Having enjoyed A Russian Gil Blas so much, I’m reading Narezhny’s other best-known work, Бурсак (Bursak, ‘the seminary student’; for more on bursa ‘seminary’—not ‘stock market’!—see this post). For the first half I wasn’t sure why it was one of the young Dostoevsky’s favorite novels, but now that the titular seminary student, Neon (virtually all Narezhny’s characters have what seem today ludicrous pseudo-classical names), has become a warrior in the service of the hetman, fighting for his native Ukraine and getting into complicated moral situations, I’m starting to get a sense of what attracted him. (One thing I don’t understand is when the action is supposed to be taking place; the only date that’s given suggests the end of the seventeenth century, as does the siting of the hetman’s capital at Baturin, but it is repeatedly stated that the Ukrainians are fighting to free themselves from the Poles and put themselves under the protective wing of Moscow, which implies the uprising led by Bohdan Khmelnytsky in midcentury. But I suppose one can’t expect historical accuracy from what is essentially a Boy’s Own adventure.)
At any rate, in Part Three, when Neon becomes a valued commander and begins to learn the secrets of his own origin, his father-in-law says that a nasty fellow named Varipsav (“Dog-cooker,” speaking of literary names) had been publicizing shameful things about his family, “и думаю, что если бы в городах наших, по примеру польских, устроены были книгопечатни, то стыд моего дома он распространил бы по всей Малороссии” [‘and I think that if printing presses had been built in our cities on the Polish example, he would have spread the shame of my household over all Ukraine’]. That’s one aspect of print technology that hadn’t occurred to me.


  1. What might “on the Polish example” be referring to more precisely ? Merely that at the time there were many Polish cities with one or more printers ? Or (also) that these Polish printers were known for publishing critical and point-the-finger works ?
    I would not be surprised to hear that by the 17C there were many presses in Poland. They had already been established in many European countries by the end of the 15C. However, I was surprised to read in the WiPe that “By 1500, printing presses in operation throughout Western Europe had already produced more than twenty million volumes.” That’s a lot of стыд.

  2. What might “on the Polish example” be referring to more precisely ?
    Just that there were presses in Poland (the center of culture in Eastern Europe at the time) and none in Ukraine.

  3. A looser and probably more helpful translation would be “If we had printing presses the way they do in Poland…”

  4. Ahoy, Hat. By way of a Xmas topic, here’s a minor point on British vs American English.

  5. Karamazov is my favorite novel. Reading this post left me wondering: who were Dostoevsky’s favorite writers in English?
    Happy holidays to all.

  6. It’s “Away in a manger” that’s the peculiar phrase, “Manger Getaways” sounds like a desperate travel agent. Everyone knows what a crib is – at least I did as a child so if Mary Beard doesn’t understand it God help her when she’s translating Greek.

  7. Dostoevsky’s favorite writers in English

  8. “Everyone knows what a crib is”: I probably didn’t meet the American meaning until I was well into my teens.
    Why Mary Beard is feigning ignorance – and in teenage drivellish at that – God alone knows. “Daft old bat” one might say, except that it’s Christmas.

  9. J.W. Brewer says

    When I was a boy I had no idea what a “manger” was (I knew the feeding-trough-for-animals referent as an object, just not that “manger” was another word for that) so I inferred from context (and probably believed well into adulthood) that “manger” was an archaic word for “stable,” since the birth of Christ is standardly depicted in the heterodox Western circles in which I was raised as having occurred in a stable (and, indeed, the context in Luke seems to contrast “manger” with the “inn” at which there was no room, not which the crib/cradle/cot that might have been found at the inn). In those days, there were no Pret-a-Mangers at which to buy sandwiches, and I didn’t know French anyway.
    This seems in hindsight an obvious enough confusion that I doubt it was unique on my part, but I haven’t taken a survey or anything.

  10. “What’s a manger, Dad?”
    “Cattle trough.”
    Have you noticed the huge number of plots on the telly that turn on someone not asking an obvious question?

  11. Trond Engen says

    I’ll give my vote for Manger.

  12. J.W. Brewer says

    It is interesting to note that “creche” while anciently also meaning something like “feeding trough for animals” has (via appearance in French tellings of the Nativity story? Wycliffe has “cracche” where the KJV has “manger”) taken on extended meanings having to do with buildings/institutions housing largeish groups of small children, e.g. (not so much in AmEng) day-care-center or orphanage. I wonder if the very common phrase “born in a manger” even makes sense if one is conceptualizing “manger” as only the small cradle-like container Luke was probably referring to (the Anglo-Saxon translation has “binne,” which is I assume our modern “bin”) rather than the building-or-equivalent in which that smaller container was situated.

  13. JWB: Etymonline says s.v. bin:

    Old English binne ‘basket, manger, crib,’ probably from Gaulish, from Old Celtic *benna, akin to Welsh benn ‘cart,’ especially one with a woven wicker body. The same Celtic word seems to be preserved in Italian benna ‘dung cart,’ French benne ‘grape-gatherer’s creel,’ Dutch benne ‘large basket,’ all from Late Latin benna ‘cart,’ Medieval Latin benna ‘basket.’ Some linguists think there was a Germanic form parallel to the Celtic one.

    However, it’s quite likely that the given senses ‘manger, crib’ are inferred precisely from the OE Gospel translation.

  14. JWB: la crèche : when I was a child I thought that this word referred to a Nativity scene, especially the miniature one (made of wood, clay, etc) set up in a family home around Christmas. Later I learned that it was the small manger, just big enough to hold a baby, displayed in such scenes (the traditional ox and donkey must have each had an individual manger, since they would probably have been given different food). The extension of meaning to a day-care centre or similar place for babies (usually under 2 years old) is a much more recent development. The word never refers to a building (such as a stable) where a crèche would be standard equipment, or one where children would be cared for, but to the institution (usually a small one) providing the care.
    JC: French benne ‘grape-gatherer’s creel’
    The only definition I know for une benne is a large, heavy, open container, wider at the top than at the bottom, used for transporting coal, rocks, gravel, etc, and provided with wheels so as to be run on rails, usually in a mine or quarry. Grape gatherers wear une hotte on their backs in which to place the grapes. This is also what le père Noël carries his toys in: it is not a bag but a kind of wooden or wicker backpack, open at the top.

  15. born in a manger
    Like crèche referring to the whole Nativity scene (with people and animals in a rudimentary, open construction, their rapt attention focused on the baby in the crib), manger here is an extension of meaning, to the total scene, not the hut in which the event takes place. Alternately, such scenes do not show or even suggest an actual birth from a woman but give the impression that the baby must have miraculously appeared in the crib, already wrapped in swaddling clothes: thus “born in a manger”.

  16. For me personally, crèche means only a representation of the Nativity. I have one myself that I inherited from my German mother, though many of the pieces appear to be Italian in origin. (I once had the postal box in which it arrived from Germany with her.) The stable is perhaps 25-30cm on each side, lightweight wood with an actual thatched roof. There is also a long strip of white fabric that supports the many figures (the three wise men and their camels, the shepherds and their sheep, the trees, and so on) that don’t fit inside the stable proper. The baby Jesus and his manger are made as a single piece, so I don’t need the word manger in referring to this scene, but only when telling the Bible story.
    The ‘baby-tending institution’ sense I think of as typically British English.

  17. The ‘baby-tending institution’ sense I think of as typically British English.
    I think it’s very recent, though – the last 30 years, or so.

  18. marie-lucie says

    In France, the “baby-tending” meaning of crèche is much older than that.
    I think the case of l’Arche is an instance of the same type of meaning extension: in French, the ark built by Noah to rescue people and animals from the Flood is l’arche (a feminine word). Some years ago the Catholic philosopher Jean Vanier started a movement for housing mentally handicapped persons in small communities together with helpers, which he called l’Arche. There are now many such communities in the world, but l’Arche is the name of the organization or of each individual community, not a word for the houses as buildings.

  19. I think it’s very recent, though – the last 30 years, or so.
    The OED has citations going back to 1854.

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