Russian Language Blog

Reading “The Master & Margarita”: Chapter 4 Posted by on Jun 30, 2010 in Culture, language

In chapter 3 of «Мастер и Маргарита» [”The Master & Margarita”] we read about how «Берлиоз» [Berlioz] lost his head and died as a result. Chapter 4 is called «Погоня» [1. pursuit, chase; 2. pursuers] (think of the verb «гонять» which is the imperfective and indeterminate ‘friend’ of the verb «гнать» meaning ‘to drive; to urge on; to hunt, chase; to drive’) and in it we are left on our own with the poet «Иван Николаевич» [Ivan Nikolaevich] – more famous among his contemporary literary friends under the pseudonym of «Бездомный» [Homeless] – and get to follow him as he «гоняется за Воландом» [pursues; chases after Voland] «через Москву» [through Moscow]. While reading this chapter, I underlined every word that I either a) didn’t know; or b) wanted to know better. I decided to share some of them with you in today’s post; thus it covers no less than 20 new Russian words with English translation – together with the context in which they’re used in the novel. If you don’t agree with my translation, «скажите мне прямо и бесстрашно!» [tell me straight and fearlessly!]. I’m always looking for improvement, and I’d use any pretext to get to flip through my Russian-English dictionary… I’m ready. Are you ready? Here we go!

1. «турникет» [turnstile]:

«Поэт бросился бежать к турникету…» [The poet hastened to run to the turnstile…]

2. «подстроить» [pfv., colloq. to cook up; ‘to play a trick on’]:

«Уж не подстроил ли он всё сам?» [Maybe he cooked it all up on his own?]

3. «втируша» my Russian-English dictionary lacks this noun; tells me it’s a «просторечное выражение» [vernacular (common speech) expression] and says that «пролаза» [dodger, (sly) old fox] is a synonym. What do you think?:

4. «регент» [1. regent; 2. director of a church choir (I think in this context that the second translation is the correct one – agreed?)]:

«Отставной втируша-регент сидел на том самом месте, где сидел ещё недавно сам Иван Николаевич» [The retired dodgy church choir director sat in the very same place where Ivan Nikolaevich himself sat not a long time ago].

5. «насупиться» [pfv., refl. to scowl; frown]:

«Иностранец насупился, глянул так, как будто впервые видит поэта…» [The foreigner scowled and glanced as if he had seen the poet for the very first time…]

6. «ложечка» diminutive of «ложка» [spoon; spoonful; ladle]; «под ложечкой» [in the pit of one’s stomach]:

«- Не притворяйтесь! – грозно сказал Иван и почувствовал холод под ложечкой» [- Don’t pretend! – Ivan said threatening and felt a (?) cold in the pit of his stomach].

7. «боров» [gelded hog]:

«Но это ещё не всё: третьим в этой компании оказался неизвестно откуда взявшийся кот, громадный, как боров, чёрный, как сажа или грач, и с отчаянными кавалерийскими усами» [But that was not all: the third person in this company turned out to be a cat that came out of nowhere; huge like gelded hog, black like soot or a rook and with an awful (I think?) cavalry-style mustache].

8. «платёжеспособный» [solvent (note that this adjective has TWO stressed vocals: «ё» as well as the last «о»!)]:

«Кот оказался не только платёжеспособным, но и дисциплинированным зверем» [The cat turned out to be not only solvent, but also a disciplined animal].

9. «в мгновенье ока» [these three words form a common expression: ’in the twinkling of an eye’]:

«В мгновенье ока Иван и сам оказался там» [In the twinkling of an eye Ivan turned up there himself].

10. «мочалка» [a piece of bast used as a bath sponge (now however will that long translation of ONE single word work in a sentence?!)]:

«Так вот, в этой ванне стояла голая гражданка, вся в мыле и с мочалкой в руках» [Okay, so in this bath stood a naked female citizen, covered in soap and with a bath sponge made out of bast in her hands].

11. «примус» [a small kerosene stove (now if you think the primus stove isn’t an important item in the long run of this novel, I’m afraid that you’re wrong: we’ll find one of these in the hands of Begemot in a key passage toward the end of the novel as well as read about it being mentioned more than just this time. Also the Bulgakov Museum in Moscow has an entire kitchen full of them! Just like in the sentence below)]:

«В ней (кухне) никого не оказалось, и на плите в полумраке стояло безмолвно около десятка потухших примусов» [In it (the kitchen) there was no one, and on the stove in the semidarkness stood silently about ten lifeless small kerosene stoves].

12. «кинуться ласточкой» [this combination of a perfect verb plus a noun in the instrumental case means ‘to make a swan (lit. swallow) dive’]:

«Помахав руками, чтобы остыть, Иван ласточкой кинулся в воду» [After waving his arms to cool off, Ivan made a swan dive into the water].

13. «облачиться» [pfv., colloq. to dress oneself up; to deck oneself out]:

«Погрозив в бессильной злобе комуто вдаль кулаком, Иван облачился в то, что было оставлено» [After threatening someone in the distance in feeble malice with his fist, Ivan decked himself out in what had been left].

And the seven last words we find in one and the same looooong sentence almost at the very end of chapter 4:

14. «покинуть» [pfv. to leave, desert, abandon, forsake];

15. «пробираться» [impfv., refl. to make one’s way; to sneak, steal (into or through)];

16. «переулочка» diminutive of «переулок» [side street];

17. «назойливый» [obtrusive, officious];

18. «изводить» [impfv., colloq. to use up, to waste, exhaust; to destroy, exterminate,  to torment, exasperate];

19. «расспросы» [pl. questions, questioning];

20. «упорно» [stubbornly, persistantly]:

«Вследствие этого он принял решение покинуть большие улицы и пробираться переулочками, где не так назойливы люди, где меньше шансов, что пристанут к босому человеку, изводя его расспросами о кальсонах, которые упорно не пожелали стать похожими на брюки» [As a result he made the decision to leave the big streets and make his way through smaller side streets where people aren’t as obtrusive and where there are less chances that they’ll pester a barefoot person with questions about the long underpants which stubbornly refused to look like pants].

Summing things up: in chapter 4 of “The Master & Margarita” Ivan Nikolaevich chases after Voland and witnesses one of the novel’s most hilarious episodes: when the cat Begemot not only tries to the tram, but also wants to pay for himself! After this Ivan Nikolaevich visits a communal apartment where he scares a naked woman and steels an icon. Later he jumps into the Moscow-river and is robbed of off his clothes, leaving him wearing a very silly outfit at the end of the chapter. What EVER will happen next?! Will the poet Homeless get a hold of Voland? Will Begemot find a way to make the kind people working in the trams of Moscow to accept cats – if they are solvent? Keep reading!

P.S. we’re working on a cool badge about reading M&M in the original Russian during this summer that you can put on your blog to show everyone just how awesome you are! We all knew already, but let’s tell the rest of the internet, shall we not?

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  1. Svetlana:

    Josefina, привет!
    Хочу прокомментировать несколько моментов 🙂

    «Но это ещё не всё: третьим в этой компании оказался неизвестно откуда взявшийся кот, громадный, как боров, чёрный, как сажа или грач, и с отчаянными кавалерийскими усами» [But that was not all: the third person in this company turned out to be a cat that came out of nowhere; huge like gelded hog, black like soot or a rook and with an awful (I think?) cavalry-style mustache].

    Об усах… Слово “отчаянный” имеет одно из значений “bold, daring, reckless”, и мне кажется, что здесь слово употреблено именно с таким смыслом. Другое дело, что “отчаянный” употребляется только с одушевленными существительными (а сочетание его с “усами” – художественный прием, со значением “усы отчаянного кавалериста” – как правило, “лихо закрученные усы”).
    (To sum up, I wouldn’t translate it as ‘awful’ cavalry-style mustache, but something like ‘the moustache of a reckless cavalry soldier’)

  2. Throbert McGee:

    Since a sponge made out of bast would presumably be rather coarse and scratchy, I might use simply “loofah” as a one-word translation for мочалка. (I know that loofah gourds have been traditional in Turkish baths for centuries, so it’s theoretically possible that one could have found its way to 1930s Moscow!)

    Or, just call it a “coarse bath sponge,” without explaining what it’s made of.

    Regarding с отчаянными кавалерийскими усами, I would suggest something like “with the extravagant whiskers of a bandito” — even though it’s far from literal, I think it may be more immediately evocative for contemporary English speakers. (If you’re not convinced, here’s the results of a Google Image search for “bandito” and “cartoon”!)

    And, of course, bandito is very well-suited to Begemot’s lawless personality!

  3. Throbert McGee:

    Or, “with whiskers like Salvador Dali” — again, taking great liberties for the sake of imagery!

    But even if you don’t like the bandito or Dali suggestions, I still think you should use “whiskers” instead of “mustache” in this case (I would reserve “mustache” for the scene later in the book when Begemot takes on fully-human form).