Crevez, chiens!

I’m on Chapter 3 of Part 3 of Crime and Punishment; Raskolnikov is explaining to his mother that he has given away twenty-five rubles that she and his sister had sent him, because he had encountered a family so poverty-stricken they would have had nothing to eat and would have been thrown out on the street if he hadn’t helped them. He admits that he had no right to squander the money they had scraped together with such effort, and ends his little speech by saying that you shouldn’t help people unless you have a right to — otherwise “Crevez, chiens, si vous n’êtes pas contents!”

Of the two translations I have, Sidney Monas simply repeats the French, while Pevear and Volokhonsky provide a translation in a footnote: “Drop dead, dogs, if you don’t like it!” (My Soviet edition also provides nothing but a translation.) They do not, however, appear to be aware that it is a quote from an extremely famous novel. Google Books tells me that Sarah J. Young’s translation identifies it as such (“A near quotation from Victor Hugo’s novel Les Misérables“), but says no more. Only Oliver Ready’s version (praised highly by Boris Dralyuk; see this LH post) gives important context in its footnote:

Crevez, chiens, si vous n’étes pas contents!: “Drop dead, dogs, if you aren’t satisfied!” (French): an almost exact quotation from Victor Hugo’s novel Les Misérables, which Dostoyevsky read on its appearance in 1862. See Book Eight, Chapter Four (“A Rose in Misery’), in which the young student, Marius, receives a visit from the young and appallingly emaciated daughter of his neighbour Jondrette. In the course of their conversation, she tells him: ‘Do you know what it will mean if we get a breakfast today? It will mean that we shall have had our breakfast of the day before yesterday, our breakfast of yesterday, our dinner of to-day, and all that at once, and this morning. Come! Parbleu! if you are not satisfied, dogs, burst!’ (trans. Isabel Hapgood).

But even this omits the vital fact of what follows when Marius realizes how much worse off than he the Jondrettes are:

By dint of searching and ransacking his pockets, Marius had finally collected five francs sixteen sous. This was all he owned in the world for the moment. “At all events,” he thought, “there is my dinner for to-day, and to-morrow we will see.” He kept the sixteen sous, and handed the five francs to the young girl.

This is, of course, an exact parallel to what Raskolnikov has done, and I provide it here for the benefit of readers of the novel, which (I am realizing all over again) is damn good.

I can’t resist pointing out that the egregious P&V, in an earlier footnote, refer to G. H. Lewes’s The Physiology of Common Life as “The Physiology of Everyday Life.” No cookies for you!


  1. marie-lucie says:

    Crevez, chiens, : Drop dead! vs Burst!

    The verb crever does mean literally ‘to burst’ (transitive or intransitive), but it is also a slang word meaning ‘to die’. In this context it it is equivalent to ‘to drop dead’ or a slang word of similar meaning.

    For chiens here I probably would use you dogs rather than just dogs.

  2. I was hoping you’d weigh in on the French! I agree that the hapless Hapgood’s “burst” is entirely wrong in this context.

  3. “The Physiology of Everyday Life.”

    Perhaps contamination from Freud’s The Psychopathology of Everyday Life.

  4. “The Physiology of Everyday Life.”

    What an odd error. In context, the Russian just says “Физиологию” Льюиса, so presumably they looked up the full title…and then managed to get it wrong. I suppose they must have looked at the Russian title, Физиология обыденной жизни, and not bothered to cross-check the English.

  5. Yup, that seems plausible.

  6. Crevez… is suggestive in context of the idiom crever de faim = “to starve” (fig.). Apparently as old at least as Montesquieu, it’s cited in Littré, so would have been known to Hugo, presumably.

  7. It’s perfectly normal French and I presume was in Hugo’s day, so no need for him to look it up.

  8. marie-lucie says:

    D-AW: crever de faim = “to starve” (fig.).

    As I wrote before, crever is a slang word for “die”. You can die from various causes, one of them being la faim, ‘hunger’. Crever de faim is slang for ‘die of hunger’. Same meaning as starve, different register.

    The TLFI gives other idioms using the verb, from various periods. Earliest attestations of crever = mourir ‘to die’ go back to the 12th century. So yes, Montesquieu, Littré and Victor Hugo definitely knew the word, although they might not have used it in their writings.

    But Hugo wrote J’ai mis un bonnet rouge au vieux dictionnaire, ‘I gave the old dictionary a red cap‘ to boast of using slang and proletarian words and phrases used by the sans-culottes (who wore red “Phrygian caps” during the Revolution) but banished from traditional dictionaries and usually avoided by serious writers.

  9. Vadim Penzin says:

    In the Russian language there is the idiom «Чтоб ты лопнул!», the most often-quoted literary use of it is in the poem «Утопленник» (The Drowned Man) by Pushkin:

    И мужик окно захлопнул:
    Гостя голого узнав,
    Так и обмер: «Чтоб ты лопнул!»
    Прошептал он, задрожав.

    Rather than a death wish, «чтоб ты лопнул!» (literally “let you be burst!”) is an expression of utter disappointment with someone, a sincere desire for that person to disappear at once and forever of one’s sight in a magical way. In colloquial speech, it is sometimes reduced simply to the exclamation «Лопни!» (“You, burst!”).

    There also are similar idiomatic expressions with that verb: one might «лопнуть от зависти» (“burst of envy”) or «лопнуть от злости» (“burst of anger”). I cannot tell definitely whether reference to one’s death is made in those, it is but a statement of an extreme emotional overflow, one that is beyond human ability of containment (in the view of the speaker, of course).

    Old (pre-Soviet) publications, assuming an educated reader, rarely provided translations of phrases that the author of a Russian text originally stated in a foreign language. It seems that guessing of what exactly crossed Dostoyevsky’s mind in this case is better be left to the reader; there is room for interpretation.

  10. @marie-lucie yes, that’s all very obvious. @LH No need for him to look it up, obvs. Or for us, unless we want to confirm that it was indeed around in Hugo’s day. My suggestion was it might be coloring his “crevez, chiens,” so that behind the surface translation “die, dogs” might be the more context-specific implication “starve, bitches”.

  11. Trond Engen says:

    I would think the slang use is older than French itself. Krepere has pretty much the same connotations in Norwegian.

  12. German krepieren also is a colloquial word for “to die”, with a deprecative note.

  13. marie-lucie says:

    D-AW: My suggestion was it might be coloring his “crevez, chiens,” so that behind the surface translation “die, dogs” might be the more context-specific implication “starve, bitches”.

    Given that this is spoken by a person explaining that she does not get to eat every day, the implication is pretty obvious. She does not need to specify “Crevez de faim!”.

    dogs/bitches : I think I am aware of the general stylistic difference between these two words, but I get the impression that bitches (in the plural) is acquiring a specific meaning which I don’t quite get yet.

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