A Multilingual Magnate, Continued.

As a follow-up to this post, and as a convenient summary of Dmitritsky’s self-reinventions — both he and the heroine Salomea are by now presenting themselves as entirely different people, she as the Frenchwoman Ernestine de Millevoie (see this post) and he as the Hungarian Volobuzh — I offer this paragraph, in which Dmitritsky tries to explain to his old pal Ramirsky, who hasn’t seen him for a decade before running into him in a Moscow hotel, why he’s so different:

“You see in me now the Hungarian magnate Volobuzh,” continued Dmitritsky, “and no doubt that’s why you didn’t recognize me. If my own will had participated in all the metamorphoses I’ve undergone, even as much as Jupiter’s did in his amorous escapades, you might think that Dmitritsky too had a base soul, but I give you my word of honor that it all happened simply by a sort of miracle: fate covers my eyes and whacks me with its wand one, two three! ‘Well,’ it says, ‘now you’re Mateusz, a servant and lackey and nothing more.’ If I’m Mateusz, all right, I’m Mateusz! And I start on my assigned duties, without grumbling and with complete diligence. Just as I’m entering into the role — eins, zwei, drei — you’re a count! Nothing to be done, if I’m a count I’m a count, and I don’t refuse that either. Before I can manage to carry out a feat worthy of a count, attendez! You’re Prokhor Vasilievich, a merchant’s son! Fine, for the sake of variety I’ll be a merchant’s son. In this way fate has led me through various callings and conditions and has brought me to the rank of a Hungarian magnate. You can ask any of the local nobility, any Hungarian you like: am I bringing disgrace on the calling of magnate? Of course, I could be reproached with ignorance of the Hungarian language, but judging by the local magnates, every magnate does not require the language of their fatherland; such a language is necessary only for the simple folk…”

– Ты видишь теперь во мне венгерского магната Волобужа, – продолжал Дмитрицкий, – и оттого, разумеется, не узнал меня. Если б во всех метаморфозах, случившихся со мной, участвовала моя собственная воля, хоть настолько, сколько у Юпитера для его любовных похождений, ты бы мог подумать, что и у Дмитрицкого низкая душа, но я тебе даю честное слово, что все это совершается просто каким-то чудом: судьба завяжет мне глаза, хлопнет жезлом раз, два три! ну, говорит, теперь ты Матеуш, слуга, холоп и больше ничего. Матеуш так Матеуш! и примусь за исполнение данного мне назначения, без ропоту, с полным усердием. Только что войду в характер роли – ейн, цвей, дрей – ты граф! Нечего делать, граф так граф, я и от этого не отказываюсь. Не успею совершить какой-нибудь подвиг, достойный графского сана, – аттанде! Ты Прохор Васильич, купеческий сын! Пожалуй, для разнообразия буду купеческим сыном. Таким образом судьба вела меня через разные звания и состояния и привела на степень венгерского магната. Можешь спросить у всей знати здешней, у какого хочешь венгерца: унижаю ли я звание магната? Конечно, можно меня упрекнуть в незнании венгерского языка, но, судя по здешним магнатам, каждый магнат не нуждается в отечественном языке. Отечественный язык нужен только простому народу…

Even in the twentieth century, self-proclaimed aristocrats of vague lineage and obscure homeland were wandering the world expressing themselves in variously accented languages, none of them apparently native; for all I know, there may still be Hungarian magnates to be found in aspirational salons.

Comments

  1. Shouldn’t Volobuzh be Volobuzs or something, using Hungarian orthography in the translation as Polish orthography is used for Mateusz? Or is it not a plausible Hungarian name in the first place?

  2. It’s not a plausible Hungarian name, I don’t think (and there’s no particular reason it should be, since its possessor and presumable inventor doesn’t know Hungarian); as I said in the earlier post: “As for his name, it appears to be the Sorbian equivalent of Allmosen, a German town in Brandenburg; I have found it given as Wolobuź and Wołobuz as well as plain Wolobuz.” I figured simply transliterating the Russian form was the sensible thing. My guess would be that Veltman, with his magpie-like attraction to foreign words and names, picked it up on his travels in Bessarabia and points west and squirreled it away for future use.

  3. Ah, I should’ve looked at the earlier post.

  4. Ian Press says:

    The ‘language of their fatherland’ reminded me of a wonderful moment where, at a faculty meeting, I used the phrase ‘mother tongue’, only to bring down on me the appalled stare of an eminent lady academic in the English Department. I grinned and carried on.

  5. maidhc says:

    I’m not quite sure why you would say “Even in the twentieth century”. Wasn’t the 20th Century, because of all its wars and other disruptions, one of the peak times for both genuine and phony Eastern European nobility to go wandering around Western Europe and North America? Marrying Hollywood stars and opening posh restaurants?

    I guess there were ersatz aristocrats in the 18th and 19th centuries too, though I haven’t counted up the numbers for the purposes of comparison.

  6. SFReader says:

    From Wiki

    In Vienna, noblemen from the Habsburgs’ various realms were competing against each other for court offices.[245] The development of a “supranational aristocracy” – noble families from different realms who were related to each other through marriages – began in the second half of the 16th century.[246] For instance, the Thurzó and Zrinyi families had close family links with the Czech Kolovrat and Lobkowicz, and the Tyrolian von Arco families.[247] Noble families from the Habsburgs’ other realms often received Hungarian citizenship.[246] For instance, the Diet of Pressburg of 1563 granted citizenship to three members of the Salm family and Scypius von Arco.[248] The number of titled noble families significantly increased from the 1540s.[249] About 35 families received the title baron before 1600, and further 80 families in the first half of the 17th century.[249][250] In most cases, the title was granted in connection with the grantees’ military career.[251] The division of the Diet into two chambers was enacted in 1608.[252][228] The Upper House consisted of the Catholic prelates, the court dignitaries and the members of the titled noble families, including the members of the foreign aristocratic families that had received Hungarian citizenship.

    I think Volobuz is entirely plausible as surname of 19th century Hungarian magnate from such foreign aristocratic family (and frankly, was Germany really a foreign country for Hungarians in that period?)

  7. The ‘language of their fatherland’ reminded me

    I should mention that that sentence is very hard to translate. In Russian, отечество ‘fatherland’ is a common word, and its adjective отечественный is equally common: the 1812 war against Napoleon is called the Отечественная война ‘Fatherland War’ (rendered “Patriotic War” in my Oxford dictionary), and the 1941-45 war against Hitler is the Великая Отечественная война ‘Great Fatherland War’ (usually translated “Great Patriotic War”). But “fatherland” is far from a common word in English — it sounds distinctly foreign — and it has no adjectival form, so you have to make do with adjectival use of the noun (as I did in “Fatherland War”). And “fatherland language” is impossible, so I had to choose between “native language,” which is too unmarked (the equivalent Russian phrase is родной язык), and “the language of their fatherland,” which I went with. But then what do you do with “Отечественный язык нужен только простому народу”? My “such a language…” is a desperate expedient which drains much of the humor out of the Russian original, but I’m damned if I can think of a better way to do it.

  8. I’m not quite sure why you would say “Even in the twentieth century”. Wasn’t the 20th Century, because of all its wars and other disruptions, one of the peak times for both genuine and phony Eastern European nobility to go wandering around Western Europe and North America?

    I used “even in” in the sense “even as late as,” with no implication that the twentieth century was peculiarly unsuited for such goings-on. But I don’t think it was any more peak than the nineteenth; if you read much fiction from that era you’ll find all kinds of dubious counts, marquesses, and magnates interacting with the credulous folk of Western Europe and the Americas. Don’t forget the dauphin and the Duke of Bridgewater in Huckleberry Finn.

  9. The word отечество has also a historic dimension. It is by no means obsolete or rare now, but родина (translated as motherland though there is no mother in there, it means “birth place” or “family land” etymologically) has gained on it substantially. As far as I can guess from early 19th century literature, отечество was a normal way to describe one’s native land and state. “и дым отечества нам сладок и приятен”, “Отечественные записки”, “Люблю отчизну я, но странною любовью”, “…нам целый мир чужбина; Отечество нам Царское Село” et cetera, et cetera. But Отечественный язык was probably comical even then.

  10. David Marjanović says:

    and frankly, was Germany really a foreign country for Hungarians in that period?

    Germany, yes. Austria not so much. 🙂

  11. SFReader says:

    googled Отечественный язык.

    Apparently it now means programming language developed in Russia. 😉

  12. Ha!

  13. margrave squiffy von bladet of moravia says:

    Even in the twentieth century, self-proclaimed aristocrats of vague lineage and obscure homeland were wandering the world expressing themselves in variously accented languages, none of them apparently native; for all I know, there may still be Hungarian magnates to be found in aspirational salons.

    Sigh. My son’s best friend openly mocks my accent.

  14. We all mock your accent, squiffy. But don’t worry, we’re laughing with you, not at you.

    …Just kidding, we’re laughing at you!

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