German-speaking-proficiency shame

February 2, 2015

The last novel I read, Ivan Turgenev’s Liza (Everyman’s Library edition, translated by W.R.S. Ralston) has a counterintuitive comment on how proficiency in different European languages was held in Russian society, or at least a certain part of it, at the time of the story’s telling:

The young Vladimir Nikolaevich spoke excellent French, good English, and bad German. That is just as it should be. Properly brought-up people should of course be ashamed to speak German really well; but to throw out a German word now and then, and generally on facetious topics – that is allowable; “c’est même très chic,” as the Petersburg Parisians say.

That these preferences are more a matter of etiquette than anything merely practical is shown by the next line, where Nikolaevich is praised for having learned, by age fifteen, “how to enter any drawing-room whatsoever without becoming nervous, how to move about it in an agreeable manner, and how to take his leave exactly at the right moment.”

Imagine the faux pas of slightly mistiming one’s departure from the room while speaking good German. Drawing room, incidentally, has nothing etymologically to do with drawing – it’s short for withdrawing room, which is the older name: a room to withdraw to. But I’m all for drawing there anyway.


Bookmash no. 21: Not Scared

June 21, 2013

My new bookmash is more a story fragment than a found poem. But the format remains the same.

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Not Scared

I am Mary Dunne,
Rosemary’s baby.
The fifth child, Liza,
Earthbound the beginning of spring –
Almost there, in other words.

I’m not scared.

(All names have been changed.)

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(click to enlarge)

stan carey - bookmash book spine story - not scared

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Thank you to the authors: Brian Moore, Ira Levin, Doris Lessing, Ivan Turgenev, Richard Matheson, Penelope Fitzgerald, Nuala O’Faolain, C.J. Moore, Niccolò Ammaniti, and Claire Kilroy; and to Nina Katchadourian for the idea.

Bookmashes are great fun to make, so feel free to add one to the thread below or let me know if you post one elsewhere. They work best with a photo, but it’s not essential. There are lots more in the bookmash archive, including links to other people’s.