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Thread: Russians Speaking French?

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    Russians Speaking French?

    I'm reading a newer translation of War and Peace, one that claims to be truer to the original than the standard Maude translation (I don't know if it is; I don't read Russian), and one of the ways in which it does this is keep the original French text. While I'm reading, I keep wondering why the Russians speak so much French, when they're fighting the French. Even the emperor speaks French. What's the deal with that?

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    In the fog Charles Darnay's Avatar
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    Up to the reign of terror (c. 1793), Catherine the Great greatly admired the French court as the centre of the intellectual world and wanted to reshape her court to mirror it. French became the court language in Russia and you demonstrated your nobility by being fluent in it. This did not completely die off during the Napoleonic Wars, despite the fact that they were fighting the French. It was not until the Russian Emperor (I believe it was Nicholas I), who wanted to pull the country out of "Western" influence, that the reliance on French died off.
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    Registered User Calidore's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Charles Darnay View Post
    This did not completely die off during the Napoleonic Wars, despite the fact that they were fighting the French.
    You have to speak the enemy's language to talk smack effectively.
    You must be the change you wish to see in the world. -- Mahatma Gandhi

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    Quote Originally Posted by Charles Darnay View Post
    Up to the reign of terror (c. 1793), Catherine the Great greatly admired the French court as the centre of the intellectual world and wanted to reshape her court to mirror it. French became the court language in Russia and you demonstrated your nobility by being fluent in it. This did not completely die off during the Napoleonic Wars, despite the fact that they were fighting the French. It was not until the Russian Emperor (I believe it was Nicholas I), who wanted to pull the country out of "Western" influence, that the reliance on French died off.
    Makes sense. Thanks.

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    Artist and Bibliophile stlukesguild's Avatar
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    Charles is right. French culture was especially seen by the Russians as the pinnacle of sophistication. Not only does the French language pervade Russian culture, but French ideals of art and architecture, music and dance. You'll notice a tie between French love of the ballet and the development of the Russian ballet which continued into the 20th century. We don't see this Francophile obsession coming from an Anglo tradition because the English were certain that the French were little more than decadent buffoons. Only with Symbolism do we really see an Anglo obsession with French arts and culture. French culture dominated much of the continent around the time of the Revolutions. It was the act of throwing off this rather foreign tradition, and turning to English literature that really led to the literary Renaissance in Germany wrought by Schiller, Goethe, and others.

    As you'll find out down the road, the various rich aristocrats make not speaking French into their little contribution to the war effort.
    Last edited by stlukesguild; 06-14-2012 at 08:27 PM.
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    Registered User kev67's Avatar
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    I have started this. I was surprised to be reading so much French. Luckily my French is up to, mostly.
    According to Aldous Huxley, D.H. Lawrence once said that Balzac was 'a gigantic dwarf', and in a sense the same is true of Dickens.
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    Registered User kev67's Avatar
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    In part 1 there was a chapter that was almost entirely in French. Two women were writing to each other. I am impressed by how fluent the Russian nobility were in French. I just think it is weird.
    In a chapter I read today, there was a passage of German.
    According to Aldous Huxley, D.H. Lawrence once said that Balzac was 'a gigantic dwarf', and in a sense the same is true of Dickens.
    Charles Dickens, by George Orwell

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