Aksakov on Angling.

When I finished Anastasia Marchenko (see this post), I started an early novel by Saltykov but found it tediously ideological and gave up after a few chapters. (I expect this to become an increasingly severe problem as I approach the 1860s; that’s one reason I’m happy to linger in 1847.) I then read Alexander Druzhinin‘s «Полинька Сакс» (Polinka Saks); it was wildly popular when it came out and, according to L.K. Mansour, “influenced an entire generation,” and I can see why — I knew I was going to enjoy it when in the very first line the protagonist Saks (whose wife is the young and naive Polinka) addresses his correspondent as “почтенный пантагрюэлист” (‘venerable Pantagruelist’), and it carried its sentimental/melodramatic story along quite efficiently (Saks goes away on government business, leaving the hapless Polinka to be feverishly wooed by the fiery young Prince Galitsky, with unhappy results; he goes to “the town of —ov, four hundred versts from the capital,” which I figured must be Pskov, and, amusingly, this was confirmed when he refers to “Псковскими мужиками” — either he or the censor forgot to disguise that occurrence). While I was deciding what novel to turn to next, I thought I’d dip into Sergei Aksakov‘s first publication, Записки об уженье ‘Notes on fishing’ (for the second, much expanded, 1854 edition, the title was also expanded to Записки об уженье рыбы, which means the same thing).

Aksakov is best known for his autobiographical trilogy, «Семейной хроники» (A Family Chronicle), «Воспоминания» (Memoirs, translated as A Russian Schoolboy), and «Детские годы Багрова-внука» (Childhood years of grandson Bagrov, translated as A Russian Childhood); I knew that his little book on fishing had been well received, but I didn’t expect to spend much time with it. Instead, I found myself hooked (as it were), and it looks like I’m going to wind up reading the whole thing. Having been reading chronologically, I’m just as fed up with clever/ironic society tales as the Russian public must have been, and Aksakov’s straightforward, clean Russian prose and no-nonsense manner is immensely appealing. Surprisingly, there’s a translation into English, and the translator, Thomas P. Hodge, writes in his introduction:

Notes on Fishing is a literary achievement that merits mention alongside such works as Juliana Berners’s Treatise of Fishing with an Angle, Walton’s The Compleat Angler, Gilbert White’s Natural History of Selborne, Thoreau’s Walden, Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea, and Norman Maclean’s A River Runs Through It. In short, it belongs among the Western classics of fishing literature and nature writing.

So if anyone’s interested in a Russian take on an age-old pastime, with good advice on how to make your equipment (an honest Russian birch branch, well chosen and planed smooth, will serve you just as well as those fancy English rods they sell in the shops in Petersburg!), you know where to go.

Needless to say, I find myself looking up a fair amount of vocabulary; one of the fish names, язь, is translated as “ide” and “orfe,” neither of which meant anything to me, so I googled the Russian word to find out what it looked like and got this hilarious half-minute video (you don’t need to know Russian to enjoy it; he caught a язь and is very happy about it) and this equally hilarious Луркоморье page about the meme inspired by the video (which you do need to know Russian to enjoy; for Луркоморье/Lurkmore, see this LH post).


  1. The WP article you link to speaks of “his books on hunting and fishing”, the former presumably Notes of a Hunter in Orenburg Province (1852), so perhaps you’ll get to that later, as a way of further putting off the “ideological” Sixties.

    I love Gogol telling Aksakov (per Prince Mirsky): “Your birds and fishes are more alive than my men and women.”


  2. Stefan Holm says

    The fish making the Russian guy so happy is definitely an ide, from Swedish id. It’s common all over northern Eurasia in both sweet and brackish waters and considered enduring / non-threatened. It’s edible but have no or little commercial use.

    Sw. Wikipedia says that it is also present in Potomac river into which it escaped from a state owned dam during a flooding in 1889. Go try your luck…

  3. Trond Engen says

    Stefan: It’s edible but have no or little commercial use

    You shouldn’t underestimate its value as a minimal building block in Norwegian crossword puzzles. As id, not vederbuk.

  4. John: The WP article you link to, characteristically for WP, refers to “Orfe eggs” even though “Ide” has been chosen as the headform. It also says “The name is from Swedish id,” but it is not directly from it according to OED (updated November 2010):

    Etymology: < French ide (1785) or its etymon scientific Latin idus, specific name (in Cyprinus idus (Linnaeus Systema naturæ (ed. 10, 1758) I. 324); formerly also used as a genus name (J. J. Heckel, 1843)) < Swedish id (1530 as jidh), cognate with Norwegian regional id, in same sense, probably < an ablaut variant of the same Germanic base as ad n.1 The fish is probably so named on account of its bright colour; compare the similarly motivated bream n.

    Ad n.1 is “A pyre, spec. a funeral pyre”; we discussed bream here.

  5. Aksakov’s best known work, “The Scarlet Flower” (a kind of a Russian remix of Beauty and the Beast), is actually an appendix to his trilogy of memoirs about childhood, to the 2nd book where angling in general, and ide-fish in particular, make prominent appearance. The fishing streams there are in rural Bashkortostan, not too far from Ufa where he was born, so I was tempted to conclude that his Turkic surname must be local. But the Aksakov ancestors owned estates all over East Central Russia, more often on Volga’s right bank.

  6. There is also a translation of some of the fishing stories by Arthur Ransome, in ‘Rod and Line’. I loved those stories. Thank you for the link, did not know there was another translation.


    Powells has the companion volume, Notes of a Provincial Wildfowler, as well. From the table of contents it appears they shot everything that flew, sandpipers, plovers..

  7. incidentally,

    I started an early novel by Saltykov but found it tediously ideological

    which one? The name of Saltykov didn’t even ring a bell with me at first, till I realized that it may be English shorthand for Saltykov-Schedrin of Idiotville (“Glupov City”) and “Idealist Carp” fame. He actually signed much of his early work Schedrin (including essays where Glupov City made its first appearance) but I guess much of his brilliant and still-loved writings on Russia’s eternal mores was informed by his Vyatka exile of the late 1840s – 1850s. So you must have read something from before his exile times?

  8. It was his very first novel, Противоречия [Contradictions] (written as N. Nepanov), in which the protagonist is caught between his ideals and the reality of life as it is.

    The name of Saltykov didn’t even ring a bell with me at first, till I realized that it may be English shorthand for Saltykov-Schedrin

    That seems a bit odd, since his name is Saltykov; I’m not about to call him Saltykov-Schedrin when he wasn’t even using the pseudonym Schedrin.

  9. That seems a bit odd, since his name is Saltykov; I’m not about to call him Saltykov-Schedrin when he wasn’t even using the pseudonym Schedrin

    Right, you may consider its anachronistic, but that’s a quirk of the standard Russian usage. I don’t know when his birth name and his pen name got so inseparably fused together, but even the Russian wikipedia version of the English version you linked to keeps calling him Saltykov-Schedrin more than 100 times – the only mention of him as “simply Saltykov” is at birth. As early as during his Lyceum years, he’s called only Saltykov-Schedrin there. Weird but that’s how it is.

  10. Sure enough, when you type Противоречия Салтыков into Google, it auto-expands to “-Щедрин”. And the first page of hits is virtually unanimously listing “Салтыков-Щедрин” as the author of this early novel.

  11. That’s hilarious! I wonder if there are other examples of a pseudonym getting so immovably attached to the author’s name?

  12. Just think, if he’d stuck to the original pen name, we’d be calling him Салтыков-Непанов today.

  13. This man was born Stan Bootle (in Liverpool, not in Bootle), wrote and performed folk music as Stan Kelley, and wrote prose and software as Stan Kelley-Bootle. He was the first person to receive a (post)graduate degree in computer science in 1954, programmed the EDSAC (the second stored-program computer in the world), and is best known for The Computer Contradictionary, a computer-flavored analogue to The Devil’s Dictionary, and for Lern Yerself Scouse, which is cited as an authority for the language tag “en-scouse”. He died last April, much mourned.

  14. John, I did not know that Stan had passed away.. may his memory be eternal. His columns in the ACM Queue were the best part of that publication. For example this one taking in Nabakov’s Pale Fire on its way,
    “one reader complained that I was always using words they did not know. I replied sympathetically, asking for a full list of their unknown words so I could avoid using them.”

  15. Thanks, that was a great read (“A slip of a tongue, a fleeting lapis lazuli”: ha!). I’m glad to have made his acquaintance, however belatedly (using “late” in all its senses).

  16. I wonder if there are other examples of a pseudonym getting so immovably attached to the author’s name?

    In Russian? Most definitely. Hyphenated double-surnames are actually rare in Russia, and many known examples use pen names added to family names. E.g. Dmitry Mamin-Sibiryak (Д. Н. Мамин-Сибиряк) famed for his stories about Nature.

    (At this point I decided to check what Languagehat may have written about him, and, doh, came across this 2009 entry entitled, yes, “Saltykov-Schedrin” … so you did wonder about this strange phenomenon before, LH 🙂 ! )

    There are more examples. Melnikov-Pechersky (Мельников-Печерский), author and anthropologist.

    But the original hyphenated real-name-and-alias constructs in Russian are for the military and political leaders of (mostly) the XVIII c. (who were granted double surnames by the imperial court in recognition of their achievements). Prince Potemkin-Tavricheski (Потемкин-Таврический) and many more like him. Then in the XIX c. the practice expanded to include distinguished researchers and explorers (e.g. Pyotr Semyonov-Tyan-Shansky, the explorer of Tian Shan Mountains). I guess it opened the road for the authors to add their literary aliases in a similar mold, as badges of honor?

    In just one case, the public rejected the hyphenated construct and de-conjugated the alias. Because the hyphenated name in that specific case lacked any surname, yet the part following the hyphen sort of sounded like a surname: Igor-Severyanin (Игорь-Северянин). Severyanin was too far in the future even in his own name!

  17. Yes, of course I’m aware of the various hyphenated examples; what surprised me was that Saltykov would be unrecognizable without his appendage. Here’s a relevant exchange from that earlier thread:

    I highly doubt Saltykov was ever announced at parties or directly adressed as “Saltykov-Shchedrin” either.

    Exactly, which is why it seems so odd to me that he’s universally known that way today.

  18. Saltykov would be unrecognizable without his appendage

    Generally, the problem may be with the name being far too common (“our” Saltykov is only the fourth of the Google hits actually), and/or with Saltykov-Schedrin being a part of grade school curriculum. Mamin-Sibiryak is also a unique combination of two very common words – try googling either component word in Russian 🙂 :).

    But specifically you mentioned some overly ideological and simply unreadable obscure opus of a 1840s author named Saltykov, and in this specific context it’s become even harder to connect the dots with Schedrin … it was like, there are many Saltykov’s and the one mentioned by LH must have been some obscure author we’ve never even heard about 🙂

  19. Heh. That makes sense!

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