A Multilingual Magnate.

Two-thirds of the way through Salomea, Veltman has introduced an entirely new character (though I have my suspicions that he may turn out to be our old friend Dmitritsky in yet another disguise [Update: he is indeed!]), who has a couple of traits of LH interest. He is introduced as follows (search in the full text under “Казалось, что это был воплощенный космополит” for the Russian):

He seemed the very embodiment of a cosmopolite, a European of indeterminate language, a vagabond who had traveled the world to pass the time and had arrived, as a special tidbit, pour la bonne bouche, in Russia. With his servant, a German, he spoke German like a Frenchman; with his French cicerone he spoke French like an Englishman; with the waiter he spoke Russian like a Czech; in addition he sprinkled his speech with exclamations in Latin, Italian, and even Turkish, and he sang and cursed in all earthly languages.

When the waiter asks “Who is your master, anyway?” the valet (камердинер) says he is the Hungarian magnate Volobuzh (“Это магнат унгарски Волобуж, слышишь?”). “Magnate” here has the specific sense given in the Oxford Russian dictionary as “(hist.) member of Upper House of Diet in Poland or Hungary.” 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.

At the theater he meets a rich Russian named Baranovsky, who invites him to his house; he decides he’d better be culturally prepared for the visit, so he drops by a bookstore and asks for some contemporary books (search on “Каких угодно?”):

“Which ones would you like?”

“It doesn’t matter which; I don’t like to think about whether what I’m reading is good or bad — that depends on my disposition… I think the best works at present are novels; they include life, and true learning, and philosophy, and politics, and industry, and everything.”

“Would you like to choose from the catalogue?”

“But my dear fellow, I came to you so as not to have to waste time in choosing… You are French?”

“French.”

“Excellent; give me whatever you want — it will all be good; my business is to pay you money, the more the better.”

The Frenchman smiled and gathered several novels.

“Would you like these?”

“I certainly would.”

“Here’s a new work, very entertaining.”

“A novel? Give it to me! Aren’t those too few? I don’t read, you know, I devour.”

Having gathered twenty or so novels, Volobuzh went home and spent the whole day reading. But he read without cutting the pages, not from the beginning, not from cover to cover, but opening at random first one novel, then another, as they tell fortunes at Christmastime: what comes out will come true. He said it was foolish to read straight through; from the edge or the middle is all the same — the main thing a sensible man needs who wants to talk and discuss when he pays visits are pocket bits of information, like pocket money. When you’ve gotten from books or magazines several gleaming, newly minted bits of information, you can pay a visit, go to a dinner or a ball — wherever you like.

Plus ça change…

Comments

  1. In the spirit of this post, I looked up a bit ahead through Salomea (without cutting the pages) and it seems to me that some addendum will be necessary…

  2. No spoilers!

  3. The principle of lectio difficilior, plus the non-palatalized l and the zh in the Russian transcription, suggests that the correct reading in (Lower) Sorbian is Wołobuź.

  4. David Marjanović says:

    …That looks very plausible.

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