I’m now reading Mandelstam’s dense 1927 novella “Egipetskaya marka” (“The Egyptian stamp”), and in trying to look up the odd word финолинка [finolinka], evidently a sort of night light (which turns out to occur only here in all of Russian literature), I ran across this LJ site, dedicated to a line-by-line analysis of the story. (It began in April 2009 with a post about the title and is now nearing the end of section 5; here‘s the archive for 2009, and you can click on the link at the top to get to 2010.) In the post relevant to my search, it is suggested that финолинка is a distortion of филаменка [filamenka] ‘filament lamp.’ The site is going to be very useful to me, as it would be to anyone engaging with the story in Russian, and I thank Alik Manov for maintaining it.
Incidentally, the story is available in English in the excellent collection The Noise of Time: The Prose of Osip Mandelstam, edited and translated by Clarence Brown; “The Noise of Time” (Shum vremeni), Mandelstam’s quasi-autobiography (comparable to Nabokov’s Speak, Memory), is one of the classics of Russian literature.


  1. Vance Maverick says

    What would you say about this to those who have no Russian? It’s been a while now, but I enjoyed The Egyptian Stamp and the rest intensely when I read the Brown versions. Periodically I wonder what that pleasure had to do with Mandelstam’s own contribution.

  2. I would think you owe the pleasure almost entirely to Mandelstam; Brown’s a good translator, but it’s not as though he’s adding special sauce to the text—he’s just trying to bring across some of what’s there in Russian. It’s funny, I made a couple of attempts at the story in English and was never able to finish it, but I’m happily reading it in Russian, I suspect partly because I’ve read so much Mandelstam in the interim that I’ve absorbed his worldview, so to speak. It’s not so much that I read Russian better as that I read Mandelstam better.

  3. Hearing about “Egipetskaya Marka” really takes me back to my intro course on Russian literature. From what I recall, there is a lot of complexity to it, but it is a very rewarding read. You are a serious and inspiring student to be following up on vocabulary so closely – possibly a graduate student?
    I also recall reading Yuri Olesha’s “Zavist” around that time, which I really enjoyed. Russian literature is so rich.

  4. Heh. I left grad school over thirty years ago—I just love language, words, and literature.
    And yes, Russian literature is incredibly rich; the more of it I read, the more I realize that.

  5. hat is a promising young fellow and I expect great things of him.

  6. Bathrobe says

    Just an offhand remark:
    An aged Mongolian friend of mine, originally from Inner Mongolia (i.e., China), who studied in Moscow for a number of years, maintains that Russian literature is inferior to Chinese literature. The reason is that Russian literature places far too much emphasis on “romantic love”.
    I have no idea whether this is a fair observation or not, but I found it interesting. It’s true that Chinese literature has traditionally not placed great store by romantic love. Does Russian literature go too far the other way?

  7. Not in the opinion of most Westerners (John Emerson excepted), but it’s natural for Chinese to feel that way. The idea that Russian literature is inferior to Chinese literature for that or any other reason is pretty silly (as would be the reverse statement), but the Chinese take great pride in their history and culture, and I can’t fault them for that.

  8. There is an anecdote that the typical Russian novel goes like this: “Woman loves man, marries another man for reasons only she understands, and then spend the rest of the novel pining for the man she hasn’t married”. Maybe that Mongolian guy had heard that anecdote. 😉

  9. Perhaps Mongolian marriages are arranged? (But doesn’t “Fiddler on the Roof” have an arranged marriage in it as well?) Jordanian marriages are, with very few exceptions, arranged–you don’t have to “like” the person you marry. Romance is logistically impossible, so a novel with that as a plot (not that I ever saw anyone reading anything but religious tracts) might seem unrealistic, if not indecent.

  10. Marriages used to be arranged in Europe as well, especially among the aristocracy, but you still got romantic literature. So I don’t think that alone would be a sufficient reason.

  11. Bathrobe says

    Nij, your comment about Mongolian arranged marriages rather missed the point. The gentleman in question was born in Chinese Mongolia (Inner Mongolia) and therefore speaks both Mongolian and Chinese, and is familiar with traditional Chinese literature. He also studied for a number of years in Moscow. The issue was the relative merits of Chinese and Russian literature, which Hat picked up on. Mongolianness isn’t important, except that it helps distance him from both literatures — not being ethnic Chinese, he feels no obligation to keep face or defend his “native culture”.

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