Marchenko and the Superfluous Man.

Having finished Goncharov’s first novel, Обыкновенная история (A Common Story; the “Background” section of that Wikipedia article, telling how the book was delayed for a year by Yazykov’s fecklessness, is worth reading, and the novel itself is excellent — you can see why it made Goncharov’s name), I decided to try Anastasia Marchenko’s 1847 story collection Путевые заметки (“Travel notes,” published under the pseudonym “T. Ch.”). Marchenko (1830-1880) has been thoroughly forgotten; she has no Wikipedia page and is not mentioned in either Mirsky‘s History of Russian Literature or The Cambridge History of Russian Literature. But she has a substantial entry in the invaluable Dictionary of Russian Women Writers, which introduces her as “among the first women fiction writers to portray provincial society and the first to introduce the governess as heroine” and says that Путевые заметки was “exceptionally well received by leading literary critics (Belinskii, Nekrasov, and Druzhinin),” so I thought I’d give it a try, since Google Books makes it available for download.

The first story is Тени прошлого (“Shades of the past”), and it begins by describing a man who is sad (грустный), although everybody thinks he has no right to be, and he himself finds it ridiculous — and yet he can’t stop feeling that way. The next paragraph begins “Какъ будто вокругъ него все лишнее” (‘It was as if everything around him was superfluous’) and describes the writing desk, table, gloves, and so on before concluding “и наконецъ самъ онъ, быть-можетъ, нѣчто лишнее на этомъ свѣтѣ” (‘and finally he himself, perhaps, was something superfluous in this world’). I was excited for a moment, thinking this predated Turgenev’s 1850 “Diary of a Superfluous Man,” which is said to have introduced the term лишний человек ‘superfluous man,’ but then I realized that this story was added for the 1853 expanded edition that Google digitized, so she was presumably picking up on the new meme. Still, an interesting early use.

Totally unrelated, but I have to pass on this delightful etymology I just ran across: the dialectal Russian word колдуны [kolduný] ‘small fried pirozhki with meat filling,’ which looks exactly like the plural of the word колдун ‘sorceror,’ is actually from either Polish kołdun or Middle High German kaldûne (the source of the Polish word), which in turn is from Late Latin caldūna ‘entrails, tripe,’ derived from cal(i)dus ‘hot.’

Comments

  1. Stefan Holm says:

    I’m not particularily fond of the ’instropective’ approach in litterature. So I can’t say that I much enjoy Joyce, O’Neill, Ionescu or my kinsmen August Strindberg and Ingmar Bergman. After all, a husband and a wife sitting on each short end side of a dinner table exchanging innuendoes, is too close to our own everyday life to make any difference.

    But Goncharov’s, and I suppose Marchenko’s (why not Marchenkova?) works reflect the hopelessness felt by a whole class of aristocrats in 19th c. Russia. It is thus of interest to mankind. A writer has to touch something outside of his reader’s everyday experience.

    A story says, that the young Hans Christian Andersen was repeatedly despised by his publisher who finally said: Write something that makes me weep, Andersen! At his next audience he started to read out of his latest manuscript: Langt ude i Havet er Vandet saa blaat, ’ Far out in the ocean the water is as blue…’, i.e. the first line of ‘The Little Mermaid’. The publisher is said to have started to cry after just these initial words…

    Approaching Christmas I myself am certain to cry as a child when anually reading Andersen’s ‘The Little Match Girl’. http://www.andersen.sdu.dk/vaerk/hersholt/TheLittleMatchGirl_e.html Unfortutnely it looks like we’re heading towards a world, where the fate of the poor doesn’t matter. That might on the other hand be the starting point of great litterature – to put it cynically.

  2. portray provincial society

    Are female writers an exception to the “city of N.” rule in Russian literature, or are they also portraying generic provincial society?

  3. JC’s comment reminds me… E.T.A. Hoffman’s story “Das Majorat” begins, “Dem Gestade der Ostsee unfern liegt das Stammschloß der Freiherrlich von R..schen Familie, R..sitten genannt.” Later on R..sitten is said to be in the duchy of Kurland. Now, a small part of the story takes place in a city, apparently about a day’s travel away, referred to only as K. This is so obviously Königsberg that I wonder why Hoffmann used the initial.

  4. Correction — the castle is not in Kurland because the story says that the owners preferred to live “auf ihren Gütern in Kurland” rather than in the mouldering, isolated family seat. Nonetheless, I still think that the city must be Königsberg; choosing not to name it is odd because it doesn’t really add any additional vagueness to the location of the fictitious castle.

  5. why not Marchenkova?

    It’s not a Russian -ov(a) ending but a Ukrainian -enko (indeclinable) ending; in this case, it’s based on the Ukrainian given name Marko.

    Are female writers an exception to the “city of N.” rule in Russian literature, or are they also portraying generic provincial society?

    I don’t know about “female writers,” but Marchenko is apparently an exception (I haven’t gotten far enough to know whether the stories are located in a definite place).

  6. Trond Engen says:

    [T]he dialectal Russian word колдуны [kolduný] ‘small fried pirozhki with meat filling,’ which looks exactly like the plural of the word колдун ‘sorceror,’ is actually from either Polish kołdun or Middle High German kaldûne (the source of the Polish word), which in turn is from Late Latin caldūna ‘entrails, tripe,’ derived from cal(i)dus ‘hot.’

    Could колдун itself be borrowed from (or at least folk-etymologically shaped by) the “entrails” word?

  7. A very acute question! But no, колдун ‘sorceror’ is derived (using the common -ун suffix) from the verb колдовать ‘to practice sorcery,’ originally ‘to cast spells,’ which is related to Lithuanian kalba ‘language,’ Latvian kalada ‘noise,’ and Latin calo ‘call (out), proclaim.’

  8. Trond Engen says:

    Of course! No. galder “magic, spell” <- "magic song, chant". And No. gale, Eng. yell etc.

    No. gal “mad” is back-formed (maybe by way of galning “madman”) from galen “id.”, the past participle of gale, so originally “enchanted”. The Norwegian civil war chieftain Hákonn galinn “Håkon the Crazy” must be the distant ancestor of Janet Yellen.

  9. Trond Engen says:

    Ouch, wrong direction!

  10. You mean Janet Yellen is the distant ancestor of Hákonn the Crazy?

  11. Trond Engen says:

    Ha! No, I grimmed the wrong way, *k > g.

  12. Trond Engen says:

    That’s ingrimminating.

  13. It’s very tempting, seeing the trail back to *calduna*/*cal(i)dus*, to analogise колдуны with *calzone*. But the lexical similarities are only superficial: *calzone* apparently goes back via late Latin *calciones*, stockings/drawers, to Latin *calceus*, shoe/boot.

  14. …which is related to Lithuanian kalba ‘language,’ Latvian kalada ‘noise,’ and Latin calo ‘call (out), proclaim.’

    Latvian kalada ringed a bell and I looked up коляда (also каляда) unofficial Russian and (I guess, especially) Ukrainian Christmas Eve and twelve days of Christmas. But it seems that etymology is not clear and may very well have to do with calendar.

  15. Are female writers an exception to the “city of N.” rule in Russian literature, or are they also portraying generic provincial society?

    I just found a beautiful illustration of the “city of N.” rule in one of her stories, which I have placed in an addendum to that post.

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