First off, Happy New Year! And now, on with our regularly scheduled post, the first in what will doubtless be a series drawn from Kornei Chukovsky‘s Diary, 1901-1969 (see my Xmas post); I’ve just started it, and I’ve already hit a couple of entries I want to share [Russian below the cut]. From February 20, 1909 (Chukovsky’s son Nikolai, or Kolya, is about five, his daughter Lidia, or Lida, about two):

I’m surrounded by Ukrainian books and, oddly enough, as I read them I start thinking in Ukrainian. And what’s even odder, when I’ve been reading all day I dream in Ukrainian. And even odder than that: the Ukrainian verse I knew as a child but have completely and utterly forgotten—pushed into the background by Blok and Bryusov—is surfacing, coming back to me…. And even odder than that: I feel a sort of Ukrainian naïveté, artlessness welling up in me—in my mood, my spirit. So not only does the soul create language; language (in part) creates the soul.
Lida put on Kolya’s brown coat today and refused to take it off, even inside. It’s odd: her language is developing in an entirely different way from Kolya’s. Kolya creates his own words, but retains only a few of them; he increases his vocabulary gradually. Lida can pronounce all words more or less properly and has an enormous vocabulary, but they are not so much words as their shadows. That is because she doesn’t create them; she merely reports what she hears.

And from July 15, 1910:

Went out on a boat with Korolenko. … Here is what he said about Leskov: “When I was a proofreader for Novosti, we heard a rumor that our paper, which had never been subject to censorship, was going to be visited by a censor. I was on my guard. We were running Leskov’s Items from the Diocese. One day an official-looking man came in and said, ‘Let me have a look at Leskov’s Items.’
‘I will not.’
‘And how will you keep me from seeing them?’
‘Simple. I’ll tell the typesetters not to give them to you.’
‘But why?’
‘Because our paper has never submitted to censorship, and censors…’
‘But I’m not a censor. I’m Leskov!’”

Russian original, 1909:

Я обложен хохлацкими книгами, читаю, и странно: начинаю думать по-хохлацки, и еще страннее – мне на хохлацком яз. (как целый день начитаюсь) сны снятся; и еще страннее: те хохлацкие стихи, которые я знал с детства и которые я теперь совсем, совсем забыл, заслонил Блоками и Брюсовыми, теперь выплывают в памяти, вспоминаются, и еду на лыжах и вдруг вспомню Гулака, или Kвiткy, или Кулиша. И еще страннее: в характере моем выступило – в виде настроения, оттенка – какое-то хохлацкое наивничанье, простодушничание и т. д. Вот: не только душа создает язык, но и язык (отчасти) создает душу. Лидочка сегодня надела коричневое Колино пальто и не хотела даже в комнате снять его. Странно, как у нее речь развивается совсем не тем путем, что у Кольки.
Колька создавал свои слова, запоминал только некоторые, расширяя постепенно свой лексикон. Лидочка все во одного слова может выговорить приблизительно, у нее огромный лексикон, – но это не слова, а как бы тени слов. Это потому, что она не творит, а повторяет вслед за другими.


Катался с Короленкою в лодке. Т[атьяна Александровна], Оля (Полякова), Ася и я. О Лескове: “Я был корректором в “Новостях” у Нотовича, как вдруг прошел слух, что в эту бесцензурную газету приглашен будет цензор. Я насторожился. У нас шли “Мелочи Архиерейской Жизни”. Вдруг входит господин чиновничьего виду.
- Позвольте мне просмотреть Лескова “Мелочи”.
- Нет, не дам.
- Но как же вы это сделаете?
- Очень просто. Скажу наборщикам: не выдавать вам оттиска.
- Но почему же?
- Потому что газета у нас бесцензурная, и цензор…
- Но ведь я не цензор, я Лесков!


  1. I feel a sort of Ukrainian naïveté, artlessness welling up in me—in my mood, my spirit.
    Now there’s a 100% artful experience ! A naive person could not feel naiveté welling up in him, by definition.
    It reminds me of the old “rueful” roué who feels a longing for innocence, so gets himself a young girlfriend to “protect”.

  2. That’s what I like about getting old – one has such a wide range of artlessness to choose from.

  3. Happy new year!

  4. Happy New Year to all the Hatters!

  5. Happy New Year, everybody!
    I feel a sort of Ukrainian naïveté, artlessness welling up in me
    Is/was this view of the Ukraine common among Russian intellectuals?

  6. Maybe the Ukraine is like Texas?

  7. ToussianMuso says:

    I know what he’s talking about; I often feel the mood of whatever book I’ve been reading (or even distinctly hear myself thinking in the author’s writing style), as a sort of after-effect. It’s not all that odd, really. But very poetically stated.

  8. I know what he’s talking about; I often feel the mood of whatever book I’ve been reading
    It’s not so much that as it is Proust’s madeleine, since he grew up in Odessa (a Ukrainian city, at least from the geographical point of view).

  9. John Emerson says:

    When Musorgsky had someone in one of his operas sing in Ukrainian, the audience burst out laughing. It was not a comic figure, but in the Russian theater Ukrainian was only used for comic effect, sort of like minstrel show black English.
    Can’t remember which opera, or whether or not Musorgsky rewrote the part.

  10. John,
    thanks for the anecdote, I suspected as much, i.e. something quite similar to the Czech-Slovak, Spanish-Catalan, Finnish-Estonian etc. dynamic.

  11. A very Hatty New Year.

  12. A very Hatty New Year.

  13. Mr A J P Beria recommended this for one of your Russian threads.

  14. Here‘s the direct link to the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain playing “Leaning On A Lamp-Post” by George Formby; it’s doubtless more affecting if you are previously acquainted with either Formby or the song, but it’s quite lively regardless.

  15. Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain playing
    … and even greater them playing the European anthem at the BBC proms – with hundreds strumming along in the audience.
    I feel a sort of Ukrainian
    me too, I have Ukraininan roots,even though, like most Russians, I can’t help giggling at the мова.
    There is a story of a near-mutiny on a Russian cargo ship, away from home for months. They were about to turn home when the company ordered to pick up and deliver another load which meant a few more weeks at sea. The mutiny was stopped when the zampolit (political officer) discovered a dusted roll of film ‘Lenin in 1918′(often shown on Soviet TV) dubbed in Ukrainian. The crew watched the film again and again until they returned home – each time bursting in laughter.

  16. John Emerson says:

    I’ve read that Gogol dabbled in Ukrainian nationalism before becoming a Russian nationalist. Nationalism was hard for 19th c. Russians, since the imperial oppressor was Russian too.

  17. is there a good tranlsation of Leskov’s “Левша” online? I find his ‘twisted’ pop-words (e.g. студинг – a mix of jellied dish and pudding) practically impossible to translate. Like Dostoyevsky’s облезьяна (which includes two words, monkey and shaggy) which in Garnett’s translation is rendered as simply ‘monkey’.

  18. Nationalism was hard for 19th c. Russians
    not when it’s chauvinism (the word wasn’t hijacked by feminists back then)

  19. oblezlui is shaggy ?
    i thought it’s closer to bald or patchy, baldkey or patchkey, but the syllable should sound close to monkey
    or just patchy bald monkey then
    “studing” could be jelling from jello-pudding?

  20. oblezlui is bald or patchy
    yes, of course, you are right

  21. Nationalism was hard for 19th c. Russians
    And 20th as well. The problem (if it is a problem) is that the Russian Empire, like the Habsburg and the Ottoman, was not founded on nationalism but on a combination of religion and hereditary monarchy—there was not really a concept of “I am a Russian” as distinct from “I am an Orthodox subject of the tsar” (and “I am from village X” was usually more important anyway). There has been much written about this; a book I highly recommend is Geoffrey Hosking‘s Russia: People and Empire, 1552-1917.
    oblezlui is shaggy ?
    No, you’re right, it’s more ‘patchy, mangy.’ It’s from the verb oblezt’, which means ‘to come off/out’ (of fur), ‘to grow bare,’ ‘to peel off’ (of paint).
    Облезьяна is not a Dostoevsky invention (he actually spelled it облизьяна in Униженные и оскорбленные: “фря ты этакая, облизьяна зеленая”; this seems to reflect the verb облизать ‘to lick all over’), it’s a dialect word recorded in sayings like “Вот ведь облезьяна — на колени полезла!” (from the Perm region); “Как была облезьяна, так и осталась” (from the Ob region). There’s a book Эзоп на Руси that includes a fable “О лисице и облезьяне.”

  22. licking monkey or crawling monkey don’t sound as offensive in English as all three words in Russian, rather like cute
    mangy could be combined into mangey or mankey maybe
    i think i’ve read about Levsha on Waggish, and there was a link, but don’t remember whether it was a link to the English translation or original

  23. he actually spelled it облизьяна
    blyme, you are right! I’ve just checked in my tome. I last read it while still in school – and didn’t remember that. The word, practically out of use, was reintroduced into Russian and became very popular again in 1979 with the film about translators ‘The Autumn Marathon’ (Осенний марафон) where the main Russian character is telling off the Danish translator of Dostoyevsky who thinks it is ‘ошибка печати’ (misprint, incorrect in Russian). There is no mention of the novel’s title in the film, so if you Google ‘облезьяна’, you’ll get hundreds of hits with “Осенний марафон”, but none mentioning Униженные и оскорбленные.
    Thanks for the pointer about the two books.
    My question about Leskov stays.

  24. The Wikipedia article links to a Word doc of an English translation; I don’t have time to look at it now, but you might check it out.

  25. oh that was The enchanted wanderer and w/o link

  26. I thought it was interesting to see variations on хохол for “Ukrainian” in the original. Sounds highly pejorative to my non-speсialist, modern ears, but did Chukovsky consciously intend it? At the time, IIRC, there existed more neutral terms like малороссийский…

  27. My guess would be that at the time it was only mildly pejorative, not the clear insult it has become. He obviously felt a strong Ukrainian element in himself.

  28. I don’t see any pejorativeness in Chukovsky’s usage here. It’s used for colour, I think.
    Attitudes to хохол vary wildly and are often very emotional. It seems to me that Ukrainians living among Russians or close to Russia are happy with the word (e.g.East Ukrainians, East meaning to the East of the Dnieper river). They happily tell khokhol jokes, whith the хохол cleverly tricking the Russian, but also with a self-mocking attitude. Think of Irish jokes. The main character in The Ninth Company, a Soviet army seargeant in Afghanistan is called Khokhol by his multiethnic unit and is happy wearing the nickname.
    On the other hand, West Ukrainians (zapadnetsy – западнецы) are more sensitive to the term and often do see it as pejorative.
    The difference seems to stem from that the хохол appeared as a Russian exoethnonym for Ukrainians as a reference to their tradition of shaving beards and heads, leaving moustaches and topknots (khokhol, or chub or oseledets), while Russians were wearing beards. Happy co-existence lead to adoption of the exonym for self-identification (East), strife lead to negative attitudes to the term (West).
    It’s difficult to understand these subtleties if you are outside the ‘soup’ where these emotions brew.

  29. Thanks for that, I had no idea of the complexities.

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