On Translating Soboryane.

I’ve started reading Leskov’s 1872 novel Соборяне [The Cathedral Folk], and am enjoying it tremendously — he’s great at creating memorable characters and telling good stories about them. But he also loves using odd bits of language, often dialectal, which means the reading is slow, since I’m constantly looking things up. Well, one of the odd words was взвошу, and while googling it I came across Jack Matlock’s 2013 dissertation, Leskov into English: On Translating Soboryane (Church Folks) (from that link you can download the pdf), which discusses this passage and many others, comparing existing translations and providing his own commentary — what a wonderful gift from the internet! Here’s his passage on взвошу (pp. 193-4):

19 (28) взвошу: Dal’ defines звошить as meaning to lift something, as with a lever, or, dialectically, to anger someone. Neither meaning fits here, and a note to the 1957 Russian edition of the text says simply “здесь: наказать.” It therefore is not clear whether this is an aberrant use of the word by Leskov or a rare or dialectical meaning. In all its meanings the word is unusual and does not appear in most dictionaries. The translator should, therefore, seek something less ordinary than “punish” to translate it.

Hapgood comes up with “pay off,” which is not bad, for a change. Mongault used “frotter les côtes,” and Luther “abrechnen.” I wish I could find something more exotic, but at this writing I have nothing better to suggest than “settle scores with.”

A great resource, which I discovered at the perfect time.


  1. David Marjanović says

    “settle scores with.”

    That’s in any case what abrechnen means.

  2. “а все-таки драться не смеешь” a few lines later means that “взвошу” in this case is definitely understood to involve a beating. Further explanation by Achilla, plus the original meaning of “pull up with a lever” with a secondary meaning of “поднять на смех”, and I would be looking for something with a meaning of “attack someone physically as a means of (public) embarrassment”.

  3. Dal gives the Moscow dialect meaning:

    Mosk. * podnyat’ kogo protivu sebya, rasserdit’. -sya,

    ‘to raise someone against oneself, make someone angry at oneself’

  4. the word vzvoshit’ itself looked kind of mysterious to me until I finally managed to parse it as an archaic/local form of vzvodit’ – ‘raise, cock’ (eg, “vzvodit’ kurok” – ‘cock a gun’)

  5. I think I figured out if not where Leskov took vzvoshit’ from, but at least what he meant by it. Leskov used the word another time in his article on merchant apprentices “About little people” where he decried the treatment of little boys by their masters. Leaving the heart-wrenching content of the article aside, here’s the fragment with vzvoshit’:

    Как “à propos de bottes” “Экономический указатель” [main source of Leskov’s information on the subject] приставил, что петербургское купечество идет несколько далее московского. То дерется со злости, а это иногда и пур сес ле педанс [pour c’est les pédants — because they are pedants???]. “Придет”, говорит, “приказчик домой пьяненький, карячится, карячится, а потом потянет лапищу к детской головке и скажет: “Ну-ка, попка! Дай-кась я тебе безделицу взвошу!”” Ну, разумеется, и взвошит, то есть замотает пьяную лапищу в русой головенке да и пошатает ее безделицу туда да сюда. Это не за провинность, а так… занятно это очень.

    I will try to translate:
    As “à propos de bottes”, “The Economic Indicator” added that the Petersburg’s merchants go a little further than Moscow’s. Sometimes they fight out of anger, or sometimes pur ses le pedans[pour c’est les pédants — because they are pedants??? or is it an idiom meaning something like, “if you want the details”?]. “A clerk will come home drunk,” it says, “feeling sick and in pain, and after a while pulls up his big paw to the child’s head and says: “Hey, little ass! Let me raise it up [vzvoshu] a trifle!” And, of course, he will raise it up that is tangle his big paw in the blond hair and shake it a trifle back and forth. Not because of any misdeed, it’s just… so much fun.

    In Church folks a very similar description is given as well just a few lines later:
    …замотал покрепче руку ему в аксиосы, потряс хорошенько, да и выпустил…
    As Matlock says “yank his mane”

  6. Thanks, that’s a great find! Now can you explain распочнется a little later in the book?

  7. This is simple. I don’t even need to look it up. It’s Ukrainian (and probably Russian dialectal) word meaning the same as Russian начнется (will begin).

  8. So “Сегодня 4-е июня 1864 года, – сегодня преподобного Мефодия Песношского, вот вы это себе и запишите, что от этого дня у нас распочнется” means “Today, June 4, 1864, the day of Saint Mefodii Peshnoshsky, write this down: that from this day it begins among us”? It seems a little vague.

  9. Maybe not “among us”, but yes, that’s what he said. Reading for a bit of context, Achilla says that something important begins from this moment. And it is vague intentionally. I didn’t read that far yet (only three chapters, thanks for the pointer!, the story is delicious), but Achilla is not a very precise speaker, to say the least.

  10. Thanks, and I’m glad you’re enjoying it!

  11. Of course, the simplest explanation is usually the closest to truth. So, пур сес ле педанс would be pour c’est-ce [qui sont] les pedants – for those who are pedantic. A supposition that is supported by the absence of the repeated “то” – то дерется, [то ласкает].
    However, in the preceding passages Leskov speaks of the physical abuse of shop-boys in Moscow and then comes our ‘bottes’ passage that says that the merchants of St-Petersburg are ‘more advanced’ in their abuse. In what sense? Is it that he or the journal he quotes are hinting at sexual abuse?
    Let’s have a look at the passage.
    A drunken merchant карячится – bounces, bucks, stomps about, presumably to frighten those in the house into submission; then he reaches out to the boy’s head and says ‘well, little arse’. Why arse?
    Then he says, ‘let me have your безделица взвошить’. What is this bezdelitsa – a little thing, a trifle, a trinket? Are we sure it’s the head? Or is it a euphemism for the nether parts?
    Then, vzvoshit reads at first as to tousle up hair, but its more common definition is to raise something with a lever, a pick, a bar, a shaft, a knob.
    With this in mind, we can interpret the passage as a description of sexual abuse, with Petersburg ‘more advanced’ in it than the backward Moscow.
    What about the педанс? Could it be something else? There is a French term pédane, a type of judge or magistrate who could make a verdict on minor offences quickly ‘while standing’ on their feet, presumably a cognate of pieds. But also prompting an allusion to péd-, from Greek, anything related to children. Could it be that педанс is a reference to this? The pédé – pedo?
    None of the theories seems to quite fit, here it’s just suppositions. I couldn’t find other usages supporting them.

  12. Perhaps someone else may find more?

  13. ‘well, little arse’. Why arse?

    popka is a little parrot, I think.

  14. January First-of-May says

    popka is a little parrot, I think.

    It could be either, though I’m not sure if the “arse” meaning is attested that early*; I think in context the “parrot” version fits better.

    *) the first attestation of it in the National Corpus of Russian is from 1966; all the earlier, and for that matter most later, citations are about parrots, except for a few that don’t seem to make sense in that meaning either

  15. You are right! It must ‘polly the parrot’.
    But then, in what sense? [Little] parrot, a plaything? It’s getting curiouser and curiouser.

  16. I am reading Soboryane little by little and found the saying чужие земли похвалой стоят, а наша и хайкой крепка будет (other lands stand up with praise but ours will be strong with badmouthing) which concludes Leskov’s Laughter and Grief recently discussed on LH. I don’t find this saying a particularly enlightening one, but Leskov knew better.

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