The Vauxhall at Pavlovsk.

Vauxhall is an interesting word. It originally referred to a district of London named (according to Wikipedia) for Falkes de Breauté, “the head of King John’s mercenaries, who owned a large house in the area,” and gave its name to the Vauxhall Gardens, “one of the leading venues for public entertainment in London, from the mid-17th century to the mid-19th century.” So well known were the Gardens (“References to Vauxhall are, for 150 years, as ubiquitous as references to ‘Broadway’ later would be”) that the word was borrowed into Russian in the 18th century as воксал [voksal], and when the first public railway line in the Russian Empire was built from Saint Petersburg to Pavlovsk in 1836-37 and to attract passengers a music hall with gardens was added at the Pavlovsk station, it was called by that name. (That English Wikipedia article is a mess; it doesn’t distinguish the first station from the Pavlovsk-II station built in 1904, shown in one of the images, and says “The current station building was built 60 meters north of the old building in 1955” when by “the old building” they mean Pavlovsk-II.) Since the concerts at the воксал were very popular and since the music venue was next to the station itself, the name of the former got attached to the latter, and now the Russian word for any main station is вокзал [vokzal] (a lesser station is a станция [stantsiya]).

I first encountered the concerts in Mandelstam’s great memoir The Noise of Time (the first chapter is called “Music in Pavlovsk”), and I’ve just encountered a more detailed description in The Idiot (III:2), in the part where the Epanchins decide to walk from their dacha to take the air and hear the music. But where do they walk to? The воксал, but what is that? As it happens, The Idiot is (according to the Вокзал Wikipedia article) one of the first texts in Russian literature where the word is used for a railway station, and indeed, it is so used from the very first chapter. But in this passage things are not so simple. Dostoevsky writes “Все места около игравшего оркестра были заняты. Наша компания уселась на стульях несколько в стороне, близ самого левого выхода из воксала.” [All the places near the orchestra were taken. Our group sat down on chairs a bit to the side, near the leftmost exit from the voksal.] Now, if you’ll examine the map I hope you can see here (click on the map and use the plus sign to zoom in), you’ll find that the “Rail. Station” is a small structure just north of the “Vauxhall”; the map is from the 1914 Baedeker, which says “Near the station is the large railway restaurant of Vauxhall […]; popular concerts with a good band every evening in summer (adm. free; reserved seats 10-50 cop.).” So the restaurant/music hall is separate from the station, and in this scene it must be its exits that are intended. (You can see images here and here.) But the Carlisles, presumably confused by the multivalent word (and perhaps unfamiliar with the layout of the town), have “not far from the left-hand exit from the railroad station.” I’m pretty sure that’s wrong (I might go with “the leftmost exit from the vauxhall”), but I’m curious to know how other translators render it, so if anyone has access to other versions, please share.


  1. For those who have much to do with the UK, the primary meaning of the word is an indifferent car brand, marketed as Opel in the rest of Europe. It is really, really weird to take up Azeri as a foreign language, to look into what exactly vağzal means, and to draw the connection between it and the cars the Police Service of Northern Ireland drive. I don’t think anyone in Baku thinks about the Vauxhall Vectra when going to the main train station!

  2. Stu Clayton says

    Is there an etymonic connection between Eng “hall” and Ger “Saal” ? There is one between “hall” and “Halle”. And “hell”.

  3. Sludge Vohaul is the recurring villain in Space Quest games.

  4. Garnett: “All the places anywhere near the orchestra were occupied. Our friends took chairs near the side exit.”

    Myers: “All the places by the orchestra were taken. Our company seated themselves to one side, near the left-hand exit from the gardens.”

    (Elsewhere in the chapter, Garnett refers to “the Vauxhall”; Myers only refers to generic “pleasure gardens.”)

  5. Rawley Grau says

    In my e-book edition of Garnett’s Idiot (“Dover Giant Thrift Edition”) – which republishes her 1913 translation (noted as “unabridged”) published by the Macmillan Company, New York – the text is different from what Iowai has: “All the places round the orchestra were taken. Our party sat down on chairs rather apart, close to the left-hand exit from the station.” Also, in this edition, it seems she only uses “Vauxhall” once, in II:1, to refer to “an awful orgy at the Ekaterinhof Vauxhall, in which Nastasya Filippovna took part”.

    Thanks, LanguageHat, for this posting. I recently reread The Idiot and was slightly puzzled by the association of the воксал with the music-making, as well as with the comings and goings from St. Petersburg. I had no idea that the word derived from “Vauxhall”; I had always assume it was of German origin (maybe from something *Wachsaal).

  6. Thanks, laowai and Rawley!

  7. Christian Weisgerber says

    Is there an etymonic connection between Eng “hall” and Ger “Saal” ?

    No, but there is between Saal and Old English sele, glossed as “great hall, house, dwelling, prison” in Wiktionary. It seems the word didn’t leave any descendants in Modern English. Pfeifer’s etymological dictionary suggests Russian село “village” as one of the extra-Germanic connections.

  8. Russian село is a complicated word mingling two different sources; see this post from a couple of years ago and Piotr’s typically informative comment.

  9. the text is different from what laowai has

    Ha. My bad. I snagged what I called “Garnett” from Project Gutenberg, just blithely assuming any public domain translation of Dostoevsky would be hers. Upon closer examination, however, this one proves to be Eva Martin’s 1915 translation.

  10. Heh. I would have made the same assumption.

  11. Fred Whishaw’s is remarkably close to Eva Martin’s, except that it has, “… the side exit from the Vauxhall.”

  12. In Gambler the gambling happens in voksal as well. When I read it, I was surprised why they put the roulette at a train station. Then I figured that German for train station is not voksal (I know that much German) and thought that it is some German word for a large building or pavilion, that got attached in Russian to a specific building for the station. Thanks for putting me straight.

  13. That’s right, I should have remembered and mentioned the воксал in Игрок!

  14. I am currently reading Pevear & Volokhonsky’s translation of “The Gambler” and came across this learned thread when I looked up “Vauxhall.” Before I read the clarifying footnote, (provided below,) from context alone, the Vauxhall seemed to be a high-class venue where the casino is located and anyone acting in an “unaristocratic” fashion can be thrown out. The casino is the Vauxhall’s main attraction—roulette is a novelty to the Russians! There is no connection to the train station. One character arrives by train and later is taken to the Vauxhall, which is in an entirely different location.
    Vauxhall is not a music hall primarily in “The Gambler,” but in general, Vauxhall seems to indicate a social night-life venue, so without a casino, music performances and dancing would probably be the focus and could be translated as “music hall.”

    1. The original Vauxhall was a seventeenth-century pleasure garden in London. The word entered Russian as a common noun meaning an outdoor space for concerts and entertainment, with tearoom, tables, casino, and so on. The first railway line in Russia was the Petersburg Pavlovsk line, and the first vaux-hall was near the Pavlovsk railway station, so near, in fact, that vokzal also became the Russian word for “railway station.”

  15. David Marjanović says

    …That certainly makes more sense than the story that there was a place called Vauxhall in England which had such an impressive train station that it became the Russian word…

    (Final stress in Russian, so the o isn’t actually recognizable. Because of French, final stress was long the default for loans in Russian, even from English or German.)

  16. PlasticPaddy says

    There is also sportZAL, which is not as old as vokZAL, and is derived from a longer sportivniy zal.

  17. David Marjanović says

    That’s German Saal “very large room”.

  18. David Eddyshaw says

    Whence Kusaal “very large room for cows.”

  19. It occurs to me now that the semi-mechanical Sludge Vohaul is more likely to be a reference to the proverbially unreliable British automobiles than to any place with the same name. Not having anything more than a vague awareness that Vauxhall was an existing proper noun when I played Space Quest II: Vohaul’s Revenge* as a kid, the villain’s surname didn’t really evoke any impression in me besides generally looking silly.

    * Space Quest II was Vohaul’s first appearance. Calling the game “Vohaul’s Revenge” was just another joke (alongside things like Vohaul’s plan to destroy galactic civilization by releasing billions of cloned door-to-door salesmen). He revealed he was the force behind the Sarien space pirates in Space Quest: The Sarien Encounter. He showed up again in Space Quest IV: Roger Wilco and the Time Rippers, although at that point the chronology becomes hopelessly garbled and meta. As the narrator remarks near the end of the opening cutscene, “Casually glancing up at the status bar, you notice you’re in Space Quest XII.” (More precisely, it gives your location as “Space Quest XII: Vohaul’s Revenge II.”)

  20. Yeah, it’s a bit jarring to read in “The Gambler” воксал (“с” not “з”, spelling was in flux too) meaning a large entertainment establishment. The word didn’t quite changed its meaning at the time.

  21. David Marjanović says

    Whence Kusaal “very large room for cows.”


  22. Stu Clayton says

    Recommended accessory for Kuhsaal events: Kuhseil

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