Pisemsky’s Thousand Souls II.

I’ve finished Alexei Pisemsky’s Тысяча душ [One Thousand Souls] (see this post), so I thought I’d provide a few final thoughts. The novel is in four parts; he started writing it in 1854, under the heavy censorship of that period, and finished it under the much freer conditions that prevailed after the Crimean War. Even so, the fourth and most controversial part was published (in June 1858) only through the forceful intervention of Ivan Goncharov, who was a censor at the time; Pisemsky remained grateful to him all his life. He had originally planned to call the book Умный человек [A clever man], a phrase that occurs several times in it, but changed it to foreground the riches that are the object of Kalinovich’s striving — or rather, the necessary means to his ultimate goal, which is to use his intelligence and energy to help reform his slothful, corrupt country.

In order to achieve that goal, he finds himself taking actions that hurt people he loves, make enemies, and (as he himself says) kill the best part of his soul. He who had wanted to be a writer becomes a cold, callous official — but one who is doing his best to clean out the Augean stable, no matter how many feathers are ruffled in the process. It’s an interesting narrative arc; the problem is that (as usual) the early parts, involving sinning and character interaction, are more engaging than the last bit, when he is trying to put his ideas into practice. Lots of novels (and movies, for that matter) fall off towards the end, and this is nowhere near as dire a falling-off as that in War and Peace (see this 2009 post); I kept reading with undiminished interest until the end, and I warmly recommend the book.

And now for a few random things that struck me. There are a couple of mentions of Nikolai Polevoy, a forgotten hero of the early 19th century who I wrote about here, which gave me pleasure; in fact, in Part III, chap. 5 a chunk of his translation of Hamlet is quoted. In Part III, chap. 4 there’s a reference to a Лёв Николаевич, which is interesting in that it shows there was a pronunciation of the name Лев [Lev] as “Lyov” but it wasn’t standard (or Pisemsky wouldn’t have felt it necessary to mark the ё). There’s a mention of confiscation of Polish estates for private gain that I’m astonished made it past the censor. And the most piquant bit of literary detritus is in in Part II, chap. 8, when Nastenka’s uncle “вдруг проговорил известный риторический пример: «Се тот, кто как и он, ввысь быстро, как птиц царь, порх вверх на Геликон!» Эка чепуха, заключил он.” [suddenly uttered the well-known rhetorical example: “Behold the one who, like him, quickly upward, like the king of birds, flitted up onto Helicon!” What nonsense, he concluded.] It took me a while, but I finally determined that this is a distorted quote of a parody of Count Khvostov published by members of the Arzamas Society, a clashing crunch of short words which originally read in full:

Се Росска Флакка зракъ! Се тотъ, кто какъ и онъ,
Выспрь быстро, какъ птицъ Царь, несъ звукъ на Геликонъ!
Се ликъ одъ, притчъ творца, Музъ чтителя, Свистова,
Кой поле испестрилъ Россійска красна слова!

(Hopefully, you can see it here.) The Soviet annotators of my edition, who scrupulously translated every bit of French (Adieu!, merci, etc.), passed over this in silence.

Comments

  1. I’m struck by this quote in the Wikipedia article on Khvostov: “Here is love that is worthy of a talent. He’s got none, but he’d deserve having it.”

  2. Why, I wonder, we in the 21st century understand 19th century Russia better than Soviet readers in 20th century?

  3. The wonder of Internet?

  4. Man, you folks can find a connection to 19th-century Russian in anything.

  5. Note to MuhmadEmad: Hacking random websites doesn’t help the Kurdish cause at all, to which I guess most people hanging around here are a priori probably quite sympathetic. The inability of even closing tags is especially annoying.

  6. January First-of-May says:

    I’m about 95% sure that nobody actually hacked anything and this was all a joke by the site author. Probably will be fixed soon anyway.

    EDIT: didn’t notice the page title and first four comments. And at first glance I thought SFReader was referring to the 19th century problems in the Caucasus (Chechnya especially). Now I’m only 80% sure it’s a joke, and it’s only that high because I’ve seen a similar joke in another blog a few years earlier (and never seen an actual case of actual hackery that was anywhere near that silly).

    EDIT2: and while I was writing, changed to another hacker. Either it’s a joke, or for some reason this site was selected for some inter-hacker competition. Still silly.

  7. The previous guy is really this obnoxious.

  8. The original text was about 19th century Russian literature, namely about Pisemsky and his novel and first three comments were discussing this post until it got hijacked by middle eastern terrorists.

  9. What is the point, NG689SKW? If you have something to say, say it outright. We’re listening…

  10. speedwell says:

    Yeah, big macho hackers target bookish academic website to prove… OK, I give up.

  11. David Marjanović says:

    What is the point, NG689SKW? If you have something to say, say it outright. We’re listening…

    NG689Skw knows words. He has the best words.

  12. Is LH on WordPress 7.2.2? They made an emergency update this week.

  13. Owlmirror says:

    As I type this, the title and text of the post both say “hacked by NG689Skw”.

    By sheer coincidence, I happened to have the original post, titled “Pisemsky’s Thousand Souls II.”, opened in another tab before I went to sleep, which was also before the hack occurred. I will reproduce it below, in the hopes that anyone wishing to comment on 19th-century Russian literature can do so. When Steve wakes up and sees this (and presumably fixes things), he can delete this (or not), as he sees fit.

    [Cropped now that I’ve restored the post, but thanks very much! –LH]

  14. Moderation speed got really fast under our new Kurdish overlords…

  15. I’m about 95% sure that nobody actually hacked anything and this was all a joke by the site author.

    Nope, that’s not my style of humor. Fortunately I (like Owlmirror) had the original post open on my computer, so I was able to restore it, but this is the worst episode of hacking I’ve had, and I hope my administrator can figure out how to make sure it doesn’t happen again — I’ve dropped him a line.

  16. I hope 15 years of languagehat discussions are archived somewhere.

    It would be a terrible loss to human civilization

  17. I didn’t see the hacked version (and was bewildered by the fifth comment through LH’s), but I suppose that the hackers supposed that this site was supported by Russia in some fashion.

    I feel sad that I can no longer (except as an act of pointless defiance) describe myself by the once honorable title of “hacker”. The definition in the Jargon File looks like a massive irrelevance today, but here it is:

    hacker n. [originally, someone who makes furniture with an axe] 1. A person who enjoys exploring the details of programmable systems and how to stretch their capabilities, as opposed to most users, who prefer to learn only the minimum necessary. 2. One who programs enthusiastically (even obsessively) or who enjoys programming rather than just theorizing about programming. 3. A person capable of appreciating {hack value}. 4. A person who is good at programming quickly. 5. An expert at a particular program, or one who frequently does work using it or on it; as in `a UNIX hacker’. (Definitions 1 through 5 are correlated, and people who fit them congregate.) 6. An expert or enthusiast of any kind. One might be an astronomy hacker, for example. 7. One who enjoys the intellectual challenge of creatively overcoming or circumventing limitations. 8. [deprecated] A malicious meddler who tries to discover sensitive information by poking around. Hence `password hacker’, `network hacker’. The correct term is {cracker}.

    Of course, the “deprecated” and “correct term” in definition 8 are mere political correctness that never had any real effect on usage.

  18. I didn’t see the hacked version (and was bewildered by the fifth comment through LH’s)

    For a while the text of the post was replaced by “hacked by NG689Skw.” Songdog has updated to WP4.7.2, which addresses a XSS vulnerability, and updated various security plugins, and we’ve both changed our passwords.

    I hope 15 years of languagehat discussions are archived somewhere.

    Yes, we’ve got the whole thing archived.

  19. For instance, Hacker’s Delight by Henry Warren, according to Wikipedia…

    …discusses a variety of programming algorithms for common tasks involving integer types, often with the aim of performing the minimum number of operations or replacing slow operations by faster ones (e.g., converting a divide by a constant into a multiply by another constant that gives the same result)

    .
    Which leads straight to life hack, in existence for at least a dozen years.

  20. My favorite parody of Khvostov is this. Footnotes by Pushkin adding to the fun.

  21. Anyone feels up to translating the original epigram?

  22. Yes, hack and to some degree hacking still have the older senses, but not hacker, except perhaps among a few surviving old-geek circles. The old guard dies, and sometimes it surrenders too.

  23. That Jargon File entry is an embarrassment, since it leaves out the decades of development of “hacking” MIT, from which the programming uses originate. Several programming related senses were considered solecisms among MIT students when I was there (1995-2003), although it seemed like that was gradually changing.

  24. Not feeling up to the task myself, I have given it to Google translate. Behold

    Xie Rosskam Flaccus zrak! Ce tot who kak and on,
    Vyspr quickly kak ptits King, nes zvuk on Gelikon!
    Xie lik od, pritch creator Muz chtitelya, Svistova,
    Coy field ispestril Rossіyska red word!

  25. @D.O.: Somehow I’m reminded of Walt Kelly.

  26. David Marjanović says:

    Google Translate just can’t read the pre-reform orthography.

  27. Се Росска Флакка зракъ! Се тотъ, кто какъ и онъ,
    Выспрь быстро, какъ птицъ Царь, несъ звукъ на Геликонъ!
    Се ликъ одъ, притчъ творца, Музъ чтителя, Свистова,
    Кой поле испестрилъ Россійска красна слова!

    Behold the image of the Russian Flaccus! Behold the one who, like him,
    Quickly upward, like the King of birds, carried sound to Helicon!
    Behold the face of the creator of odes, of parables, the honorer of the Muses, Svistov,
    Who made variegated the field of the fair Russian word!

    (Or something like that. I’m not at all sure what “Кой” is doing in that last line, or what the grammar of “Россійска красна слова” is.)

  28. January First-of-May says:

    Here’s my first approximate attempt at the meaning (not really trying to keep to the original’s silly word order)…

    This is the gaze* of the Russian Flaccus! This is the one who, like him,
    Quickly, high*, like the King of birds, carried the sound to Helicon!
    This is the face of the creator of odes and parables, the honorer of Muses, Svistov,
    Who speckled the field of the Russian beautiful word!

    (The two words with asterisks are зрак(ъ) and выспрь, both of which I had to google, because they were unfamiliar to me, and I couldn’t figure them out from the context either.)

    Someone more experienced could probably make some actual (bad) verse out of this 🙂 Presumably “Svistov” is a deliberate nod to Khvostov?

    EDIT: ninja-ed 🙂 Only thing wrong in the translation from the comment above (which is much better than mine) is that “the face of odes, of the creator of parables” should probably indeed be something along the lines of “the face of the creator of odes, parables”.

    EDIT2: incidentally, the ellipsis at the end of a sentence can apparently carry over to the next line by itself (if there’s just barely not enough space). Is this intended behavior, or a bug?

  29. Presumably “Svistov” is a deliberate nod to Khvostov?

    Yup, and some later editions change it to Khvostov.

    Only thing wrong in the translation from the comment above (which is much better than mine) is that “the face of odes, of the creator of parables” should probably indeed be something along the lines of “the face of the creator of odes, parables”.

    You’re absolutely right — I got lost in the sea of inflections! — and I’ve changed mine accordingly; thanks!

  30. Look in the Russian Flaccus’s eye! It’s he, who just like him*,
    Up quickly, like bird’s king, sent sound to Helicon!
    This is a mien of fables, odes creator, Muse reverer** , Svistov
    Who speckled*** wide the field of the Russian fine word!

    __________
    * or maybe “him, who just like he”. If grammar is incorrect it should add to the fun
    ** not quite a word, but there should be one
    *** Thanks January! Unfortunately, scattershot is not a verb.

  31. Nice!

  32. The word “hack” in its admired definitions was at MIT before the narrower computer asociated definitions describing a clever ethical prank that required technological expertise

    https://slice.mit.edu/2015/04/06/happy-birthday-hack/

  33. The orthography is easy to fix for GT’s benefit: remove all final hard signs, change Cyrillic iota to eta (none in this passage), and you’re pretty much done. “Xie” is the result of attempting to convert Cyrillicized Chinese to Pinyin.

  34. I probably should not comment on translating from a language that I don’t understand, but:

    I dislike the abrupt consonants of “Quickly”, and wonder if the more sibilant “Speedily” could be substituted instead.

    “Выспрь быстро” would be pronounced something like “Visper Bistro”, right? It seems to me that the author was trying for some sort of sound harmony between the two words, and thus a more pleasant phrasing would be “Speedily rising”, or better, “Speedily soaring”.

  35. Owlmirror says:

    Or “Swiftly” instead of “Speedily”. Fewer syllables.

  36. @Owlmirror: ““Выспрь быстро” would be pronounced something like “Visper Bistro”, right?”

    No, it should only have two syllables: vyspr’bystro: a sonic disaster. The comic effect of the second and third lines is partly due to the difficulty of reading them aloud. The first and fourth lines are more or less pronounceable Alexandrines while the two inner ones are a train wreck of colliding consonants and impossible spondees and pyrrhics.

    Ideally, the metric scheme should be like this:

    ˘ ¯ ˘ ¯ ˘ ¯ || ˘ ¯ ˘ ¯ ˘ ¯(˘).

    I use “!” for the monstrous consonant clusters in lines 2 and 3:

    ¯ ! ¯ ˘ ˘ ¯ ¯ || ¯ ¯ ˘ ˘ ˘ ¯
    ˘ ¯ ¯ ¯ ! ˘ ¯ || ¯ ¯ ˘ ˘ ˘ ¯ ˘

    Scatological sound/word play begins from line 1, leading smoothly to line 4. Pushkin also used the “climbing the Parnassus/Helicon to defecate” theme in another, better-known jab at Khvostov (in a letter to Vyazemsky):

    …Seldom do I walk up Parnassus,
    And only for a special need.

    But your sophisticated dung
    Pleasantly tickles my nose:
    It reminds [me] of Khvostov,
    The father of toothed doves…

  37. I dislike the abrupt consonants of “Quickly”

    As Alexei K. says, that’s essentially the point of the original — if I could have made it more abrupt and unpleasant, I would have!

  38. This is definitely something that should get a big footnote in a translation.

    I didn’t get even a hint from the translation examples that Khvostov/Svistov was being mocked, or that the whole thing was scatological. He’s being accused of shitting on the Russian language?

    Words that come to mind as being similar to speckled/variegated but with a more obvious negative sense are “mottled” or “blotched”.

  39. Oh, I like “mottled” — that’s much better than my hasty choice.

  40. David Marjanović says:

    Oh, I get it: the first three letters?

  41. Apparently the Svistov verse was inspired by Boileau’s “Chapelain décoiffé”, which is a touch scatological?

  42. The scatological meaning comes simply from the fact that relieving yourself is what people do in the open field. I guess, it’s a bit of an in-group joke. Pushkin has a very nice verse with comparison of poetry and defecation, of which Alexei K. has already quoted the last (related to Khvostov) part. Here’s the whole thing.

  43. I could be wrong about the excretory references, but I think the last line speaks for itself and the barrage of k’s suggests intestinal trouble. Also, зрак and выспрь with быстро sound like not so subtle hints.

    Музъ чтителя comes out rather close to мучителя so we get “tormentor” instead of “honorer of the Muses.”

    Overall, this stanza is a carefully constructed example of how not to write poetry, fit for a textbook.

    @Dmitry Pruss aka MOCKBA:

    Apparently the Svistov verse was inspired by Boileau’s “Chapelain décoiffé”, which is a touch scatological?

    Mikhail A. Dmitriev, the nephew of the poet Ivan I. Dmitriev, claims that the prototype was a four-line poem by Boileau parodying a long poem by Chapelain. Boileau writes of Chapelain’s attempt to follow in Virgil’s steps up Parnassus in Satire IV, which is anything but a four-liner.

    BTW, Pushkin and his friends didn’t think much of Mikhail Dmitriev’s poetry (in contrast to his uncle’s): they nicknamed the nephew Lzhedmitriev.

  44. Ha! They were a funny crew; it would have been interesting to have been a fly on the wall while they drank and improvised.

  45. the prototype was a four-line poem by Boileau parodying a long poem by Chapelain.

    Chapelain was really affended in this XVII c. case. The opening lines of Chapelain’s lament looks like a possible inspiration:

    Ô rage ! ô désespoir: ô perruque ma mie !…

    But it’s a much longer parody play, and the Chapelain character is fuming about his tournament loss to a very lame poet, instead of accepting poisoned praise

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