January 01, 2016

Woe is a Good Thing!


Woe is a Good Thing!

We are excited to announce the eighth book in our popular Bilingual series: Alexander Griboyedov's classic Woe from Wit.

Our Bilingual series presents english and accented Russian on facing pages, and adds important contextual or historical footnoting, making it an ideal tool for language learning, especially for intermediate and higher level students.

We have long wanted to give this book our "bilingual treatment," and it became possible after we discovered Sir Bernard Pares' fine verse translation from nearly 100 years ago. Pares was a remarkable individual and one of the founding scholars of Slavic studies in Great Britain. We contacted his heirs and they gladly gave their "dobro" to this new book.

Woe from Wit is a work of Russian literature without compare. Not only is it full of "winged phrases" (all highlighted in the book) that will enrich readers' colloquial Russian. But it is also a hilarious, politically-charged send-up of nineteenth century Russian society (as such, it was of course immediately regarded as subversive and not allowed to be staged until after the author's death). And, given the tragic early end to the author's life, it survives as Griboyedov's single major contribution to Russian literature. But what a contribution it is.

"As Pushkin wrote, this comedy alone made Griboyedov a leading poet and playwright in the Russian pantheon..."

— From the Introduction

A soldier, diplomat and polymath, Alexander Griboyedov's life is largely shrouded in mystery, myth, and almost unbelievable episodes (his diplomatic success in negotiating the Turkmanchay Peace Treaty led to a 201-gun salute on his return to the capital). Simon Ekshtut unwraps it all in the introduction to this volume, which also highlights the author's intersections with Alexander Pushkin.

But the main thing, of course, is the play itself. Here is a brief overview, from the book's introduction, to give a sense for what it is about:

The main character of Woe from Wit, Alexander Chatsky, suffers from tragically frustrated dreams of freedom and harmony, dreams that cannot withstand the mundane stupidity, stereotypes and prejudices of Moscow society. The Laws of Life of this society are openly hostile to the witty, intelligent and open-minded Chatsky, who is believed to be patterned after Pyotr Chaadaev, the outstanding Russian thinker and writer. Yet some critics and biographers have concluded that Chatsky also embodied the traits of Griboyedov, whom another poet, the brave hussar and 1812 war hero Denis Davydov, called the “Monstrous Mind,” for his paradoxical and original thinking.

 

The play’s characters showcase all the negative traits of the era: servility, submissiveness, closed-mindedness and poor education. In Gogolian style, Griboyedov gave the characters what, in Russian literary tradition, are called “speaking family names.” There is Molchalin (literally Mr. Silent), prince and princess Tugoukhovskiye (Mr. and Mrs. Deaf). In the play, Chatsky’s critics hold his democratic views to be subversive, potentially shattering the foundations of Russian society. Chatsky, for his part, feels his antagonists “borrow their arguments from outdated newspapers.” As a result of the disputes, Chatsky’s critics form an anti-Chatsky plot and spread the rumor that he is insane, forcing him out of Moscow. Even Sofia, for whom Chatsky had tender feelings in his youth, betrays him. She prefers to tie the knot with the more reliable (though servile and submissive) Mr. Silent – hence Chatsky’s phrase, “Blessed are the Molchalins of this world.”

And now, in the words of Famusov:  Дверь отперта для званных и незванных ("Invited guest or not, it’s open door"). Come on in, the reading's fine!

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Woe From Wit (bilingual)
  • June 20, 2017

Woe From Wit (bilingual)

One of the most famous works of Russian literature, the four-act comedy in verse Woe from Wit skewers staid, nineteenth century Russian society, and it positively teems with “winged phrases” that are essential colloquialisms for students of Russian and Russian culture.
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