Monday, November 26, 2012

No Wonder They Wanted to Capture Stalingrad

Alexander Herzen exhibits the subtle distinctions of class in the house of well-bred Russians:
When I was twelve, I was transferred from the hands of women to those of men; and, about that time,  my father made two unsuccessful attempts to put a German in charge of me.

"A German in charge of  children" is neither  tutor nor a dyadka*--it is quite a profession by itself.  He does not teach or dress the children himself, but sees that they are dressed and taught; he watches over their health, takes them out for walks, nd talks whatever nonsense he pleases, provided that it is in German.  If there is s tutor in the house, the German is his inferior; but he takes precedence of the dyadka, if there is one.  The visiting teachers, if they come late from unforeseen causes, or leave too early owing to circumstances beyond their control, are polite to the German; and though quite uneducated, he begins to think himself s man of learning.  The governesses make use of the German to do all sorts of errands for them, but never permit any attentions on his part, unless they suffer from positive deformity, and see no prospect of any other admirers.  When boys are fourteen they go off to the German's room to smoke on the sly, and he allows it, because he needs powerful assistance if he is to keep his place.  Indeed, the common practice is to dismiss him at this period, after thanking him in the presence of the boys and presenting him with a watch. If he is tired of taking the children out and receiving reprimands when they catch cold or stain their clothes, then the "German in charge of the children" becomes a German without qualification: he starts a small shop where he sells amber mouth-pieces, eau-de-cologne, and cigars to his former charges, and performs secret services for them of another kind.
 --Alexander Herzen, Childhood, Youth and Exile 39-40
 (Oxford PB 1980)

The translator's forward reports tht Herzen "was the elder son of ...a Russian noble, and ... a German girl from Stuttgart.  It was a runaway match; and as the Lutehran marriage ceremony was not supplemented in Russia, the chid was illegitimate.  ... His parrents lived together in Moscow, and he lived with them and was brought up much like other  sons of rich nobles."

A footnote reports that "A dyadka (literally "uncle") is a man-servant put in charge of his young master.'

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