И когда успела образоваться эта раковина?” [And when did that shell appear?] I was amused by this perfectly ordinary use of the perfectly ordinary verb образоваться ‘arise, appear, come into being,’ which caused so much turmoil by its unnatural translation as “shapify” in a different context.

Comments

  1. SFReader says:

    There was a line in Alexei Tolstoy’s novel about the Civil War.

    Roschin, an officer forcibly drafted into the Red Army, wants to defect to the Whites.

    During the battle. And he doesn’t want to get shot.

    So he plans shouting his intent to defect first.

    In French, obviously, that’s the safest way to do it – the White Volunteer Army is entirely comprised of officers, they would understand, but not his Red Army “comrades”

    That’s 1918.

  2. Ha, that’s great!

  3. David Marjanović says:

    I guess in 1870s Russia people would know how a Kammerjunker pronounced r.

    …while I have no idea. I can only guess they might have been early adopters of [ʀ].

  4. there’s a colloquial phrase faire faux bond which Wiktionary defines as “To let someone down, to leave in the lurch, stand someone up.”

    Similar but different to phrases like “wrong-footed”, “caught on the hop” etc.

  5. AJP Crown says:

    In general, there’s a surprising amount of not only French but English in the novel.
    Huh. But:

    Karenin wrote to her without a salutation and in French, using the pronoun vous, which doesn’t have the cold character that vy has in Russian

    And yet it’s more formal than ‘you’, so either Tolstoy-Karenin thought the added formality was good or he-they wouldn’t have dreamed of using English at all, in such circs.

  6. フラン says:

    The “Duc de Lille” is likely a pun on the french poet “Leconte de Lisle” (which sounds like “the count of Lille”)(1818-1894).

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