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Tuesday
Sep062011

Bunin, "К воспоминаниям о Толстом"

An essay ("On some memoirs about Tolstoy") by this Russian man of letters.  You can read the original here.

I read N. A. Tsurikov's Meetings with Tolstoy published in Vozrozhdenie – some very good and valuable articles.  Tsurikov is correct when he asserts that there is no end or limit to the memoirs written about Tolstoy.  Yet hitherto have we really seen many in which the real Tolstoy can be felt?  In the memoirs of Tsurikov he feels unusually alive.

Most of those who have written about Tolstoy, Tsurikov says, belonged to a very different milieu than their subject – and here I would like to add that this is precisely the problem.  Yet Tsurikov's work is another matter.  And for that reason, one would hate to see Meetings with Tolstoy lost amidst other works of this kind.

Tsurikov's work should also serve to correct others' memoirs and articles on Tolstoy.  Take, for example, a recently published article by a Mr. Brodsky in Rul', about the language of Tolstoy – the daily not the literary language – based on memoirs by Goldenweiser.  Brodsky actually comments that, "in the life of great artists, the details of their existence, the habits that seem insignificant at first glance, clothes, their manner of comporting themselves, their outward appearance and their language – again, their daily not their literary language – frequently yield what whole volumes of biography cannot replace," and to this end produces from Goldenweiser's book "some particularities of Tolstoy's language."  Were these particularities, however, personal traits of Tolstoy?  Ask Tsurikov and he will say: of course they weren't, they weren't at all.

This is precisely what I, Tolstoy's compatriot, would also say, having coming from the same way and stratum of life as Tolstoy.  No, these are not Tolstoyan traits, but our own general characteristics.  The particularities of language of that comparatively small locality, those distant points forming a circle whose center is Kursk, Oryol, Tula, Ryazan and Voronezh.  And haven't nearly all our greatest Russian writers used this very same language?   Because almost all of them are ours.  Tsurikov and I discussed this recently, a subject already mentioned in his Meetings with Tolstoy: we have so many famous compatriots from this remarkable region!  Zhukovsky and Tolstoy are from Tula; Tiutchev, Leskov, Turgenev, Fet, the Kireevsky brothers, and the Zhemchuzhnikov brothers hail from Oryol; Anna Bunina and Polonsky are from Ryzan; Kol'tsov, Nikitin, Garshin and Pisarev from Voronezh.  Even Pushkin and Lermontov are partially ours, since their kinsmen the Voyekovs and the Arsenevs are also from our area, from our beans and sprouts, as we say in these parts.   

I repeat: from the plethora of examples that Goldenweiser presents as evidence of the particularities of Tolstoy's language, I have yet to find a single one which would convince me of its uniqueness.

"Tolstoy lisped slightly, so that, for example, the word luchshe [better] was pronounced lutche."

Lisping has nothing to do with it.  I have never lisped and have always said lutche because that it how it is said in our parts, at home, in public, and in the countryside, where they used to sing:

'Tis better a life without care, than to stroll as a rich man!

"In most situations, Tolstoy pronounced the letter 'g' like a soft French 'h' (asche)."

On the strength of this statement above, even I, after six years of residence in France, say "Gospodi" [o Lord] almost like "Khospodi."

"Tolstoy used expressions such as namedni, davecha [recently], edakoi instead of etakii [such a], svita instead of armyak [a type of heavy coat]; Tolstoy said skrypka instead of skripka [violin], skorodit' instead of boronit' [to harrow], and stressed the penultimate syllable in the expression do smerti [until death]."  

And again I have to laugh because all of us have always spoken this way!

Incidentally, a general observation about our regional language.  Of course, it does not hurt to remember Pushkin's overused quote about the language of Muscovite prosphora bakers.**  And was our language any better?  To protect themselves from Tartar incursions, many from the service class whose origins could be traced to all corners of Russia came to us from Moscow.  Isn't it natural that precisely here an unusually rich language would be formed, the richest language of all, in fact?  In my opinion, that is exactly what occurred. 

--------------------------

** Не худо нам иногда прислушиваться к московским просвирням, они говорят удивительно чистым и правильным языком.  "And it would do us no harm sometimes to listen to those Muscovite prosphora bakers; their language is surprisingly pure and correct."

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