BOOK.

Alexander Anichkin at Tetradki (“A Russian Review of Books: Non-Russians writing about Russia and Russians writing about themselves and the world around them”) has a post about Bunin’s 1924 mini-story Книга (Kniga, ‘Book’), which I am very fond of myself, and says “I searched for an English translation of this short story on the internet, but could not find one. Please let me know if there is one.” I thought I might as well give it a try, though Bunin’s late, pared-down style shows a mastery of Russian prose that is impossible to adequately render, and I’m pleased enough with the result to reproduce it below. It makes a nice contrast to my recent post about bibliophilia. (My thanks to jamessal for his help whipping it into shape.)
A note on a phrase: the Russian does not say “with a beginning and an end” but с завязкой и развязкой ‘with a beginning [literally 'tying-up'] and a denouement [literally 'untying,' which of course is also the literal meaning of denouement],’ and a denouement is not necessarily an ending. But I thought it was more important to preserve the natural pairing than the literal sense, since the distinction between an ending and a denouement is not significant in this context.


BOOK

Lying on a stack of straw on the threshing floor, I had been reading for a long time – and suddenly I revolted. Once again reading all morning, once again with a book in my hands! And it’s been that way day in, day out, since I was a child! I’ve spent half my life in a world that doesn’t exist, among people who never lived, invented people, being as agitated about their fates, their joys and sorrows, as if they were my own, linking myself to my dying day with Abraham and Isaac, Pelasgians and Etruscans, Socrates and Julius Caesar, Hamlet and Dante, Gretchen and Chatsky, Sobakevich and Ophelia, Pechorin and Natasha Rostova! And how can I now distinguish between real and imagined companions of my earthly existence? How can I divide them, define the degree of their influence on me?
I was reading, living on other people’s inventions, but the field, the estate, the village, the peasants, horses, flies, bumblebees, birds, clouds – everything lived its own real life. And I suddenly felt that, and I awoke from my bookish hallucination, I threw my book into the straw and with astonishment and joy, with new eyes, I look around, I see, I hear, I smell keenly, above all I feel something uncommonly simple and at the same time uncommonly complicated, that deep, miraculous, inexpressible thing that is in life and in myself and that they never write about properly in books.
While I had been reading, in nature things were secretly changing. It had been sunny, festive; now everything had grown dark and still. In the sky, little by little, clouds had been gathering, in certain places – especially to the south – still light and lovely, but to the west, beyond the village and its willows, rain-laden, bluish, depressing. Warmly, mildly, it smells of distant rain in the fields. In the garden a single oriole is singing.
Along the dry violet road running between the threshing floor and the garden, a peasant is returning from the churchyard. On his shoulder is a white iron spade with rich blue earth clinging to it. His face is rejuvenated and bright. His cap is pushed back off his sweaty forehead.
“I’ve planted a jasmine bush for my girl!” he says cheerfully. “I wish you good health. Still reading, still making up books?”
He’s happy. Why? Just because he’s living in the world; that is, accomplishing the most incomprehensible thing on earth.
In the garden the oriole is singing. Everything else has become still and silent, not even roosters can be heard. She alone is singing, unhurriedly spinning out playful trills. Why, for whom? For herself? For the life that the estate and garden have lived for a hundred years? Or could it be that the estate is living for her fluted song?
“I’ve planted a jasmine bush for my girl.” But does the girl know? The peasant thinks she does, and perhaps he’s right. By evening the peasant will have forgotten about the bush, so for whom will it blossom? Because it is going to blossom – and it will not seem to blossom for no reason, but for someone and something.
“Still reading, still making up books.” But why make things up? Why heroines and heroes? Why a novel or a story, with a beginning and an end? The eternal fear of seeming not bookish enough, not similar enough to the famous ones! And the eternal torment of being eternally silent, of not talking even once about what is truly yours and the only real thing, most justly demanding expression, demanding to leave a trace, incarnation and preservation, if only in a word!

Comments

  1. marie-lucie says:

    Thank you for this, LH. But why no article in the title? The lack of one in Russian is not an omission, the language does not have articles, but just “book” is strange in English, and if an English-language writer used this title it would be seen as a deliberate omission. Since the story is not about “a” book or “the” book (which we could expect to see identified in the text), or about a person called “Book”, but about books in general, why not use the generic plural “books”?

  2. Or maybe it’s just “cool” in T9.

  3. marie-lucie, lots of answers are imaginable, but the most obvious hint, down here below the end of the story, is in the last phrase.
    (The unexpressed remainder demands expression in a text that will inevitably leave another remainder, or possibly, asymptotically, the same one.)
    Does “churchyard” in this context imply “graveyard”? Is the girl therefore dead?

  4. just “book” is strange in English
    Perhaps it is because I knew it was a translation, or perhaps it’s because I don’t own very many myself, but whatever the reason, I found the title both perfectly comprehensible and natural. “Books” never occurred to me until I read your post. Maybe these last 40 years I’ve been mistaken in identifying myself as an EFL speaker.

  5. It’s by no means unidiomatic for titles. Edna Ferber came to mind, somewhat randomly, because of Giant; that turns out to be later, but she was writing books with titles like Gigolo back in Bunin’s day.

  6. marie-lucie says:

    OK.

  7. chemiazrit says:

    just “book” is strange in English
    Your comment reminded me that many years ago I actually read an academic satire called Book (this one). At this distance, however, I can’t recall whether it was any good or not.

  8. The story isn’t about ‘A Book’ or ‘The Book’ itself, but rather about the contrast between living and reading about living. The Russian Книга works better for being without an article, in my opinion.
    Is the girl therefore dead?
    Yes, it sounds like it to me.
    It’s a small thing, but I like the Impressionists’ palette he uses to evoke ‘life’: the white spade with blue earth and the violet color to the road. The Russians valued French painting.
    I love this story. You have made what seems like a perfect translation, Language (& Jamessal). Why stop here?

  9. I think Marie-Lucie has a point – I often translate singular English as plural into Russian, in certain contexts (сhild – дети). But here Languagehat’s version is best, I think, because Bunin uses the word as an uncountable – like water or air. It’s neither A Book, nor The Book and not Books. Maverick mentions Giant and Gigolo, I can add Icon by Forsyth, Woman by Lennon.
    Is there a standard translation of this story in French? Une livre? Des livres?
    Articles have always frustrated me. That’s why I was so amused to learn that Neil Armstrong bungled it too in his historic phrase ‘[That's] one small step for man, one giant leap for Mankind’.
    I have a different question: усадьба translated as the estate. I’d translate it as the house taking that the story refers to what in British English is called ‘country house’, a house of the gentry, with wings, outbuildings, stables, servants quarters and a park. I’ve checked my Ozhegov, it gives stand alone house – ‘отдельный дом с примыкающими строениями’ as the first meaning. My American Oxford gives the first meaning of estate as ‘an area or amount of land or property’. So, when I read in Russian ‘усадьба’ I see the house first and then a few adjacent bits. When I read ‘estate’ in English, I see an area, a plot with a few buildings on it. Do anglophone readers see it like this?
    And another little point: oriole is refered to as ‘she’ which it is in Russian. But, I think, it is males who sing. Is the use of feminine in English ok here, or would it be better to use neuter? The oriole singing, probably, links to the dead girl remembered by her peasant father, but still?
    Also, I wanted to ask anglophone comrades: do you see the influence of avant-garde in this text? Violet road? Depressing clouds? White spade with clumps of blue blackearth? Can you see Petrov-Vodkin or Malevich here?
    It is a very good translation, thank you, LH.

  10. So, when I read in Russian ‘усадьба’ I see the house first and then a few adjacent bits. When I read ‘estate’ in English, I see an area, a plot with a few buildings on it. Do anglophone readers see it like this?
    My qualification for the title of anglophone (or even moreso, reader) may apparently be in question, but when I read estate in the sort of context LH used it here, I always think of a large area of land dominated by a large house. I would not call an oversized house on a small plot “an estate”, nor would I call an expanse of land with a couple of small buildings “an estate”. If I understand your use of the term correctly, I would say that “country house” does match my idea of “an estate”. As for the bird’s gender, I think that “she” is natural for a bird, even if technically incorrect.

  11. do you see the influence of avant-garde in this text? Violet road? Depressing clouds? White spade with clumps of blue blackearth? Can you see Petrov-Vodkin or Malevich here?
    I could be wrong, but as I said, I don’t think the color descriptions are related to the avant-garde of 1924. ‘Violet road’, in particular, is an Impressionist representation. However, the blue & white might be Suprematist; perhaps in the context they hold a symbolic value in Russia that I’m not aware of.

  12. do you see the influence of avant-garde in this text? Violet road? Depressing clouds? White spade with clumps of blue blackearth? Can you see Petrov-Vodkin or Malevich here?
    I could be wrong, but as I said, I don’t think the color descriptions are related to the avant-garde of 1924. ‘Violet road’, in particular, is an Impressionist representation. However, the blue & white might be Suprematist; perhaps in the context they hold a symbolic value in Russia that I’m not aware of.

  13. усадьба translated as the estate. I’d translate it as the house taking that the story refers to what in British English is called ‘country house’, a house of the gentry, with wings, outbuildings, stables, servants quarters and a park.
    As you can imagine, this was not an easy decision. I hesitated between “estate” and “country house,” and based my choice on the fact that it was immediately followed by “village,” so I thought “estate” pointed the contrast better. But I certainly wouldn’t argue with the other choice.
    As for the title, none of the other possibilities worked for me; I find “Books” banal, suggesting a rather simple-minded essay (“Books are our friends…”) rather than what it is.
    But, I think, it is males who sing.
    That is not my concern. Bunin makes the bird a “she,” and I am not about to give it a sex change because of the nitpicking of ornithologists.
    do you see the influence of avant-garde in this text?
    I agree with AJP: Bunin was a prematurely old 54 when he wrote this story, and from what I can gather was utterly uninterested in the modern world, obsessing about the Russia he grew up in. If he’d ever seen Petrov-Vodkin or Malevich, I’d guess he didn’t like them.

  14. Nowadays it would be titled ‘Internet’.

  15. Cherie Woodworth says:

    Dear Hat –
    You didn’t mention it, but your timing is propitious — Bunin was the first Russian author to win the Nobel Prize for literature (1933). (He won it in exile.)
    A copy of his acceptance speech is found here:
    http://nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/literature/laureates/1933/bunin-speech.html
    An excerpt from his speech: “in the course of the past fifteen years my sorrows have far exceeded my joys. And not all of those sorrows have been personal – far from it. But I can certainly say that in my entire literary life no other event has given me so much legitimate satisfaction as that little technical miracle, the telephone call from Stockholm to Grasse.”
    The first Nobel was awarded in 1901, so Tolstoy missed out (d. 1905), as did Nabokov.

  16. Nice job. I do have a question – “На своей девочке” is literally “on my girl”. I thought in the Russian it’s quite clear he’s planting the bush on her grave, saying “for my girl” is more ambiguous. Obviously “on my girl” in English is unacceptable in that context so I’m not quibbling with the translation so much as wondering about the Russian. Am I reading the Russian more literally than a native speaker would? Is that not kind of an odd construction in Russian?

  17. Would “over my girl” work in English?

  18. j. del col says:

    Instead of “…beginning and an end” why not
    “Knotting and unknotting?” that would give a better approximation of the difficulties implied.

  19. We may be approaching the too-many-cooks stage here — hope you don’t mind, Hat — well, I guess you knew what you were letting yourself in for — anyway, I have another question:
    There are frequent and sometimes surprising changes of tense, not just back and forth between past and present, but with the present perfect getting into the game. I know essentially nothing about Russian and Ø about tenses in Russian. What kind of challenges were you faced with in that regard?

  20. … NOBODY expects the Language Hat commenters!!!

  21. … NOBODY expects the Language Hat commenters!!!

  22. marie-lucie says:

    book: the end of the story refers to a single word, but books is also a single word – just the plural form of book. I take other commenters’ points, but note that I wrote that omitting the article in English would be deliberate, not an error but still going against the usual norm. The Russian title is not going against a norm, since there is no other possibility.
    French “books”: There are two French words livre: le/un livre is ‘the/a book’, from Latin librum, but la/une livre is “the/a pound” (as in the weight, or the British currency), from Latin libra.
    For “Books” in a title I would use Les livres, using the definite article as generic. Des livres for me means “some books”, although this use is gaining ground in French because of a misunderstanding of the use of the article in English (since there is so much unilateral translation nowadays): if it does not say “the” (which would be specific), some French translators avoid the definite article in French, even though it is the right article for a generic meaning. In older literature though, Des livres as a title would mean “about books” (des is the fusion of de les, and here the preposition de is used as in Latin, for instance in Dante’s title De vulgari eloquentia).

  23. Bunin makes the bird a “she,” and I am not about to give it a sex change because of the nitpicking of ornithologists.
    Whoa there, Hat! That sentence alone is not enough to explain your use of “she”. Not that you are obliged to, but by offering an explanation you yourself started the ball rolling. Since there are similar issues in German because the nouns have gender, I feel qualified to kick the ball back in your direction. Merely because in German the pronoun es applies to das Mädchen is no reason, in a translation, to use the English pronoun “it” when referring to a girl.
    First of all, I am assuming there is no convention here that Russian birds are always called “she”, like ships. Otherwise I would have expected you to have written “Russian makes the bird a ‘she’”. In any case, if there were such a Russian convention, it would, as a convention, have to yield in translation to the English convention that birds are called “it” unless the male or female bird is deliberately being referred to.
    The crux is in your word “makes”, when you say that Bunin “makes the bird a ‘she’”. Are we talking on and ona here? Does Bunin use ona where one would otherwise expect on, say because the word “oriole” in Russian has masculine gender? Does Russian have different forms for the male and female oriole, like the English goose and gander, so that “Bunin makes the bird a ‘she’” means “Bunin uses the word for female oriole”?
    It’s not “nitpicking of ornithologists” to point out that it’s usually (always?) the male birds who sing. It’s only in our cosmopolitan modern times that many people are ignorant of that fact. I bet Bunin knew it, though. Of course he can do what he pleases as a writer, but I do hope you will feel provoked enough to answer my questions.

  24. thanks, Marie-Lucie,
    books always make me think of pounds, sorry, I am only a jeune apprentice in French. I love to ask at boucherie for une livre of mince… But is there a classique translation of Bounine’s short stories?

  25. marie-lucie says:

    But is there a classique translation of Bounine’s short stories?
    Sorry, I have no idea. There is a short article on him on French Wikipedia, perhaps you can go from there for more information.

  26. Grumbly Stu:
    oriole (иволга) is feminine in Russian, there is no male equivalent. Bunin does use ‘ona’. But nightingale (соловей), blackbird (черный дрозд, featured in Turgenev’s Poems in Prose), skylark (жаворонок), woodcock and many other songbirds are masculine. I suspect that Bunin chose oriole BECAUSE it is feminine – to link the image to the man happy after having done something in memory of his dead daughter.
    I was only curious to know if ‘she’ works in English with oriole. In Wilde’s The Nightingale and the Rose the bird is a ‘she’, not ‘he’ as in Russian.

  27. marie-lucie says:

    How to translate the names of animals from languages with arbitrary (= not sex-based) gender is often a problem if the gender becomes meaningful in literary use. Here, “she” is demanded by Russian, not by English where the pronoun seems to be a deliberate choice by the writer, who in referring to a bird in a more general context would most likely use “it”. In older English poetry, writers who had had a classical education (like Wilde here) often gave animals the gender that they would have had in Latin or Greek. The nightingale was feminine in Greek: according to ancient legend, the nightingale and the swallow had been two sisters who were turned into birds, the latter lacking song because her tongue had been cut off. This legend was the inspiration for a poem by Swinburne.

  28. Vanya – “На своей девочке” is literally “on my girl” -
    has a point there.
    At first I thought it was, simply, a ‘clipped’ (неполное) sentence of which colloquial AND written Russian is famous. The full sentence would be ‘on the grave of my little girl’.
    But, after re-reading the phrase I saw that it’s Bunin’s speech characterisation. I suppose it can be classed as synechdoche, a part representing the whole, like calling Hat someone who is wearing a hat.
    So, “I’ve planted a jasmine bush for my girl.” conveys the meaning, but skips language characterisation, does it?
    Might it sound better as ‘I’ve planted a jasmine bush at my little girl’s”?
    The churchyard set in ‘Book’ also very strongly reminds me of the final tearjerker passage in Turgenev’s Fathers and Sons. If I see it now, in 2009, I am sure contemporary readers could feel it too:
    ‘There is a small village graveyard in one of the remote corners of Russia. Like almost all our graveyards, it has a melancholy look; the ditches surrounding it have long been overgrown; grey wooden crosses have fallen askew and rotted under their once painted gables; the gravestones are all out of position, just as if someone had pushed them from below; two or three bare trees hardly provide some meager shade; the sheep wander unchecked among the tombs . . . But among them is one grave untouched by human beings and not trampled on by any animal; only the birds perch on it and sing at daybreak. An iron railing surrounds it and two young fir trees have been planted there, one at each end; Evgeny Bazarov is buried in this tomb. Often from the near-by village two frail old people come to visit it–a husband and wife. Supporting one another, they walk with heavy steps; they go up to the iron railing, fall on their knees and weep long and bitterly, and gaze intently at the silent stone under which their son lies buried; they exchange a few words, wipe away the dust from the stone or tidy up some branches of a fir tree, then start to pray again and cannot tear themselves away from that place where they seem to be nearer to their son, to their memories of him . . . Can it be that their prayers and their tears are fruitless? Can it be that love, sacred devoted love, is not all powerful? Oh, no! However passionate, sinful or rebellious the heart hidden in the tomb, the flowers growing over it peep at us serenely with their innocent eyes; they tell us not only of eternal peace, of that great peace of “indifferent” nature; they tell us also of eternal reconciliation and of life without end.’

  29. Девочка is not a “little girl”, it’s just a girl. She might be his daughter, she might be his girlfriend.
    And “oriole” – иволга – is feminine in Russian. Bunin didn’t “make” it female. I’d have gone with “it”, probably, myself, but if pressed I’d have chosen “he”.
    But it’s a quibble. What a nice job, Hat.

  30. Grumbly: Those are, of course, excellent questions, and I was being unforgivably flippant with my semi-response. Sure, in a neutral context I’d render an oriole as “it” in English, but here, what with the девочка, I felt his use of a female bird was significant enough to keep. I dunno, if I’d been in a different frame of mind I might have gone with “it,” and you’re right, Bunin would presumably have known that males do the singing, so I may alter it in a revised version.
    Instead of “…beginning and an end” why not “Knotting and unknotting?”
    Because that would be meaningless in English. In Russian, the words are utterly normal.

  31. Way off topic:
    I did buy Benamou / Ionesco’s absurdist French textbook (for foerigners) — Ionesco did the dialogues. It’s a serious textbook and strikes me as excellent. Ionesco had worked as a French teacher and was enthusiastic about the project.
    JEAN: Dans la basse-cour, depuis dimanche, le blanc dindon dont la tante et toi vous me fites don, lundi dernier, fait la cour a la dinde blanche de mon cousin, fils d’oncle Aron.
    GASTON: Ce n’etait pourtant pas un lundi, mais bien un vendredi, que moi, ton cousin Gaston, je te fis don d’un blanc dindon, dont tu m’apprendes qu’il fait cour, dans la basse-cour, a la blanche dinde dont te fit don l’autre cousin, fils de l’oncle Aron, mari de la tante Angele, qui tant tu aimes.
    JEAN: Gaston!
    GASTON: Hein?
    JEAN: Entends-tu, Gaston ne trouves-tu pas que cette conversation pour apprendre a prononce le son AN, le son IN, le son UN et la son ONa un air… faux?
    GASTON: Tu as raison. Abstenons-nous en donc. Quand nous revoyons-nous
    JEAN: L’un de ces lundis.

    Sorry, no accents. “Mise en Train”, Benamou and Ionesco.

  32. LH @ “I find “Books” banal, suggesting a rather simple-minded essay (“Books are our friends…”) rather than what it is.”
    I would guess that many more serious-minded essays have been written using the plural than the singular.

  33. marie-lucie says:

    Titles are not necessarily indicative of the quality of a text.

  34. marie-lucie: In the Ionesco above, shouldn’t it be “abstenons-nous-en donc”? (ligature between nous and en, or whatever one calls it) I don’t mean to be criticizing JE’s typing, I just want to know.

  35. Way off-topic: A little hasty search-engine research reveals that some evolutionary biologists have made an effort to free themselves from Darwin’s attachment to the idea that it is the males who have the courtship displays. Apparently in the tropics many female birds sing, and it has been determined somehow that the females of many groups of birds, including the orioles, have lost their song for one reason or another.
    This is even more off-topic than it looks, because the orioles in that last sentence are new-world orioles (genus Icterus), not to be confused with the old-world orioles (genus Oriolus, different family).
    Even further afield: I just learned that our local oriole, the Baltimore oriole of eastern North America, is not exactly named after the city of Baltimore, as I used to assume. Rather, the city and the bird are both named after Lord Baltimore, the Irish nobleman and founder of the colony of Maryland. These birds only rarely wander across the Atlantic. By an odd coincidence, the first ever recorded sighting of a Baltimore oriole in Ireland was in Baltimore County. This was in October of 2001. It is probably wrong to try to connect that with the fact that the Baltimore Oriole baseball team had just then concluded an extraordinarily unsuccessful season.

  36. Also, shouldn’t it be “dont tu m’apprends” (not “apprendes”), “que tant tu aimes” (not “qui”), “apprendre à prononcer” (not “prononce”)
    and “le son ON” (not “la”)?

  37. Hozo: I would guess that many more serious-minded essays have been written using the plural than the singular.
    Do you have even a shred of evidence for that implausible claim? Here are the titles of the books piled on my serious-minded desk:
    Singular
    The Influence of Darwin on Philosophy
    Pseudowissenschaft
    Kein neues Menschenbild: Zur Sprache der Hirnforschung
    Gesellschaftsstruktur und Semantik
    Abhandlung über den Ursprung der Sprache
    Auch eine Philosophie der Geschichte zur Bildung der Menschheit
    Liebe als Passion
    Theoretische Empirie
    Risikogesellschaft
    The True and Only Heaven
    La poétique de l’espace
    La méthode
    L’organisation biologique et la théorie de l’information
    The Pound Era
    À tort et à raison
    Entre le cristal et la fumée
    The Metaphysical Club
    Der soziologische Diskurs der Moderne
    Die Entstehung der biologischen Evolutionstheorie

    Plural
    Soziale Systeme
    Die Gesetze der Nachahmung (Les lois de l’imitation)

  38. marie-lucie says:

    “abstenons-nous-en donc”
    Grumbly, you are right. But I wondered about the hyphen before en because I have seen in French texts recently a lack of hyphens in similar situations, and I wondered if this was one more case of it. But Ionesco would have used the hyphen.
    bruessels, your corrections are right too. I did not point them out because I thought they were only forgivable typos. There is one more thing: in the first sentence it should be l’oncle Aron, as in the second (corresponding to la tante Angèle).
    For any French learners here, the conversation in the book includes not only a rather absurdly detailed and repetitive exchange, but several grammatical difficulties which would be avoided in a normal conversation. Abstenons-nous-en ‘let’s abstain from it’, although grammatically supercorrect, is not typical of natural conversational style. If in a textbook, it should be closer to the end chapter than to the beginning one.

  39. marie-lucie says:

    p.s. one more thing: it should be il fait la cour “he courts”.

  40. Abstenons-nous-en ‘let’s abstain from it’, although grammatically supercorrect, is not typical of natural conversational style.
    Yes, we French learners know that, from reading. What we don’t know is how to converse. So how could one say Abstenons-nous-en natural-like? Il serait mieux de nous abstenir de ça?

  41. Ø : some evolutionary biologists have made an effort to free themselves from Darwin’s attachment to the idea that it is the males who have the courtship displays. … the females of many groups of birds … have lost their song for one reason or another
    Maybe Darwin’s dictum just put those birds off their arias. Females get discouraged more easily than males, in reproductive matters.

  42. Perhaps typing errors on my part. OR — Ionesco himself was a Rumanian. Perhaps he didn’t really know French that well.

  43. Then somebody sure made a booboo by putting him in the Académie Française.

  44. Affirmative action.

  45. Maybe Darwin’s dictum just put those birds off their arias. Females get discouraged more easily than males, in reproductive matters.
    To paraphrase another 19th-century world-changer, sometimes a dictum is just a dictum.

  46. marie-lucie says:

    Grumbly: So how could one say Abstenons-nous-en natural-like?
    In descending order of formality, there are several things you could say, even using the verb s’abstenir, such as:
    - Il vaudrait mieux qu’on s’abstienne.
    - Il vaudrait mieux s’abstenir.
    - Bon, alors on s’abstient. (OK, we won’t)
    or you could say with more colloquial vocabulary (since the conversation is about a topic you don’t want to continue with):
    - Laissons tomber. (Let’s drop it)
    - On laisse tomber. (same, less formal)
    - Laissez tomber (the vous form) – Laisse tomber. (the tu form)
    - Lâche. (the tu form)
    There may be more slangy ways to say it, but I am not familiar with current slang.

  47. Thanks, marie-lucie! Now I can abstain in 7 different ways!
    BTW, does on (as distinguished from l’on) *always* mean “we”, in every sentence? It sometimes appears to mean “they”, or even “one” as in l’on.

  48. marie-lucie says:

    On can mean all these things, depending on the context. Here I used expressions that could be used in the dialogue in question, where it would mean “we”. L’on to me is literary and would be pedantic in conversation.

  49. What would you say about B’s reply to A, at this site? I’m particularly interested in the claim Et on l’évite en début de phrase…:
    A: What is the difference between on and l’on in French?
    B: No difference except the elegance of style and sound, so just for euphonic reason.
    Generally you will use it after et, ou, où, à qui, à quoi, si.
    On vieillit et l’on oublie ses amis d’enfance.
    Il faut choisr : ou l’on fait ce qu’il faut, ou l’on renonce au projet.
    Ces lieux où l’on a vécu.
    Tous ces pauvres que l’on ne peut secourir.
    Ces maîtres à qui l’on doit tant.
    Si l’on suppose …

    Et on l’évite en début de phrase…

  50. I like the elevated tone of the examples given. Surely there are superior people in the world who would not think me pedantic if I used a sprinkling of l’on? I can hear them saying behind my back: Figurez-vous, un américain avec telle délicatesse de langage! One is not always conversing with bus drivers.

  51. It’s even more charming to display a mixture of délicatesse and crude mistakes, don’t you think? It shows that at least you’ve got the right attitude.

  52. marie-lucie says:

    Grumbly, what these examples of l’on have in common is that the little words before it end in a vowel sound (regardless of spelling), so the [l] breaks up the combination of two or more vowels as in si on or où on (and in the latter case, the two vowels are quite close to each other in terms of mouth position, so the sequence is awkward to say). It is not needed at the beginning of a sentence, where on is the first vowel of the utterance, but using it in that position sounds even more literary or pedantic than using it after a word ending in a vowel. Personally, I would only use l’on in writing, if at all.
    Nothing prevents you or anyone from using l’on if you choose, it will just sound literary and therefore mark you as a foreigner who has learned the language from books rather than from interacting with the natives.

  53. I feel something [...] that deep, miraculous, inexpressible thing that is in life and in myself and that they never write about properly in books.
    This ineffability is beautifully indicated, both in the “book” of the story and by way both of the “book”, the translation, of the peasant’s planting and of his translation of this act into conversation by virtue of the ‘miracle’ of civility.
    Book is an aptly mysterious title for this radical performative contradiction. That is, for example, when you say something can’t be said, but, by the way you say such a thing, the unsayable is made present; in the diction of Wallace Stevens, the “inexpressible” is discovered in language, rather than imposed.
    -
    I like the image of “with a knotting and a raveling”. A story- book- knits us together for the duration of its telling; when it’s done, we pull away (from it and each other), but into a privacy that now remains connected. The story traditionally ‘ties up its loose ends’, but (here, deliberately) it unties us to it and each other (by ending) and leaves us with a persisting raveling, in the form of a question:
    Why make things up? [T]he eternal torment of [...] not talking even once about [...] the only real thing [which] demand[s] to leave a trace [-] if only in a word!

  54. The nightingale-swallow sisters are two angles of a well-established classical ‘triangle’ that persists through mediaeval, Renaissance, and modern storytelling. (The third member is either a hawk or a hoopoe.)
    The sisters are Philomela and Procne; the rapist of one and husband of the other, respectively (in most versions), is Tereus, who cuts out the tongue of his sister-in-law/victim so as to stop her from telling her sister / his wife what he’s perpetrated.
    You can find a Greek retail version of the tale in the Hellenistic scholar Apollodorus (Library, III, xiv, 8), and a Latin retail version (sorry, Ovid fans) in Ovid (Metamorphoses, VI, ll. 424-674). Of the myriad versions, uses, and mentions of this story, two that English literature readers might remember, along with Swinburne’s, are in Titus Andronicus and The Waste Land.

  55. Today I heard Salman Rushdie speak; among other things, he said reading a book is “a curious act of intimacy between strangers.”
    As far as “book/a book/books” in the title, as a native speaker, I’m totally cool with “book”. One-word titles seem to be a Hattian trademark going way back in the archives. At the very least, every title has been concentrated and distilled to the lowest common denominator. Pondering the one word summation, or however the nugget has been extracted from the subject for the title, is part of my enjoyment of the blog.
    I had never noticed before, but when I went back and looked at the archives, I noticed all the titles have a period at the end. It doesn’t particularly bother me, but I don’t think I’ve seen that anywhere else.

  56. rootlesscosmo says:

    marie-lucie: would “Bouquin” work as a French translation of the story’s title? (Sorry to add another plea for your advice, but it’s such good advice.)

  57. marie-lucie says:

    The word bouquin is a colloquial, often slightly derogatory word for a book (no English equivalent), and it would not be appropriate to the tone of the story. Un bouquin might be old though not valuable, and at any rate probably not very interesting, at least from the point of view of the person speaking. You could use the word for a book you buy before a train or plane trip just to pass the time, not caring that much what it is about. But if you have or want a carefully chosen book for its intrinsic interest, literary merit or beautiful pictures, you would say un livre.
    There is a section of Paris along the Seine where there are massive stone parapets on the river’s side of the streets, on which small scale secondhand book dealers called bouquinistes display their wares in very large wooden boxes (at least the size of coffins) set up on top of the parapets. These boxes stay there permanently, locked up at night with the bouquins inside.

  58. I always use a full stop (and capitalise the first letter of every word) in the title, so there.

  59. marie-lucie: I now understand something about l’on that is completely new to me, namely that the “l” is there entirely and solely for reasons of euphony! I had thought there was a kind of “retro elegance” involved. That’s why I was particularly interested in the reason why the “l” should be avoided at the beginning of a sentence. From my previous point of view, there would have been no impediment to starting a sentence with l’on.
    By “retro elegance” I mean that I believed l’on was an older form no longer used, but that one could occsionally put on for effect like Grandpa’s high starched collar. Although I have in principle given up trying to find stylistic analogies in German and English for French expressions that cause me difficulties, I see now that unawares I was still trying to do that with on and l’on. I had been thinking along the lines of wer den Pfennig nicht ehrt, ist des Talers nicht wert (who cares not for the penny will not repay the pound). Starting a sentence with wer, except in such quaint sayings, is perfectly good German, but not everyday German. The locution pattern “who …” as in “who cares for the penny …” is English is, by contrast with the 17th century, now rather stilted – but one can still make use of it.
    it will just sound literary and therefore mark you as a foreigner who has learned the language from books rather than from interacting with the natives
    There’s no escaping recognition as a foreigner, because at the very least French pronunciation will always escape me. Anyway, why should I not be the foreigner that I am? That’s why I’ve decided to push the image of a charming American who is clearly doing his damndest with that damned language.

  60. Cherie Woodworth: Nobel… Tolstoy missed out (d. 1905)
    little correction: Tolstoy died in 1910.
    I’ve just re-read the story. Oriole is definitely a she. Игривые трели – playful (frisky, perky) trills – can’t be played by a he or an it? The word oriole has feminine gender, so the bird as a character in the story acquires femininity irrespective of biology. I am sure of the link between the dead girl and the bird, it’s Bunin’s masterstroke.
    Девочка is not a “little girl” Ridger: Oh, I think, девочка is a little girl here. It’s hard to think of a peasant from before 1924 refering to his girlfriend as devochka. Alex and his droogs could, not Bunin’s muzhik. I think endless Russian diminutive suffixes including -очк- are best rendered in English with composites of little plus the main word. I’ve recently re-read Ransome’s Old Peter’s Tales and was struck by his extensive use of ‘little’. Old Peter has a little pipe – трубочка. Дурачок becomes Little Stupid. Old Peter addresses the children as ‘little pigeons, little hawks, little bear cubs’.
    Could someone give a link to the Swinburne poem mentioned here several times, please?

  61. mollymooly says:

    Some people say “que l’on” because “qu’on” sounds like “con”. Cf. the pronunciation and spelling of “coney”.
    I don’t like the idea that the peasant will have forgotten about the bush by evening. Is he that much of an airhead? Are all humans to be divided into neurotic intellectuals and carefree innocents? Or does “evening” allude to the peasant’s own death?

  62. Here is Itylus, Swinburne at his worst.

  63. I don’t like the idea that the peasant will have forgotten about the bush by evening. Is he that much of an airhead? Are all humans to be divided into neurotic intellectuals and carefree innocents?
    No, there’s also the category of neurotic innocents – people who take pride in twisting the knife in themselves, forever moaning and groaning about the loss of a loved one. Perhaps the peasant has so many more mouths to feed, and work to do until evening, that prolonged grief would be a selfish luxury.

  64. the peasant will have forgotten about the bush
    but it’s not the peasant, it’s what the narrator thinks will happen.
    Just thought: the bush, is it not an allusion to the biblical Flaming Bush – неопалимая купина?

  65. Grumbly, thanks for the link!

  66. Okay, it’s a free-for-all…
    I loved the story. I loved the atmosphere evoked by the colours. It is a very visual story (no, I haven’t even tried to read the Russian. My one quarter of Russian was too long ago.) But the mood created by the story had one really wrenching moment for me, and that was the word “rooster”, which seemed to yank me right out of that large, placid, Old World country scene clear across the world to some ranch out West. I don’t know if it really IS an exclusively American word, but European anglophones I know who are shy of using the word “cock” at least say “cockerel”. Is anyone else wrenched by “rooster”?

  67. Catanea: You don’t seem to mind reading English instead of Russian. So why should you mind reading “rooster” instead of “cock” or “cockerel”? Do you think an American would balk at the word, or should balk?
    Your idea of a “large, placid, Old World country scene” is your own particular construction of the story. It cannot possibly be “what Bunin was describing”, since he was describing his world, not some “Old World”. It’s not wrong or right to have your own construction of the story – it’s simply unavoidable. Bunin had his, different readers have theirs.
    Suppose the USA suddenly fell into the sea, so that “rooster” became a word belonging to an Old World. Would that reconcile you to it?

  68. Is anyone else wrenched by “rooster”?
    ME-E, me! just been for a lunchtime run with dogs – that’s when unexpetcted ideas strike. Except it wasn’t New World-Old World, but from the sound making point of view: roosters roost and cocks crow. In the Golden Cockerel, I can’t imagine a rooster on the spire.

  69. Well, it’s an awkward choice in English. “Rooster” is the normal term in Australia, but arguably still lacks the “legitimacy” of longer-established words. It just sounds a little too colloquial and familiar. But “cock” is only found in high-falutin’, literary, or old-fashioned contexts. Unfortunately, “cock” has been tainted by association with another meaning. So English forces a choice that other languages don’t. Neither is totally appropriate to all contexts.

  70. In my dialect the everyday or default word for adult male chicken is “rooster”. If Hat had used “cockerel” or “cock” I might have experienced it as a faintly inappropriate attempt to preserve some “old world” flavor. On the other hand, if an English person had come up with the same translation except for using “cockerel” or “cock” I don’t think it would have struck me that way.
    “Rooster” is so much the default word that I believe that the first things it evokes are the coxcomb, the crowing, the wattles, and the cocky attitude. The verb “roost” is nowhere near front and center.

  71. Yeah, it’s unfortunate, but “cock” has become impossible in American use. I’m not crazy about “rooster” myself, but you go to translation with the lexicon you have, not the lexicon you wish you had.

  72. “На своей девочке” is literally “on my girl”
    Forgot to address this: I really don’t know how to deal with this. I know my solution blands it out and is perhaps misleading, but I can’t think of a better one.

  73. marie-lucie says:

    Some people say “que l’on” because “qu’on” sounds like “con”.
    There are people who see pornography everywhere.
    If you say things like Qu’est-ce qu’on fait maintenant? “What are we going to do now?”, or Qu’est-ce qu’on mange à midi? “What are we having for lunch?” the syllable is buried among the other words of the sentence. The grammatical nature of its components means that it could never occur at the end of a phrase or sentence where it would be noticed, unlike the “offending” word. So there is normally no possibility of confusion unless you are on the lookout for it. It would be extremely pedantic to say in ordinary speech Qu’est-ce que l’on fait?, and it would mean “What does one do?” (but even more formal) rather than “What do we do/are we doing?” and the attempt to avoid the offending syllable would instead call attention to its avoidance, therefore to it.

  74. Off topic again: I’d like to recommend commenter Read’s Facebook page. She posts in English, Russian, Mongol, and (I think) Japanese, and frequently posts interesting music, film, or cartoon clips. Most of it is linguistically beyond me, much to my regret, but others here would be in a better position to enjoy it.
    I’ve especially llked the Russian cartoons, which are in a folkish drawing style and often are based on folkish themes.

  75. I had a little trouble with “peasant”. For me the word carries a whiff of town people looking down on country people, or sophisticated people looking down on “simple” people. I don’t have an alternative in mind, though.
    The statement that the peasant will forget the bush by evening is jarring, if only because someone whose life is so bound up with the land will know enough to go back a few times and water it.

  76. thank you, JE!
    as Russians say ‘ne imei sto rublei, a imei sto druzei!’
    - don’t have a hundred rubles, but have a hundred friends ( better sure to have both :), i’m a compatibilist
    welcome, if anyone would like to friend me

  77. “Perhaps typing errors on my part. OR — Ionesco himself was a Rumanian. Perhaps he didn’t really know French that well.”
    JE, you’re actually contradicting yourself here. You know very well that Ionesco wrote “Mise en train, première année de français” together with Michel Benamou, a professor of French at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and it was used as a textbook by the students there. As a matter of fact, you yourself say “It’s a serious textbook and strikes me as excellent. Ionesco had worked as a French teacher and was enthusiastic about the project.” So why be so touchy about a few typing mistakes?

  78. You must be a Rumanian. Rumanians are so darn defensive about these things.

  79. bruessel, JE is just taking the Seich. He did that to me on my very first day @H@.

  80. Okay read, thanks, you are now my only friend at facebook. I asked JE, but he won’t commit himself.

  81. Okay read, thanks, you are now my only friend at facebook. I asked JE, but he won’t commit himself.

  82. you are not AJPC irl? shock.,.
    Hawkeye!!

  83. There was no Crown, Crunk, Crump, Corona, or anyone else of that ilk requesting my friendship. There was a certain J.H., but that couldn’t possibly be you. But I requested to friend him back after inadvertently condemning him to Hell via a misclick.

  84. cock – qu’on
    is the French coq in any sort of trouble?
    The Russian петух is – in criminal jargon it means a male inmate who had been raped and pressed into providing homosexual services for other criminals on the inside.

  85. And you are not read, apparently. I do have an old friend, name of Crump.

  86. And you are not read, apparently. I do have an old friend, name of Crump.

  87. That’s fantastic, now I have made 2 (two) friends in a matter of minutes.

  88. That’s fantastic, now I have made 2 (two) friends in a matter of minutes.

  89. marie-lucie says:

    is the French coq in any sort of trouble?
    Not that I know of, but I am not a good person to ask about current French slang as I have not lived in France for a long time and my visits there are too short for me to have much contact with youth culture. It there is a new meaning, it would come from American English, but new words in French slang are more likely to come from Arabic words or literally translated expressions.

  90. It is not the coq that is in trouble, but the петух, because of all that coq.

  91. Trond Engen says:

    [усадьба translated as the estate]
    As you can imagine, this was not an easy decision. I hesitated between “estate” and “country house,” and based my choice on the fact that it was immediately followed by “village,” so I thought “estate” pointed the contrast better. But I certainly wouldn’t argue with the other choice.
    Coming late, not native in either language, and still: What about “manor”? Too English English?
    In context, though, I think it’s best rendered as “manor” only in the first sentence (“but the field, the manor, the village, the peasants, horses, flies, bumblebees, birds, clouds – everything lived its own real life.”). I’d go with “house” in the second (“For herself? For the life that the house and garden have lived for a hundred years?”) and “estate” in the third (“Or could it be that the estate is living for her fluted song”). But that may fail to convey that it’s all the same entity. It ain’t easy, it ain’t.

  92. But that may fail to convey that it’s all the same entity.
    Yeah, I try to translate a given word the same consistently in any writing where the wording is an artistic choice as well as a practical tool.
    It ain’t easy, it ain’t.
    Too true.

  93. What about “manor”?
    “Manor” is something I associate with a specific system of European feudalism. There would be smaller houses clustered around it. The one in the short story sounds more like a summer house or hobby farm.
    Is anyone else wrenched by “rooster”….roosters roost and cocks crow
    On a midwestern farm, the roosters crow and the hens roost. Even no less an authority as Bob Dylan says, “When the rooster crows at the break of dawn, look out your window and I’ll be gone.”
    Female new world orioles do sing, as do female birds of many other species. It’s pretty easy to tell the difference between male and female birds of a species that is that showy.
    It is hard to interpret the meaning of the story without knowing more about Russian customs of the time. For instance did burials take place near churches? Our graveyards here are separate from our churches, but I do know of one next to a church–with markers old enough to be written in Norwegian. Are Russian shovels really white (silver?) and is the soil blue (Queen Asa’s ship burial at Oseburg, Norway was said to have been well preserved because of blue clay) or is this a description of twilight, or maybe an impending storm, or is it meant to be surreal? The “peasant” I pictured as youngish, maybe 17, bouncing along the road in spite of recent physical labor, doing chores for his intended “my girl” and not someone old enough to have deceased children. Likewise the planting of a jasmine bush is confusing. I’ve seen jasmine grow larger than a house, certainly not something we would consider appropriate for a graveyard here. Here any trees are well back from where the roots could disturb the graves. (Do the Orthodox believe in the insurrection of the body, or does that have anything to do with it?) Last summer when I was in the Boston area I went to plant some flowers with someone who has been caring for his father’s grave several times a week since childhood. He freaked out when I even stepped too close to the grave, and the flowers went beside the headstone, not on the grave itself (although I think various graveyards have different rules for this to facilitate mowing). There is another custom in downstate Illinois at least, of planting a tree, sometimes on the same day they are buried. The tree doesn’t go by the grave though, it goes on the person’s property as a sort of memorial.

  94. mollymooly says:

    I had a little trouble with “peasant”. For me the word carries a whiff of town people looking down on country people, or sophisticated people looking down on “simple” people. I don’t have an alternative in mind, though.
    In History class in Ireland, when discussing our agricultural forebears, one speaks of “tenant farmers”. I’m not sure that would work here.

  95. insurrection of the body
    resurrection of the body, although who knows?

  96. Empty has quite an interesting story going about squirrels. I think it needs comments.

  97. marie-lucie says:

    peasant: The story takes place in Russia, but what is the period? “tenant farmer” belongs in one kind of social system, “serf” in another, and plain “farmer” in another. In French, un paysan means a person who makes a living from working the land, whether the person is a tenant farmer, a farmer who owns the land and actually works it, or a person who works for another peasant as a hired hand. It refers to a member of a common culture centered on a direct connection with the land, but does not place people at a particular point in society within the rural world. Working the land is so different in North America or Australia and in Old World countries that the word “peasant” does not apply to most American farmers, and instead has acquired a somewhat derogatory meaning, but a more precise term would be out of place in the text.

  98. I think it needs comments.
    The last time I commented on empty’s blog I got thrown into the moderation dungeon and had to wait for empty to fish me out.

  99. I, too, wondered why the narrator would assume that “[b]y evening the peasant will have forgotten about the bush”. After all, the peasant remembered, or cared enough, to plant the jasmine that day . . .

  100. Very nice story, and a lovely translation… At the risk of exacerbating the ‘too many cooks’ situation, I figured I’d share a thought.
    “На своей девочке”
    I was misled by “for my girl” as I read through the story the first time. I initially assumed he was planting jasmine in someone’s garden.
    deadgod is right, though, “on” is a bit too macabre in English. But what about “by my girl”? It doesn’t have the same gruesome overtones as “on” (at least for me), and it seems a little harder to mistake.

  101. or, as I suggested before, “over my girl”. I’m not convinced, though.

  102. into the moderation dungeon
    Maybe I need to revisit my settings. I never deliberately created a moderation dungeon, and I find it hard to believe that I ever fished you out because I would not know how.

  103. (another intimation, from Russian literature, that human life signifies or discloses, intelligibly to itself, cosmic order or meaning; an intimation lurking, perhaps, in Bunin’s composing mind)
    When they got out of the carriage at Oreanda, they sat down on a bench not far from the church, and looked down at the sea without talking. Yalta could be dimly discerned through the morning mist, and white clouds rested motionless[ly] on the summits of the mountains. Not a leaf stirred, the grasshoppers chirruped, and the monotonous hollow roar of the sea came up to them, speaking of peace, of the eternal sleep lying in wait for us all. The sea had roared like this long before there was any Yalta or Oreanda, it was roaring now, and it would go on roaring, just as indifferently and hollowly, when we passed away. And it may be that in this continuity, [in] the utter indifference to the life and death of each of us lies hidden the pledge of our eternal salvation, the continuous movement of life on earth, of the continuous movement toward perfection.
    Side by side with a young woman, who looked so exquisite in the early light, soothed and enchanted by the sight of all this magical beauty — sea, mountains, clouds and the vast expanse of the sky — Gurov told himself that, when you came to think of it, everything in the world is beautiful really, everything but our own thoughts and actions, when we lose sight of the higher aims of life, and of our dignity as human beings.
    Someone approached them — a watchman, probably — looked at them and went away. And there was something mysterious and beautiful even in this.
    –Chekhov, “Lady with Lapdog” (transl. Litvinov)

  104. I like ø’s “I’ve planted a jasmine bush over my girl!”.
    “over” is accurate as to the location of the bush, and also communicates, albeit with less emphasis, ‘on behalf of’ or ‘in devotion to’.
    But, as has been remarked with (I hope) cheerful frustration, no English version will ‘be’ quite what Bunin’s Russian is . . .

  105. On the far off-topic topic of Ionesco’s franc,ais, Paul Celan, likewise a Roumanian (of sorts), writes an interesting, and beautiful, German, shimmering between dis- and re- articulation of ‘textbook’ Deutsch. Surely another case of use proscribing iron-shod “prescription”.

  106. Well, that went into the apersoup.

  107. I never deliberately created a moderation dungeon
    It seems to be working okay now, although there was a slight delay of a minute or two before the comment appeared. Maybe Blogger just had a little hiccup when I posted before.
    I have a lot of stuff in my WordPress moderation dungeon, usually spam. I also told it to hold anything with certain words. I had to put the b-word in there, but not the n-word, so you can see where the internet is going these days with respect to tolerance and bigotry.

  108. Oops, sorry ø. I must have missed that suggestion.
    ‘Over’ does preserve the literal meaning better, but it strikes me as slightly less natural in English than ‘by’… I suspect that’s going to differ a lot from person to person, though.
    deadgod, of course nothing’s going to be a perfect fit for Bunin’s “на”, but that’s what translation’s about, isn’t it? Considering the alternatives and figuring out which one you think is the best compromise between things like literal meaning, connotation and overall sound?

  109. Even further afield: I just learned that our local oriole, the Baltimore oriole of eastern North America, is not exactly named after the city of Baltimore, as I used to assume. Rather, the city and the bird are both named after Lord Baltimore, the Irish nobleman and founder of the colony of Maryland. These birds only rarely wander across the Atlantic. By an odd coincidence, the first ever recorded sighting of a Baltimore oriole in Ireland was in Baltimore County.
    There’s no such place as Baltimore County; Baltimore, in Ireland, is in County Cork.

  110. Baltimore, in Ireland, is in County Cork.
    Thank you. Yes, “Baltimore, Co. Cork” was what I read and what I should have written.

  111. ‘Over’ does preserve the literal meaning better, but it strikes me as slightly less natural in English than ‘by’
    Me, too, I must admit.

  112. That “churchyard” with the supposed jasmine trees on/by/at/over the graves continues to bother me, but looking at some photos of Russian graveyards, it looks like they didn’t object to trees all that much. Still I’d feel better if Russian “jasmine” were a lot smaller species than the ones that grow to be a tree in Jordan, or that won’t winter over at all in Chicago

  113. >
    > But, unhappily, “on my girl” would strike, in English, a dissonantly
    > macabre note: ‘Yikes! You were planting something on your girl’s
    > corpse?!’ Which, I’m guessing, one doesn’t ‘hear’ in Russian.
    >
    Well, I don’t know how significant this is, but I, for one, _do_ hear it
    in Russian. Bunin, I submit, was being deliberately crude here, and this
    crudeness, I believe, deserves to be preserved. The phrase seems to have
    been calculated to shock, to seem odd, raw, to evoke associations that
    would give an extra creepy dimension or two to what could otherwise seem
    a rural idyll. One piece this strongly reminds me of is Sartre’s “La
    Nausée”.
    This in fact goes hand in hand with the “peasant” — close to primordial
    source of life, capable of any extreme (and I also think that “manor”
    would have been better in translation for “усадьба”, evoking the
    manor-village opposition).
    Disclaimer: I haven’t researched it, just sharing my personal reading,
    under the dubious pretext of being a native speaker of Russian.

  114. OK, I’m changing the Word document version of the story to “manor” and “on.” Thanks!

  115. maxim: I just reread La Nausée recently, so it’s fresh in my mind. I can’t imagine what it is about the Bunin piece that reminds you of the novel. What do you have in mind?

  116. marie-lucie says:

    manor: A country estate consists of a substantial house (“the manor”) large enough to accommodate not only a family but also domestics and visitors, with some land around it, at least including a large garden providing the residents with vegetables and fruits, if not more. In the text “the estate and garden” suggests that the two are different, but “the manor and garden” are part of the same unit.
    planting trees over graves in French cemeteries
    Mes chers amis, quand je mourrai,
    Plantez un saule au cimetière.
    J’aime son feuillage éploré ;
    La pâleur m’en est douce et chère.
    Et son ombre sera légère
    A la terre où je dormirai. …
    (Alfred de Musset)
    rough translation:
    My dear friends, when I die, / Plant a willow in the cemetery. / I like its weepy foliage, / the pallor of which is soft and dear to me. / And its shade will fall lightly / Over the ground where I will be sleeping.

  117. Nijma, Wikipedia says that jasmine
    is a genus of shrubs and vines in the olive family (Oleaceae), with about 200 species, native to tropical and warm temperate regions of the Old World. Most species grow as climbers on other plants or are trained in gardens on chicken wire, trellis gates or fences, or made to scramble through shrubs of open texture.
    Presumably when it is something that can stand alone it is not always tree-sized.

  118. I knew I wasn’t going to program today :-) What reminded me of Sartre is
    this fragment, to quote the translation by LH:
    I was reading, living on other people’s inventions, but the field, the
    estate, the village, the peasants, horses, flies, bumblebees, birds,
    clouds – everything lived its own real life. And I suddenly felt that,
    and I awoke from my bookish hallucination, I threw my book into the
    straw and with astonishment and joy, with new eyes, I look around, I
    see, I hear, I smell keenly, above all I feel something uncommonly
    simple and at the same time uncommonly complicated, that deep,
    miraculous, inexpressible thing that is in life and in myself and that
    they never write about properly in books.

    This sudden awakening to the incomprehensible and omnipresent reality
    made me remember the scene in the garden, when Roquentin is looking at
    the chestnut tree… I am not saying that what Bunin wrote is like
    Sartre. On the contrary, he is happy where Sartre’s character is
    nauseated; still, this sentiment of sudden awakening to inexpressible,
    omnipresent reality in one scene reminded me of the other, even if the
    sentiments that are being described are opposite to one another. Take
    the fragment above, replace “life” by “existence”, “joy” by “nausea”,
    inflate it to novel size by repetitions and interminable descriptions,
    and… tout d’un coup ça y est, la Nausée :-)
    The style of Bunin is also very different, but there is a certain
    similarity of literary devices: the character observes the minute
    detail, some in tune with the general mood, some raw and shocking,
    sometimes an impressionist colour or a strange phrase makes an object
    or a word stand out and point to some hidden meaning, etc.

  119. manor/estate
    Manor. Manorialism. Manor house, including lists of manor houses in thirteen western European countries (not Russia). If you check various biographies of Bunin, they all say he spent time at a family “estate”. Manor refers to a very specific system of land tenure. My understanding is that Russia system of serfdom was completely different from the western European feudal system in many nuanced ways, the most notable being that the European peasant was tied to the holder of the manor, while the Russian serf was tied to the land.

  120. maxim: he is happy where Sartre’s character is nauseated; … even if the sentiments that are being described are opposite to one another … replace “life” by “existence”, “joy” by “nausea” …
    Well, no wonder I couldn’t imagine what you were getting at by mentioning Bunin and Sartre in the same breath. You’re displaying a genre of literary appreciation that is new to me, a kind with group theory added in. In this genre, apparently one looks for transformational invariants, and takes quotients to eliminate what people usually regard as important: the kernel of a story. There’s a grand écrit to beat them all! The Unified Theory is probably the demonstration that there is essentially only one kind of story.
    I do agree with you about La Nausée, however:
    inflate it to novel size by repetitions and interminable descriptions, and… tout d’un coup ça y est, la Nausée :-)

  121. Regarding jasmine, if I translate the Russian Wiki I get :

    Jasmine (Latin Jasmínum, from the Persian Yasemin) – genus of evergreen shrubs of the family Oleaceae (not to be confused with the shrub chubushnik, which in Russia is often incorrectly referred to as jasmine).

    This chubushnik (in English it’s philadelphus) is also called jasmine in Norway (we have one in our garden). It’s a large bush with a lovely smell. So really this could be either one. Sorry to be boring and pointless.

  122. Sorry to be boring and pointless
    I often think of appending a comment like this to my posts, but that would only make them even more boring and pointless, so I don’t.

  123. jasmine
    Here the philadelphus is known as mock orange.
    It’s about time to fetch my star jasmine plant from the yard of my old apartment before we have a hard freeze. It’s pretty resistant to light frost, but it’s not hardy in this zone. It has a little bit of a vining habit–in the spring it sends out new viney shoots–but mostly it just looks bushlike with occasional tiny sweet smelling flowers. I’ve repotted it once but it’s once again root-bound and needs an even bigger pot, which it’s not going to get because it’s already too heavy to carry. Maybe this is the year to put it in the ground and find out how winter hardy it really is. In Jordan they’re called “colonia”–Jordanians root them in a glass of water. There is nothing quite so memorable about Amman as the smell of the night air in summer.

  124. sorry…
    Years ago when I was in London I was struck by how often strangers uttered this word as they moved past people on a crowded street. They love to say it. But the intonation they use for it somehow manages to be smug and condescending as if to say, “I see you, you insignificant worm, so you don’t have any excuse to get all territorial with me.” Don’t get me wrong, I’m an Anglophile, but only the Brits can pronounce this word with such a disconnect between the word and the meaning conveyed.

  125. Yes, sorry, it’s known as Mock Orange in England too, I think.

  126. marie-lucie says:

    AJP, Robe de chambre: boring and pointless
    I didn’t find those comments boring at all, I learned something. What is boring for some is interesting to others, so don’t apologize, and never suggest that your contribution is boring: others can always skip it.
    I once decided to brush up on my limited Russian by auditing an intermediate level class. The first class was entirely dedicated to reviewing the declensions, and the teacher kept saying “This is so boring, this is so boring!” What a way to stimulate students’ interest! I never went back.

  127. You’re displaying a genre of literary appreciation that is new to me, a kind with group theory added in. In this genre, apparently one looks for transformational invariants, and takes quotients to eliminate what people usually regard as important: the kernel of a story.
    Well, that almost makes me a connoisseur, doesn’t it? :-)
    Actually, looking for invariants, as you put it, doesn’t strike me as uncommon. Isn’t it common for one description of a sudden revelation to remind one of another description of a sudden revelation?
    There is an old joke that brings this effect to comic extreme: “Is it true that so-and-so has won $10 on a lottery ticket? — Yes, it is, except that it was $1000, not $10, and it was a game of cards, not a lottery, and he has lost”.
    Or this place in Gogol: “Yes, of course, I do remember: something happened — either she got married or she has broken her leg”.

  128. marie-lucie says:

    transformational invariants
    Actually, this sort of analysis plays an important role in the study of traditional tales: if one culture has the hero climbing a mountain and reaching the sky, the neighbours have him diving to the bottom of the sea, etc. Claude Lévi-Strauss is a virtuoso of this “structural analysis”, finding multiple inversions of the details of what is basically the same story.

  129. Isn’t it common for one description of a sudden revelation to remind one of another description of a sudden revelation?
    Well, no – unless the same thing is being revealed in each case. That is not the case with “joy” and “nausea”. You seem to be saying that any description of any sudden revelation commonly reminds one of any description of any other sudden revelation. For that to make any sense, the word “remind” would have to be so abstract as to be meaningless, and the words “revelation” and “description” as well. Maybe you’re just saying “all revelations are similar, when you abstract from their content” – which puts us in the realm of Unified Literary Theory, as I said: all form, no content, and only one form, namely “revelation”.
    In story A, the protagonist suddenly remembers where he had put the car keys. In story B, the protagonist suddenly remembers where he had put the car keys. I would find it unnecessarily high-falutin’ to talk about “the description of A’s revelation reminding one of the description of B’s revelation”. I would just say “both protagonists remembered where they had put the car keys”.
    It’s fine for Bunin’s piece to remind you of La Nausée. But your suggestions are unconvincing that your experience can be seen to conform to some kind of abstract, commonly employed mechanism. Oh, that reminds me, I have to check on the price of tea in China, gotta run!

  130. усадьба, крестьянин – manor, peasant
    Here’s the background for my proposal for the translation:
    What is being referred to by Bunin and translated as either manor (manor house) or estate is a word meaning, at its most generic, any real estate (e.g. it is possible to say “крестьянская усадьба” — “peasant estate”(?)). However, in the particular context it invariably means the manor house, built by the landlord family that used to — but not necessarily does, in Bunin’s time — own the land around (typically the landlord’s house comes with a garden and some smaller outer buildings or barns; the thrashing floor Bunin mentions could have been one of those). The orchard or garden where the bird is singing is something one expects find nearby, and also something one sees in almost every Russian classic piece, from Pushkin to Chekhov (e.g. “Cherry orchard”). The bigger, stone manor houses of major landowners, now surviving as tourist attractions and staying far apart from the village or the barns, is not what is being meant in the story. Bunin refers to a smaller, probably wooden, house of petty country gentry, of the kind, that, in Britain, could at most hope, by cultivating proper connections, to become JPs (not sure if I am correct in this analogy); does English have a word that would normally invoke this scene?
    The “peasant” that Bunin sees (the word used by Bunin, the contemporary term, was “muzik/мужик”, a word the analogues of which only survive as derogatory words in the West, e.g. “villain”) is not a “serf”; serfdom was abolished about 50 years prior to the time of the story, but both the young country gentleman and the peasant he sees belong to the first or, at most, the second, generation after its abolition. The “peasant” could in fact, technically, be a “tenant farmer” in Bunin’s time, but the social barriers and stereotypes of serfdom were still in place or in living memory. Bunin writes in exile, in 1924, and what he describes should be seen in the light of what was to happen soon: the peasant with the spade, amicably greeting the young gentleman and smiling at the thought of having planted a bush “on his daughter”, might well be the one that will soon be looting the manor and killing its inhabitants “with all the inventiveness of cruelty”, to use Pushkin’s phrase.
    Finally, Russian serfdom, just as the European one, was, of course, many different things over the ages; by the time of its abolition in 1860s it developed into a system not at all unlike North American slavery. The landlord had a right to buy and sell the peasants, with or without the land, to another noble.

  131. a smaller, probably wooden, house
    Dacha? Izba?

  132. You’re all right, of course, I’m fishing for everyone to say I’m not b & p. Sorry. By ‘pointless’ I meant I was just irritated that I couldn’t say with certainty that it was plant ‘b’ and not plant ‘a’.

  133. Schwitters, you contributed the not at all pointless fact that there is a whole other plant called jasmine; and if anybody here is bored by anybody else’s facts, well, so what? To each his own.
    Once we start apologizing for apologizing, it just gets, well … um, I guess I don’t really have an end for that thought.
    Okay, this is getting pointless. Sorry.
    Speaking of self-referential and self-indulgent utterances, not to mention sentient beings, some people might be interested in the story linked by John Cowan in a comment at Language Log the other day.

  134. marie-lucie says:

    maxim, thank you very much for the explanations, especially the right historical context. That was one of the things I was not sure about and which is crucial for understanding the relationship between the young gentleman and the peasant.

  135. dacha? izba?
    No, the Russian word used in the text was “усадьба” (usad’ba), something like this, the one that belonged to the Tutchevs, or, perhaps, as big as this, that of L.N. Tolstoy; you can get more by googling for “усадьба”.
    Is there a better word than “manor” to describe this?
    The words you suggest mean small country houses of any kind rented to spend the summer (dacha), or log cabins of the peasants (izba).

  136. marie-lucie says:

    In French you could call Tolstoy’s house un manoir or une maison de maître, and I think that the second term could also be used for the smaller Tutchev house – a “master’s house” as opposed to the peasant dwellings. Tolstoy’s house is huge but architecturally undistinguished, so un château would be too ambitious a word for it.

  137. Here’s Ozerki, the home owned by Bunin’s family (couldn’t find a link with a picture at first, and the second link below shows why): Ozerki, as he might have been remembering the place in 1924, and as it is now.

  138. Maybe villa? I think a mansion would be larger. In Jordan this would be a villa, not the primary residence, but a place where the family can go for a picnic (or to throw a little party away from the womenfolk), with a farmer living nearby to take care of it, and the whole thing locked behind a wall with a gate. The Lido near Venice has villas too.

  139. Sorry to be so obtuse, but reading the many comments a bit more carefully made me realise I hadn’t understood the planting of the bush ‘for my girl’ at all! First, I missed the fact that it was a bush on a grave. Then I missed the fact that it could be his daughter or his girlfriend (ambiguous). I must say, it took a while for me to become aware I’d missed so much.

  140. I’ve looked up Robert Bowie’s translation of Antonov Apples to see what he uses for усадьба. It varies from estate, to describe the house, the outbuidlings and the park, to manor for just the house.
    Still, I can’t help having a strange feeling about ‘manor’. To me it is too Anglo-Norman, too country specific. In the same paragraph, where Bowie uses manor, he also uses ‘squire’ for помещик, landowner, which makes me cringe.

  141. I’m only sorry it wasn’t clear, Gown.
    ‘Villa’ has a quite pretentious whiff to it in Brit. English, and possibly in other Englishes. However, in French, German and Norwegian it’s a normal word for a single-family house on an open site. It may have been okay in England in the nineteenth century, though. There was a street near me in London called Pembridge Villas.

  142. I’m only sorry it wasn’t clear, Gown.
    ‘Villa’ has a quite pretentious whiff to it in Brit. English, and possibly in other Englishes. However, in French, German and Norwegian it’s a normal word for a single-family house on an open site. It may have been okay in England in the nineteenth century, though. There was a street near me in London called Pembridge Villas.

  143. he also uses ‘squire’ for помещик, landowner, which makes me cringe
    Yeah, I’m fine with “manor” but I would never dream of using “squire.” Even where it’s historically accurate it makes me cringe. There’s an inherent aspect of forelock-tugging that goes against the grain.

  144. Both ‘manor’ and ‘squire’ sound like The Archers to me.

  145. I’m only sorry it wasn’t clear, Gown.
    It wasn’t clear to me either, in fact it still isn’t. It makes sense, now that someone pointed it out, and the Russian-speaking commenters seem very certain this is the meaning, but it’s not stated explicitly.

  146. but who is the squire in The Archers?

  147. The Archers, for those who (like me) were unfamiliar with it. It’s even older than I am!

  148. M. Grumbly – “You don’t seem to mind reading English instead of Russian. So why should you mind reading “rooster” instead of “cock” or “cockerel”? Do you think an American would balk at the word, or should balk?”
    It wasn’t meant to be a HUGE quibble. And it was a question – did the “scene” shift radically for anybody else? I don’t know how atypical my readings are. Like some people here, I don’t live in my native arena, so I don’t know how far my idiolect has drifted.
    I read my favourite historical novelists (English writers in English) knowing the real historical people couldn’t have spoken like the characters in the novels…but when the word “ego” comes up in XVI Century conversation, I wonder whether the brilliant writer knows a specific thing that I don’t know; whether she is attributing to her character an ability to coin an application of a Latin word, whether some usage of “ego” precedes Freud, or whether it’s a “booboo”. And usually there is no handy forum of other readers to ask.
    On this occasion, I asked. I’m still digesting the answers.
    I am worried now, whether the French Coq is in trouble. And about lots of other things…

  149. Luckily I’ve been unable to listen to the everyday story of country folk for the past 35 years or so, but according to google there’s Squire Aldridge and Squire Killick, amongst others. I do remember a Jennifer Aldridge who was one of the toffs of Ambridge; she may have listened to Vivaldi to relax and had a golden retriever and probably owned a stable. The ‘manor’ in The Archers was the alliterative “Grey Gables”. Grey was the colour of the upper classes; another toff was called Carol Grey, I imagined her in cashmere & pearls.

  150. Luckily I’ve been unable to listen to the everyday story of country folk for the past 35 years or so, but according to google there’s Squire Aldridge and Squire Killick, amongst others. I do remember a Jennifer Aldridge who was one of the toffs of Ambridge; she may have listened to Vivaldi to relax and had a golden retriever and probably owned a stable. The ‘manor’ in The Archers was the alliterative “Grey Gables”. Grey was the colour of the upper classes; another toff was called Carol Grey, I imagined her in cashmere & pearls.

  151. I. B. Singer wrote a novel called “The Manor”. When I read it it seemed anti-Semitic.
    A different Isaac Singer invented the sewing machine. One of the most colorful Americans of his time.

  152. marie-lucie says:

    A different Isaac Singer invented the sewing machine
    As in the case of several other inventions, who invented whatever depends on who is making the claim, since several people were often at work on the same problem and came up with slightly different designs. In France the inventor of the sewing machine was someone called Thimonnier.

  153. Bell beat Edison to register the telephone, but Edison beat Bell in making hello the most popular greeting in the world, arguably. Edison’s operators were trained to greet callers ‘hello’, Bell’s version was ‘ahoy’.
    AJP:
    Thanks for the Archers downdate, I’ve only been listening for about 15 years. Can’t you get them through the BBC site?

  154. marie-lucie says:

    “Villa”: in French, German and Norwegian it’s a normal word for a single-family house on an open site.
    I don’t know about German and Norwegian, but in France most people don’t think of a villa as a place to live in permanently, but as a house in a resort that they can rent for a month or for the summer in order to stay there more cheaply than in an hotel. These villas are not empty during the winter, when most of the owners move back into the house that they had vacated in order to rent it. Most villas have names, some of them sentimental or pretentious. This is not done with the usual townhouses which are contiguous with their neighbours at least on one side.
    “Villa” can also have another meaning, as a sort of small gated neighbourhood (not necessarily upper-class). My grandparents (who moved to Paris from a village in Southern France to work in the postal system) rented a place which suited them very well and where their children grew up: a small house (perhaps it was “semi-detached”) in a complex of perhaps eight or ten very similar houses with tiny gardens along a narrow private street, which was accessed by a huge wooden door from a busy street. Within this little community they could know all the neighbours, and of course the children could safely play in the little street. The complex was called “Villa Jamot”.

  155. With ‘villa’, though I know the usage in German and Norwegian through personal experience, in French I was thinking of le Corbusier’s (for example) Villa Savoye and the Villa Stein at Garches (also known simply as ‘Garches’) in contrast to (say) the Maison(s) Jaoul. ‘Villa’ is used in England too to mean a holiday home on the Mediterranean (particularly in France & Spain, I’d say).

  156. ‘Villa’ is used in England too to mean a holiday home on the Mediterranean (particularly in France & Spain, I’d say).
    yes, and вилла reeks of poshness with a wiff of decadence or mafia, not windswept winter plains and rattling window frames.
    I have a 1970 British edition of Bunin’s collected stories in Russian with the introduction and notes by Peter Henry (Bradda Books), a teaching aid for advanced students. The glossary there suggests country-seat for усадьба, not mentioned here by anyone so far. It doesn’t sound right to me, somehow the physicality of the house is lost?

  157. That’s right.

  158. That’s right.

  159. “Country-seat”, not to be confused with county seat, sounds correct, but rather British, maybe outdated, and doesn’t call to mind any mental picture. Maybe it looks like an “English country house“.

  160. marie-lucie says:

    The “country house” pictured reminds me of some of the “Newport cottages” built in an earlier era by American multimillionaires, some of which are palatial. The word “country-seat” seems strange and abstract, and does not evoke any kind of building.

  161. maxim, not at all “dubious”. That (slight?) inflection of ‘crudity’ is something no- well, few- non-native-speaking translators/readers can hope reasonably to have detected.
    We say (in English) ‘to plant a kiss on [a person or, say, a cheek]‘; is there such an expression in Russian that Bunin could also have been exploiting?

  162. “[N]othing’s going to be a perfect fit, [...] but that’s what translation’s all about[.]”
    Sure, CL — why I would assert frustration and recommend that it be cheerful!

  163. Yes, Isaac Singer had several collaborators / competitors even in the U.S., and his patent lawyer ended up as a full partner in the business. Trivia: Martin Peretz’s wife inherited some of the Singer money via the patent lawyer, and Peretz used that money to fund his magazine.

  164. We say (in English) ‘to plant a kiss on [a person or, say, a cheek]‘; is there such an expression in Russian that Bunin could also have been exploiting?
    My problem here is that, being no linguist, I wouldn’t be able to tell if something is _not_ used or does not exist in modern Russian, much less in Russian of Bunin’s time: I would only be able to attest to having never heard it. The reverse would of course be much easier, and Google could help.
    That being said, the one kiss-planting expression I do know is pretty close to English, and seems to belong to the same type of contexts: “запечатлеть поцелуй”, literally, to “imprint a kiss” – a stiff, archaic expression, now mostly used in jest, and, I suspect, already going out of use in Bunin’s time. Anyway, the verb is very different from the one used by Bunin’s peasant, and I don’t think Bunin would have his peasant playing with words in that situation. Also, the peasant uses a slightly abnormal inflection — “куст жасмину” (Bunin himself would probably say “жасмина”); the man is likely semi-literate or illiterate.
    So, I strongly feel that the phrase about planting the bush “on” the girl should be understood literally, and, as such, would be as naturalistic and creepy in translation as it is in the original. Bunin writes this retrospectively, after the revolution and civil war years (of which he has given a first-hand account in “Cursed Days”), and, I think, is deliberately trying to make his peasant macabre, illogical (“will forget”) and capable of anything; the life around is not just pretty, even not just unexplainable, miraculous, alive, but also full of lurking violence, and this gives an extra dimension to Bunin’s joy in his sudden awakening to the reality of that life.

  165. That’s interesting about IB Singer’s money.
    Sorry, Nij, to always be coming back to this, but ‘country seat’ makes me think of an outhouse.

  166. That’s interesting about IB Singer’s money.
    Sorry, Nij, to always be coming back to this, but ‘country seat’ makes me think of an outhouse.

  167. this gives an extra dimension to Bunin’s joy
    ah, Maxim here moves into my favourite field – interpretation of hidden symbols, a sort of freudian analysis, or what literatti also call ‘reading-in’. I was told recently that too much reading-in isn’t fashionable anymore, but I love it still, if only as a bit intellectual gymnastics.
    In this vein the peasant can be interpreted as Bunin’s new Russia of the Cursed Days, the dead girl as the Russia he had lost and would be forgotten by the New Russian with only a token bush planted on her grave. The disturbing song of the oriole is a warning of worse things to come. And the narrator’s living in the virtual world is the intelligentsia refusing to accept the changing world. How is that?
    Bunin had had a misanthropic view of the world well before the revolution. Antonov Apples, one of his most famous stories, was written in 1900. He fell out with Maxim Gorki over that story which already contained much of what we see in Book. And Village, one of his longest stories, has menacing characters close to how Maxim sees the peasant in Book.
    I’d agree if there weren’t a hint of envy in the narrator’s attitude to him – to his happiness, sheer physicality of contentment with life?

  168. maxim, Sashura: You guys are great! I’ll have to translate more stuff so I can get your interpretations of it.

  169. waytogo!
    (ps: I love the way this interjection’s often pronounced with a South Russian/Ukrainian soft gh)

  170. Robe de chambre says:

    Villas in China (known as 別墅 biéshù) have the meaning that Marie-Lucie gave, “a sort of small gated neighbourhood”. The houses inside are almost always two-storeyed and either free-standing or semi-detached. There are tons of them dotted around the outskirts of Beijing. They are decidedly upper income bracket since plebs can’t afford them. There is one down the street from where I live, with a big fancy sign over the gate (in English): “Dear Villa”.

  171. Sorry, Nij, to always be coming back to this, but ‘country seat’ makes me think of an outhouse.
    “Country seat” doesn’t sound right to me for “outhouse” because all the outhouses I have ever seen had two seats. Don’t know why, because I have never seen two people in there at a time. I know someone who once saw a three-seater tipped over out in a field somewhere and they were quite impressed, so maybe the number of seats has something to do with conspicuous consumption. I have also heard an outhouse called a “privvy”.

  172. ah, Maxim here moves into my favourite field – interpretation of hidden symbols, a sort of freudian analysis, or what literatti also call ‘reading-in’. I was told recently that too much reading-in isn’t fashionable anymore, but I love it still, if only as a bit intellectual gymnastics.
    Well, yes and no. I do agree that symbols are important, all the more so because people look for them: as they say, imaginary things are real in their consequences. However, interpreting literary characters as symbols (“X in the story stands for B in real life”) has always been too far-fetched for my taste: short of authoritative interpretation, we would never know for sure, and would be able to come up with lots of equally plausible ones. I prefer to recognize the possibility of interpretations, or even possibilities of different kinds of interpretations, “symbolic dimensions”, if you will, but stop short of providing a particular one. For me, mystery adds to the fun of it…
    As for the particular story and its possible interpretation as an image of Russia burying its past under ominous sky, to the tune of an oriole’s song: I have my doubts, not in the interpretation itself (it’s quite plausible), but rather in that Bunin would (consciously) introduce symbols where he was trying to show how he was joyfully getting rid of them in favor of crude mysterious reality. Add to that the fact that Bunin was probably writing before Freud knocked on every door (?) or had quite possibly missed that trend, so any symbols we read into his stories would have to be introduced by us, telling about us more than they might be telling about either the story or Bunin himself.
    I’d agree if there weren’t a hint of envy in the narrator’s attitude to him – to his happiness, sheer physicality of contentment with life?
    One doesn’t contradict the other, in my view. Bunin is admiring some traits of the character, tragically missing in himself, but doesn’t lose sight of the fact that the character in question is quite capable of irrational violence.

  173. Maxim, I was being facetious – of course it’s best to take Book as it is, a beautiful, eerie snippet of a bookworm suddenly awoken to real life.
    Bunin was probably writing before Freud knocked
    Freud’s Interpretation of Dreams (Толкование сновидений) was published in Russian in 1900 and became a point of reference during the Russian Silver Age, so Bunin would have known about it.
    “Dear Villa”
    The characters, read in Japanese, would mean ‘detached, independent plot, land’? Funnily, in Russian these are refered to as коттеджи – cottages.

  174. marie-lucie says:

    French “villa” as a small gated community
    The “villa” where my grandparents lived and my mother grew up was definitely not upper-class. They both started as postal workers and my grandmother stayed at home after the birth of her second child, so although they were not poor, they were far from being wealthy.

  175. Maxim, I was being facetious
    … which is all right; and I was being gullible, as usual; it’s not even the first time on this very page :-)
    I stand corrected as regards the probability of Bunin being Freudian.
    But there’s another thing that I wanted to air: LH translates the peasant’s speech as pretty normative English, unless there are things that go below my radar. We know that Bunin’s peasant is talking in a way that is, in any case, very different from the rest of the narrative (slight irregularity of declination, diminutive suffix for books, etc.). Is it possible, and is it worth it, to render such things in translation with something analogous? E.g. “Planted them jasmine bushes on my little girl… Fare well, Sir” (note that the peasant uses “polite” plural “you”, “вы”, and the gentleman, when replying, would probably use singular, “ты”; “Sir” is the only thing I could come up with to render the social distinction). Just an idea: given the time of the story, perhaps the way Kipling’s soldiers talk could give a clue? But we have to go even further back on the English clock to render the social relation of the gentleman and the peasant. This could be a clue to some other hard things in this text: a lot of it is not untranslatable into English, but merely anachronistic for English life of Bunin’s time; the country gentleman and the peasant/farmer from XVIIth century England would be, perhaps, related to each other in the same way that Bunin’s country gentlemen is related to his peasant in late XIXth – early XXth century. On the other hand, the words from the period would be too specific to Britain in the mind of most readers, even those speaking non-British English, and that would ruin any attempt to give the story a Russian colour.
    This raises a lot of questions regarding the anachronisms in translation: are there successful examples of using anachronistic language to render foreign mores and social relations? One example I can think of are Hemingway’s Spaniards (“thou” and all that).

  176. marie-lucie says:

    Maxim raises a very important point. It is very difficult to render social distinctions which are marked in one language but not even part of the culture of the other language (and vice-versa). (I remember a thread here a couple of years ago or so about tu/vous and European equivalents). When dealing with peasant speech, there is also the question of local dialect: rendering the (probably dialectal) speech of a Russian peasant with an English or French dialect (even if just a suggestion of it) raises the question of which dialect to use in the translation, since if it is too specific it will be recognized as such by the readers and sound inappropriate for the Russian context. Using a version from two or three centuries ago when social conditions were more similar in the various countries also risks being too old-fashioned.
    I read Hemingway years ago in French translation, when I was too young to read the work in English, but in French there would be no difficulty in rendering the Spanish pronouns. I can see that Hemingway’s use of “thou” (if that is what he did) would sound hopelessly anachronic to English readers familiar with the pronoun from the Bible, and quaint and countrified to those readers familiar with some rural dialects, instead of quite ordinary as in normal Spanish or French.

  177. Come to think of it, the 别墅 actually refers to the individual dwelling. But they are always found in walled or semi-walled realty developments.

  178. Sashura, I agree that it’s not a girlfriend here, but taking “девочка” and making it “little girl” all he time will be wrong most of the time. That’s all I was trying to say.

  179. LH translates the peasant’s speech as pretty normative English, unless there are things that go below my radar. We know that Bunin’s peasant is talking in a way that is, in any case, very different from the rest of the narrative (slight irregularity of declination, diminutive suffix for books, etc.). Is it possible, and is it worth it, to render such things in translation with something analogous? E.g. “Planted them jasmine bushes on my little girl… Fare well, Sir” [...] On the other hand, the words from the period would be too specific to Britain in the mind of most readers, even those speaking non-British English, and that would ruin any attempt to give the story a Russian colour.
    Yes, I didn’t even try to render that aspect of the peasant’s speech; I suppose I could toss in a “Sir,” but in general any attempt to “translate” dialect forms gives me hives, because 1) the translator is rarely in a position to do it consistently and accurately (certainly I’m not), and 2) in any case the target-language dialect will not have the same effect on the reader, serving mainly a distancing function. Unless there’s some strong, specific reason for trying to carry that feature across (which there isn’t here), I prefer to just translate into standard colloquial English.
    This raises a lot of questions regarding the anachronisms in translation: are there successful examples of using anachronistic language to render foreign mores and social relations? One example I can think of are Hemingway’s Spaniards (“thou” and all that).
    That one is certainly not successful (“risible” is more like it), and in general I think most such attempts are doomed, for reasons similar to those stated above.

  180. in general any attempt to “translate” dialect forms gives me hives
    Well, what I had in mind were not dialect forms, although trying to translate irregularities of speech could lead to that. What I meant was that we deal with a text where two persons are (1) in a relation to each other that is anachronistic for the period in the target language, and, (2) talking in a different manner, one in literate Russian, the other one slightly ungrammatically, with his manner of speech hinting to his social status, not to a particular dialect.
    It must be noted that Bunin shows great taste in showing just a hint of “popular” language in his dialogs; rendering that with a dense dialect would be bad, regardless of what one thinks of the general approach.

  181. Good point, and I wouldn’t be averse to rendering that if I could manage to do it in an appropriate way. It’s just really hard to carry across even colloquial dialogue, let alone the kind of irregularities of speech you’re talking about.

  182. Even when I’m reading a novel in English, if I know the original language enough for it to do me any good I try to read at least some of the dialogue in the original, because you can never trust translators to get the flavor of it.

  183. the Ridger: acknowledged.
    Maxim raises an important point about what’s being lost in translation. I’d rather lose shades of dialect and class accent, than confuse readers of the translation with what does not belong to the original.
    In fact, the question is about where translation stops being translation and becomes original work based on another work in a different language. The famous Russian song Вечерний звон by Kozlov is a translation of Thomas Moore’s Those Evening Bells, but Pushkin’s Golden Cockerel is not a translation of Washington Irving’s Tales of Alhambre. The connection had been lost for a century and only rediscovered after research by Anna Akhmatova.

  184. marie-lucie says:

    where translation stops being translation
    In that case it is better called “adaptation”. This is very common in plays, where the translator cannot add footnotes to explain puns or other untranslatable features, and the director often takes other liberties for the performance (eg Shakespeare or Molière in modern dress, etc).

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