PRISONERS LOST IN TRANSLATION.

A new comment by MAB in the Pevear-Volokhonsky thread from a few months ago brings up Dead Souls, which I am reading in Russian, and reminds me of a gaffe I recently came across in Andrew MacAndrew’s translation, which I keep around as a backup for difficult passages. I’m on Chapter Seven, perhaps my favorite (it starts with a wonderful passage comparing a writer to a voyager, continues with Chichikov’s speculations on the lives of the dead serfs he’s buying up, and ends with a drunken feast and, in a final flourish, a boot-fetishist lieutenant from Ryazan who can’t make himself pull off his boots and go to bed), and in the course of describing the much-loved police chief who gives the feast, Gogol says: Даже все сидельцы обыкновенно в это время, снявши шапки, с удовольствием посматривали друг на друга и как будто бы хотели сказать: «Алексей Иванович хороший человек!» Which is to say, ‘Even the prisoners shop assistants would usually, in those days, taking off their caps, all look at one another with pleasure as if to say “Alexei Ivanovich is a good man!”‘ But MacAndrew has: “And all those around, their heads uncovered, would exchange glances which meant, ‘Yes, our police chief is a good man.’” He evidently mistook сидельцы sidel’tsy, which is on its face a derivative of сидеть sidet’ ‘to sit,’ for a deverbative meaning ‘the guys sitting around’ or the like. He forgot that ‘to sit’ is a long-standing Russian equivalent for ‘to be in prison’; in Russian, the normal way to say someone served a ten-year sentence is “He sat for ten years.” It’s true that sidel’tsy is not much used in that sense any more, but if you’re translating Gogol, it behooves you to seek out historical meanings. Anyway, if anyone has the P-V translation, could you let me know how they render this? It’s in a long paragraph not far from the end of the chapter.
Addendum. Tatyana has convinced me that sidel’tsy in fact means ‘shop assistants’ here; this does not change the fact that MacAndrews blew it, and I’d still be curious how P&V rendered it.

Comments

  1. LH, it saddens me to no end, but I have to tell you: you’re no better than Mr. MacAndrew when it comes to сидельцы (no rotten tomatoes, please)
    Gogol’ talks about merchants here; sidel’tsy are assistant shopkeepers, those who “sit in the shop behind the counter”.

  2. I know it can mean that, but surely the irony of “even the sidel’tsy” suggests the old meaning ‘prisoners’? I welcome correction, as always, but how can you be sure it means ‘merchants’?

  3. Because in this passage he talks about politsmeister having magical effect on “rybnyj ryad” (fish market) etc, and how smoothly he manages to increase his income from merchants, being welcomed by them as a “simple guy” at the same time (examples follow) – even the shop assistants approve of him; shops being the center of town gossip.

  4. Apologies for the long quote:
    …Купцы
    первые его очень любили, именно за то, что не горд; и точно, он крестил у
    них детей, кумился с ними и хоть драл подчас с них сильно, но как-то
    чрезвычайно ловко: и по плечу потреплет, и засмеется, и чаем напоит,
    пообещается и сам прийти поиграть в шашки, расспросит обо всем: как делишки,
    что и как. Если узнает, что детеныш как-нибудь прихворнул, и лекарство
    присоветует, – словом, молодец! Поедет на дрожках, даст порядок, а между тем
    и словцо промолвит тому-другому: “Что, Михеич нужно бы нам с тобою доиграть
    когда-нибудь в горку”. – “Да, Алексей Иванович, – отвечал тот, снимая шапку,
    - нужно бы”. – “Ну, брат, Илья Парамоныч, приходи ко мне поглядеть рысака: в
    обгон с твоим пойдет, да и своего заложи в беговые; попробуем”. Купец,
    который на рысаке был помешан, улыбался на это с особенною, как говорится,
    охотою и, поглаживая бороду, говорил: “Попробуем, Алексей Иванович!” Даже
    все сидельцы обыкновенно в это время, снявши шапки, с удовольствием
    посматривали друг на друга и как будто бы хотели сказать: “Алексей Иванович
    хороший человек!” Словом, он успел приобресть совершенную народность, и
    мнение купцов было такое, что Алексей Иванович “хоть оно и возьмет, но зато
    уж никак тебя не выдаст”.

  5. Tatyana said it better that I would. Dahl has the word under Сидень:
    Сиделец м. -лица ж. лавочник, торгующий в лавке от хозяина, по доверенности купца. Си делец на жалованье и сиделец на отчете; последний получает долю прибылей. Он зазывает, как сиделец. | Сиделец при больном, хожалый, дядька или прислужник. | Стар. один из осажденных в городе, крепости. И невельские сидельцы город сдали, гарнизон. | Донск. казак, отбывший станичную местную повинность, сиденку. Садельщик стар. сиделец лавочный. Жил-де я в Нижнем, в сидельщиках, в лавках. Сиделец стар. заседатель, член, подписывавший запись, акт.
    Modern Russian, of course, uses сиделец as prisoner (former or current).

  6. Michael Farris says:

    Advantage: Tatyana!
    Sit (siedzieć) is also used to mean ‘serve time’ in Polish, as well as to indicate that someone lives somewhere (usually in a foreign country and it seems to have negative connotations then).
    I came across the jailtime meaning first and was taken aback the first time someone told me their elderly aunt ‘siedzi w Niemczech’ (is sitting in Germany) and had a picture of the dear old lady in the klink.

  7. All right, all right… *grumble, mutter*… and here I thought I was so clever. Live and learn.

  8. Advantage: LH!
    [He still has more hats than I do, besides the books I never will].
    Although with the hats I’m doing my best to close the gap.

  9. Jim Tucker says:

    Another thing MacAndrew did not notice – a flag that should have warned him – is the Даже все here: it suggests that the narrator is surprised that “even all these” people are doffing their hats – in other words, people of a lower social station. People just sitting around? That would be slightly absurd, and in any case less meaningful in a society where rank is so important. (Just an aside to Tatyana: “to no end” (=”in vain”) is not equivalent to simply “no end” (“endlessly”) – sorry, I would have written you an email but couldn’t find your address. Jim

  10. Oops. Thank you, Jim.

  11. This exchange proabably couldn’t have happened 10 years ago. It seems to have been quite productive and useful, though I can’t be sure sice I don’t read Russian. Advantage: internet.

  12. Advantage: internet.
    Amen!

  13. Michael: in a similar way, сидеть can be used to indicate temporary residence (Миша сидит в Каламазу, у него постдок там — Misha “sits” in Kalamazoo, he’s in a postdoc program there) and office location (Газпромбанк? А где они сидят? — На Раушской набережной — Gazprombank? Where’s their head office? — On Raushskaya embankment). There’s a neologism, офисные сидельцы, those who work in offices (compare офисный планктон).
    Jim: but native speakers do use “to no end” to mean “enormously” or “endlessly”. I understand you consider this usage incorrect.

  14. Alexei is right: the traditional phrase no end ‘exceedingly’ (It pleased me no end) has been replaced by to no end in the usage of many native speakers. It bothers those of us who cling to the old distinction, but it’s not fair to suggest that Tatyana is using English wrongly (= non-natively); she’s merely reflecting the current usage she hears around her. As a matter of fact, I suspect many native speakers would find my sample sentence above somewhat odd, and might even “correct” it to It pleased me to no end.

  15. LH, you’re right, it feels odd if I’m thinking about it modernly. If I switch backwards in time though, like I do when I’m reading primary source material, it’s perfectly normal and makes sense. I guess I never noticed there was a difference, since I only see “no end”=exceedingly in historical documents

  16. Jim Tucker says:

    All right (or is it “alright?”), I won’t prescribe, as it is against my nature anyway. (Note my studious avoidance of the “wr—” word in that first post!)
    Jim T

  17. Uh, so I wasn’t wrong, after all?
    Double thanks, than.

  18. Tatyana:
    “Double thanks, THEN.”
    (Sorry, couldn’t resist.)

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