Turgenev’s Virgin Soil.

I’ve finally finished Turgenev’s last novel, Новь [Virgin Soil] — I almost gave up after Part I, but then I reflected that Part II was a bit shorter and would only take me a few days — and I’m afraid my response will seem repetitive to those of you who read my previous complaints about Smoke and Torrents of Spring, but there’s nothing I can do about it: it’s Turgenev who got sloppy and predictable, and I’m merely reporting on it. Once again we have the love triangle (virginal revolutionary Marianna is loved by both grim revolutionary Markelov and calm revolutionary Solomin, and aspirationally loved by aspirationally revolutionary Nezhdanov), but now politics comes to the fore: Turgenev takes whacks at silly young radicals who want to “go to the people” without having the faintest conception of what the hell they’re doing, and at bien-pensant aristos who are happy to help out radicals unless it looks like they might cause trouble, and at reactionaries who get upset if you don’t call aristos “Your Excellence,” and at governors and cops and, well, everyone he can think of. The problem (aside from the fact that political novels are inherently boring to me) is that Turgenev had been living outside the country for many years by the mid-1870s, and had no more idea of what young radicals were like than those radicals did of the peasants they wanted to enlighten, and reaction was uniformly negative. The ever-quotable Prince Mirsky wrote: “Virgin Soil is a complete failure, and was immediately recognized as such. Though it contains much that is in the best manner of Turgénev . . . the whole novel is disqualified by an entirely uninformed and necessarily false conception of what he was writing about. His presentation of the revolutionaries of the seventies is like an account of a foreign country by one who had never seen it.”

There are, of course, interesting and amusing things in the novel; I laughed when Turgenev proudly inserted into the text what he took to be the English word shakehands (meaning “handshake”) [N.b.: It turns out that this was perfectly good English in the 19th century; see comment thread below] and shuddered at the accurate premonition when Markelov, frustrated at the pigheadedness and ignorance of the peasants who had turned him over to the authorities, thought to himself that if he got another chance he would use the пуля в лоб [‘bullet to the forehead’] rather than pointless propaganda, and there are reflections on the overuse of French and on switching from polite to intimate pronouns and back. I liked it when one of the characters quoted Gogol (“Редко; но бывают” — “Rarely, but they happen”) and was shocked, shocked I tell you, when Turgenev abbreviated an unprintable (at the time) curse word (“треклятое счастье всех незаконнорожденных детей, всех в[ыблядков]!” ‘the thrice-damned luck of all illegitimate children, all b[astards]!’). But mainly I was depressed by the musty devices, the antiquated storytelling, in an age when the art of the novel was being advanced practically every year by Tolstoy and Dostoevsky.

As the novel goes on, there are more and more idiotic intrusions like “It is unknown what she said to him” and “He knew it was the time to set a limit, to stop it! And he set a limit, he stopped it!” and “answered the dear Epicurean”; there are frequent double exclamation marks, and I could have sworn there was a triple but can’t find it. Perhaps the most egregious idiocy is the final chapter, in which two minor characters randomly meet in Petersburg and have a pointless conversation; the woman at first says “Io sono contessa Rocca di Santo-Fiume!” and then explains that she’s been traveling all over Russia with a passport in that name “even though she didn’t understand a word of Italian and had a very Russian face.” This was mocked by critics, and Turgenev apologized to a correspondent for it: “As to Mashurina’s Italian passport, you are absolutely right; it was a piece of shalost’ on my part which had no place in a serious work.” That could be said about a number of elements, like the hunchbacked sister named Snandulia and the aged couple named Fomushka and Fimushka. I can only think that Turgenev simply didn’t care about literature any more, but when he felt the need to comment on current events he wrote a novel because that was his trade. I’m glad he didn’t give it another go after that.

Comments

  1. SFReader says:

    Reminds me that quote about Soviet spy Gordon Lonsdale (actual name Konon Trofimovich Molody):

    Lonsdale …. had black hair, was bony, his eyes slightly slanted: without doubt ancestors of Konon Molody were assaulted six hundred years ago by the Mongol-Tatar horde. His glance sharp, ironic, lively. However, in case of need, Lonsdale knew how to put a mask of impenetrability on his face in a classic oriental manner, and then the common expression often used by detective authors was quite appropriate: “Not a single muscle flinched on his face.” I cannot say that Lonsdale was imperceptible in the crowd, which we are used to believe is almost the main quality of a real spy: it depends on the crowd! In a crowd of Kazan Tatars, perhaps he would have been imperceptible, but in a company of respectable British businessmen, sorry, I would notice him first.

  2. Stu Clayton says:

    I heard and read “shakehands” a few times decades ago in Germany. It was up there with “last not least” and other English goods slightly damaged in transport. Duden even now has a das Shakehands entry. One says Shakehands machen.

  3. Stu Clayton says:

    The simple standard sich die Hand geben is not good enough. That’s what people actually do here – just clasp hands briefly, not pump them up and down.

    Some Germans apparently like the idea of vigorously shaking hands, like a real American booster neighbor. Sez George Babbitt:

    # “It may be true that New York, Chicago, and Philadelphia will continue to keep ahead of us in size. But aside from these three cities, which are notoriously so overgrown that no decent white man, nobody who loves his wife and kiddies and God’s good out-o’-doors and likes to shake the hand of his neighbor in greeting would want to live in them …” #

    For a few years now, it’s been fashionable for German men to clasp each other enthusiastically around the shoulders – but of course they keep their bodies far apart, so that you could drive a train through. I call it the chastity choo-choo.

  4. “A shake hands” is good Irish English, as Wiktionary attests. As children, my siblings and I were offered “a special shake hands” by my father as a jocular prize when nothing more substantive was available.

    I think the space in “shake hands” is necessary to indicate the iambic pronunciation; “shakehands” could only be a trochee. A hyphen could swing either way.

  5. Stu Clayton says:

    @mollymooly: as a jocular prize when nothing more substantive was available

    The German for that is ein feuchter Händedruck, “a damp hand [to press]”.

  6. PlasticPaddy says:

    Shakehands is interesting. If from Irish I would say origin is gréim láimhe (lit. clasp of hand) rather than croitheadh lámh/láimhe (lit. shaking hand /of hand)

  7. Shake hands in a German Schlager from 1964 (Warning: German Schlager can cause ear bleeding, nausea, and seizures of the musical taste lobes.)
    Addendum: The song is from 1964, the performance in the video is much more recent, but by the original artist.

  8. Stu Clayton says:

    OMG, Drafi Deutscher. Please take Hansens warnings seriously.

  9. I heard and read “shakehands” a few times decades ago in Germany. It was up there with “last not least” and other English goods slightly damaged in transport. Duden even now has a das Shakehands entry. One says Shakehands machen.

    Thanks very much! That explains where Turgenev got it; he had spent a lot of time in Germany, and was mocked by Dostoevsky and others for his love of German culture.

  10. AJP Crown says:

    He may have been trivialising his own writing, silly man, but it led me to google contessa Rocca di Santo-Fiume (Fortress of the Holy River?), which brought me to this place in Serbia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Golubac_Fortress. ‘Santo Fiume’ itself has become the name of a depressing, messy-looking power station in northern Sardinia.

    As for the hunchbacked sister named Snandulia, what a great name! I’m assuming it’s Snan-DEW-lia and not snandu-LIA, (and leading to the shortening Snandy, but you can’t have everything). If I have another daughter, Snandulia will be her name.

    I recently came across undamaged “last but not least” in a translation into English by a Danish professional translator. I struck it out and even the Norwegians knew it was a cliché (this was in a PhD thesis).

  11. “Shake-hand” is French too. It’s everywhere!: https://fr.wiktionary.org/wiki/shake-hand

  12. Stu Clayton says:

    That explains where Turgenev got it

    Well, it was not *that* many decades ago when I heard it.

    Karl May created the figure of “Old Shatterhand” for his Westerns towards the end of the 19C. There’s so often I find slightly off-the-mark in familiar “translations” between English and German in both directions (we don’t even have to go as far as Heidegger to find them). I haven’t read May’s novels or seen the films, but I always took “shatterhand” to mean “shattered hand”. According to the WiPe article, however, this is to be understood in German as alte Schmetterhand, meaning “smashing hand, hand that smashes”.

    Maybe such a Germanic take on English accounts for “shakehands”.

  13. “Shake-hand” is French too.

    Ah, so we’ll never know whether he picked it up from the French or the Germans! At least we can deduce he didn’t hang out with many Englishpersons…

  14. Lars (original, he/him/his) says:

    Sidst men ikke mindst is totally normal in Danish, I wouldn’t use it in conversation but you could probably find it in the opinion pages of the morning papers or a popular science magazine. Yes, it’s a cliche in the sense of a fixed well-known phrase, but it’s also nicely compositional and declares the importance of the following statement in a way that’s hard to replace, so it’s not always useless filler.

  15. Stu Clayton says:

    Doug beat me to it, I was about to search in French texts. But get this, from his link:

    # Le mot peut être considéré, a priori comme un anglicisme, du verbe “to shake” et du nom “hand”. L’étymologie fait débat entre d’éminents linguistes, qui sont partagés, comme l’indique un article de la revue « Le Français moderne », vol. 59, Éditions d’Artrey, 1991, p. 149 : « On s’étonne, par exemple, que Claude Hagège accepte sans critique la notion populaire que shake-hand est à qualifier d’inversion de l’anglais handshake alors qu’en réalité shake-hand est attesté en français en 1790 bien avant la première attestation en anglais de handshak (1873), ce dernier d’ailleurs, se trouvant précédée en anglais de shake-hand (1811) #

    Maybe the French invented French fries too !

  16. Stu Clayton says:

    The problem is that “last not least” is missing the “but”. The perfectly normal way to say that in preeningless German is zu guter Letzt.

  17. Lars (the original one) says:

    Yes, but I was reacting to AJPC removing a Dane’s “last but not least” with prejudice at 9:42.

  18. Stu Clayton says:

    Ah, Crown added that last paragraph after I had read his comment the first time. I can just see the flourish with which he removes things with prejudice.

  19. shake-hand est attesté en français en 1790 bien avant la première attestation en anglais de handshak (1873), ce dernier d’ailleurs, se trouvant précédée en anglais de shake-hand (1811)

    Great heavens! The 3rd edition OED antedates handshake to 1802 (Monthly Mag. Jan. 589/1 Ministers may easily be found, who would intercept the agreed handshake of reconciliation, and once more clench the fist of denial), but that’s still slightly later than shake-hands (1800 F. Burney Let. 18 July IV. 436 William will be much pleased by a private congratulatory shake hands from you in his own Apartment), and the latter was still in use as late as 1889 (D. C. Murray & H. Murray Dangerous Catspaw 33 He..executed a hearty shake-hands)! My apologies to the shade of Turgenev, whom I have carelessly maligned.

  20. As for the hunchbacked sister named Snandulia, what a great name! I’m assuming it’s Snan-DEW-lia and not snandu-LIA, (and leading to the shortening Snandy, but you can’t have everything).

    It is a great name, and it is Snan-DEW-lia; her full name is Снандулия Самсоновна Паклина (Snandulia Samsonovna Paklina), and her brother calls her Снапочка (Snapochka), “Snappy” as it were.

  21. AJP Crown says:

    Sorry about that, Stu!

    Original Lars, I see your point. And now take a look at this Norwegian Broadcasting piece that we find hilarious. Unfortunately it’s very hard to translate into English. It’s made-up Danish along the lines of Kamelåse. I wonder if Trond read it.

    https://www.nrk.no/satiriks/pappa-pa-ferie-i-danmark-klarer-ikke-slutte-a-snakke-tulledansk-1.14612073

  22. ktschwarz says:

    “Shake-hands” is a cutthroat compound! Like most cutthroats, it’s obsolete now, but unlike almost all of them, it’s an action rather than a person, adjective, tool, game, food/drink, or animal/plant. And yes, Encyclopedia Briannica has it: it’s one of the ones sifted out of the OED by D-AW.

  23. Excellent find!

  24. AJP Crown says:

    ‘Snappy’ is good!

  25. SFReader says:

    Snapochka is indeed a Russian dimunitive meaning Snappy.

    It’s of English origin, of course, known in 19th century Russian as a dog or horse name.

  26. John Cowan says:

    I asked Google Books for instances of “shake-hands” before 1800, but their coverage of the 17C is sparse and of course they can’t distinguish it from “shake hands”, verb with generic object. All ~15 hits are of the latter type. It is clear, though, that the phrase is old and common enough to already be used metaphorically: England and Ireland are told to shake hands ‘become friends’, for example, and Mark Antony shakes hands ‘says goodbye’ to Fortune in Shakespeare.

    However, several of the hits are dictionaries, and we see from German einander die Hände geben ‘greet or part’ (1784), Dutch de hand geeven ‘greet or part’) and van iemand afscheid neemen ‘say goodbye’ (1789), French toucher à la main, se donner la main l’un à l’autre par amitié ‘greet or part’ and quitter quelqu’un ‘say goodbye’ (1768), and Danish at tage i hand, give hverandre haand ‘greet or part’ (1754) that the borrowing has not yet spread past English. (Another dictionary, Blackguardiana (1793) tells us that the late 17C cant for shake hands was famgrasp, where fam- presumably means ‘familiar’.)

  27. Famgrasp! Good lord, what strange jetsam English provides!

  28. Ah, OED says it’s short for famble ‘hand’:

    Also in combinations as fam-grasp v. (intransitive and transitive) to shake hands, make up a difference (with). fam-snatcher n.
    1692 Coles’s Eng. Dict. (new ed.) Fam-grasp, agree with.
    1699 B. E. New Dict. Canting Crew Famgrasp, to agree.
    1789 G. Parker Life’s Painter xv. 180 Fam. A gold ring.
    1819 J. H. Vaux New Vocab. Flash Lang. in Memoirs II. 172 Fam, the hand.
    1819 T. Moore Tom Crib’s Memorial to Congress 28 Delicate fams which have merely Been handling the sceptre.
    1828 P. Egan Finish to Life in London (1871) xiv. 309 To Jerry Hawthorn, Esq., I resign my fam-snatchers—i.e. my gloves.

  29. “A friendly shake hands”, from 1662.

    Several examples of “a/the shake hands” from the 1700s, too.

  30. “A friendly shake-hands”, from 1662.

    Nope, that’s the verb (with adverbial friendly): “…to such as friendly shake hands with him.”

  31. Bulwer Lytton (Paul Clifford, 1874) has “I hopes as how […] you vill […] go home to the Mug, and fam grasp the old mort, for she has not been like the same cretur ever since you vent.”

  32. Apparently on 31 July 1790 at a conference in the New York Tammany Society in the runup to the Creek treaty:

    Thomas Jefferson was present, smoked the calumet of peace, and joined in the “shake-hands” conducted in the Indian manner (New-York Journal, 3 and 10 Aug. 1790; Daily Advertiser, 4 Aug. 1790; see note,TJ to Knox, 12 Aug. 1790).

    Happy 4th of July

  33. Thanks! (Italics added from Google Books view.)

  34. AJP Cornwallis of Yorktown says:

    “Our army manned the air, it rammed the ramparts, it took over the airports, it did everything it had to do…”

    Poor soul, he never learnt to read aloud.

  35. Lars (the original one) says:

    tulledansk — it’s hard to be 14. I praise my lucky stars that I’m in Copenhagen where Norwegian dad jokes are diluted by Swedes and Germans (and Americans and Japanese and Chinese). Who generally know better than to try to speak Danish.

    Small towns near Frederikshavn (where the Oslo ferry comes in) might have a harder time of it, but hopefully not enough to impact the homicide statistics.

    (Of course the same applies in the opposite direction; Norwegian is intrinsically funny to Danes because of the intonation, much more so than Swedish, and there are probably some false friends that make for stupid jokes as well. The ones I remember off-hand are constructed ones, though, not real Norwegian).

  36. AJP Crown says:

    Imitation is the greatest form of flattery, Lars.

  37. AJP Crown says:

    Sincerest form, I think I meant. Others may be greater in the Trumpian sense.

  38. Jen in Edinburgh says:

    Surely everyone knows better than to try to speak Danish. Even the Danes…

  39. Lars (the original one) says:

    Oh, no, we speak it all the time. The question is whether we are trying to be understood or just letting out noise, but that is not really different from any other society – it’s just that doing the obfuscation at the phonological instead of the semantic level imparts a useful irrefutability.

    BTW, I never realized that springende punkt in Danish was a calque of ‘salient point’ or rather punctum saliens, probably through German.

  40. AJP Crown says:

    Danish is very similar to my ear to what I heard as a child in Norfolk, just as the German of Hamburg reminds me of Yorkshire English. For this reason – and even though I can’t understand much – I feel more familiar with Danish than I do with Norwegian which just sounds ‘foreign’ to me.

  41. Stu Clayton says:

    Der springende Punkt. Springen is here not “jump”, but “go/issue forth” or “project/jut”. A balcony is a vorspringendes Gebäudeteil, a traditional crossword puzzle clue for “balcony”. A Springbrunnen is a fountain.

    The film title A River Runs Through It was translated (for once non-stupidly) as Aus der Mitte entspringt ein Fluß.

  42. Jen in Edinburgh says:

    Original Lars: LOL 🙂

    AJPC: I remember sitting half asleep on the ferry from Stromness back to Scrabster, convinced when shut my eyes and tuned out that everyone around me was speaking Norwegian, although when I opened them again and listened it was definitely English. It was an odd experience – something about the rhythms was perfectly deceptive.

    Stu: I’m not sure I’ve ever consciously connected a salient point with e.g. the Ypres Salient, which I did know stuck out. Thank you!

  43. Lars (the original one) says:

    Yes. E spring. Da fremspring, springvand.

    But according to Etymonline, also a reference to the fetal heart that seems to be ‘jumping’.

  44. SFReader says:

    Danish also sounds like an English dialect, particularly unintelligible one.

  45. Stu Clayton says:

    Duden tells me that the original meaning was that of OHG springan: leap up, break through,

    # related to the verb underlying Spur [“trace/track”] with the meaning “tread/kick [out], flap about [like a fish out of water], jerk”. #

  46. AJP Crown says:

    Jen: ferry from Stromness back to Scrabster

    Thanks, that’s useful info. I may take a trek around the isles someday to locate a Norwegian vibe.

  47. PlasticPaddy says:

    @stu
    The g in spring is a problem: in fact Wiktionary traces spring to sperg+laryngeal and spoor/Spur to a (perhaps related?) sper+laryngeal.

  48. Lars (the original one) says:

    Also Scandinavian sparke/sparka = ‘kick’. (No relation to the English word).

    Also also Da spore = ‘spur (for kicking horses)’ (and later figurative uses, different in the two languages).

    Which Etymonline links to E spurn and a putative *spere-, probably from a pre-laryngeal OED entry.

    E spire seems to be unrelated, with the -r- not part of the PIE root. E sprout is another *sper-, though.

  49. David Marjanović says:

    The perfectly normal way to say that in preeningless German is zu guter Letzt.

    Not at all. Zu guter Letzt accompanies an explanation of how everything turned out well in the end. Last but not least (I’ve probably heard it without but, but I’m not sure) means that something important is mentioned last for effect.

    The film title A River Runs Through It was translated (for once non-stupidly) as Aus der Mitte entspringt ein Fluß.

    But that means the river only runs through half of it, because its source is in the middle.

    – it’s just that doing the obfuscation at the phonological instead of the semantic level imparts a useful irrefutability.

    *lightbulb moment*

  50. John Cowan says:

    Aus der Mitte entspringt ein Fluß.

    I’d back-translate that as A River Rises In It.

    (Hat: Would you really change that title to A River Runs Through it on the rule of decapitalizing short function words? Looks bizarre to me.)

    Last but not least (I’ve probably heard it without but, but I’m not sure) means that something important is mentioned last for effect.

    “Other than the recently mentioned Siebs, there are Stang and neither last nor least Rix.” —Tetrasyllabic David

  51. Hat: Would you really change that title to A River Runs Through it on the rule of decapitalizing short function words? Looks bizarre to me.

    Nope, “It” is always capitalized.

  52. Some style guides would keep “through” lowercase, though.

  53. Trond Engen says:

    AJP: I wonder if Trond read it.

    Lars 1.0: Small towns near Frederikshavn (where the Oslo ferry comes in) might have a harder time of it, but hopefully not enough to impact the homicide statistics.

    Thanks. I’ve been away for a week, but I’ve read it now. To the point. It’s not really about Danish at all but about how Norwegian( dad)s thinks it’s funny to speak tulledansk in front of the Danish. The article could have been followed up by pieces on the mental health effects on teenagers and on devastated local communities in Jutland.

    There’s a separated-by-a-common-language situation between Norwegian and both Swedish and Danish. All Swedes visiting Oslo have to take a selfie in front of the Nynorsk publishing house “Det norske samlaget”, which reads like “the Norwegian coitus” in Swedish, Some of the more striking Danish/Norwegian examples are mentioned in the article: Da. højtrykspuling “(high) pressure washing” reads like “high pressure fucking”. Da. kuk i maskineriet “engine trouble” reads like “cock in the machinery”, No. bolle n. “bun” vs, Da. bolle v. “fuck”.

  54. David Marjanović says:

    neither last nor least Rix

    He was chronologically the last of my examples, but there have been more since him, and yet more are yet to come!

  55. Lars (the original one) says:

    Højtrykspuling works internally to Danish as well, though pule is mostly found in røvpule ‘pædicare.’ Some might want to add an s to avoid the ambiguity.

    Sw bolla v. ‘play ball’ vs Da bolle, vide supra.

  56. Trond Engen says:

    Lars 1.0: Some might want to add an s to avoid the ambiguity.

    Yes, the false friendship in Danish comes from misparsing the s of Da. spule “flush, spray”, which is written spyle in Norwegian”, as a linking s. Pule is a true false friend in Swedish. Sw. pula i trädgården means “work in the garden”. Both, I think, are cognate with English “puzzle”.


  57. The perfectly normal way to say that in preeningless German is zu guter Letzt.

    Not at all. Zu guter Letzt accompanies an explanation of how everything turned out well in the end. Last but not least (I’ve probably heard it without but, but I’m not sure) means that something important is mentioned last for effect.
    Actually, Stu’s usage is also possible, e.g. “lassen Sie mich zu guter Letzt noch meinen Freund Erwin erwähnen”, which has no implication of “everything turns out well in the end”, but at least some implication of “I mention him last, but that doesn’t mean I respect him less than the others”.

  58. Stu Clayton says:

    Thanks, Hans. I was going to get around to documenting that when I had a free moment of irritability. There are plenty of internet examples of traditional send-off speeches ending with the zu guter Letzt construction, for instance when the accomplishments of an employee are being listed on the occasion of his retirement from the company.

  59. David Marjanović says:

    …OK, Erwin is the happy end of the speech itself here.

  60. Erwin will be glad to know that 😉

  61. Stu Clayton says:

    Ansprache mit Happy End.

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