"The novel’s wisest general, Commander-in-Chief Kutuzov, understands this fact about battle, and about life, from the start. At the council of war before Austerlitz, Kutuzov dozes off. At last he cuts the meeting short: “ ‘Gentlemen, the disposition for tomorrow—or rather for today, for it is past midnight—cannot be altered now. And before a battle, there is nothing more important . . . ’—he paused—‘than a good night’s sleep.’ ” If the world of human beings were amenable to science, then planning would be most important. But in a world governed by contingency, where immediate reactions to unexpected events matter most, one above all needs alertness."
But way into the novel, as the Russian army is about to crush the last remnants of Napoleon’s army retreating from Moscow, Field Marshall Kutuzov first tells his gathered troops to consider that the French are human too and have suffered along with them. Then, after a dramatic pause he continues:
“But, that said, who invited them here? It’s their own doing, f… th… in the f…”, he suddenly said, raising his head.”
I even found an original Russian version online and even that was redacted. (I don't know a lick of Russian so it took a bit to find it.)
The original text had:
— А и то сказать, кто же их к нам звал? Поделом им, м… и… в г…. — вдруг сказал он, подняв голову.
I asked some of my Russian-speaking colleagues what this was and even they were a bit stumped but after some searching they found the redacted text was
м[ать] и[хъ] в г[узно]
Which they said was some crude old-fashioned way to say to basically screw their mother in the ass.
For example, most of the place names in Crime and Punishment are redacted, but it's so clear where everything happens there are walking tours in St Petersburg.
That is, the censor is some bored middle-class beaurocrat rather than a true believer. So all you need is to give the him plausible deniability so he can turn around to his bosses and say "Hey, he redacted the name, how was I to know he was talking about your mother."
Most 19th century was depressing and stagnant time wrt politics, so books drew immense public interest.
That said, op's example would be automatically censored by the author himself, since this language was unprintable in 1860s.
I don't know about the Dostoevsky's places, always thought it was a traditional trope - places named with the first letter are ubiquitous in Russian novels.
Edit: also, it's worth noting that much censorship was made to make books suitable for morally unstable or easily agitated demographics, like women, so sometimes the motives for a particular edit could be hard to relate from modern relativistic perspective.
P.S. That word is not old fashioned, it's used a lot in modern spoken Russian. It's quite vulgar though, much more so than the English equivalent.
Tolstoy famously said that he didn't even consider War and Peace to be a novel, but something else that sort of passes for one. Where another author with an axe to grind would tell a story that leads the reader to the desired conclusion, Tolstoy spends entire, insufferable chapters hammering home his message, sometimes in seeming contradiction to the plot. His portrayal of Napoleon in particular is comically ham-fisted, perhaps intentionally so.
One of his central points, on which he expounds endlessly, is dealt with in the first part of the article. Namely, that society and war are impossible to understand or predict. They just are. On the battlefield, it's not the army with the better strategy or equipment that prevails, but the one whose soldiers simply decide it's their time to win. It reminds me of Japan's "Shikata ga nai" (It cannot be helped) saying. While this is a valid coping mechanism for the incompetent or someone caught up in the heat of the moment, it's hardly a productive approach for those with the time to tackle tough problems. Kutuzov ends a strategy meeting on the eve of battle recognizing that it's too late for further revelations in understanding to be implemented, which is sane, but Tolstoy does indeed take things further and state such solutions are impossible to come by in the first place, which is unfounded. Complex systems can be understood. Just because they don't immediately surrender to analysis doesn't mean there is no solution. War and society are hard nuts to crack because they change based on the current understanding of them, like self-modifying code. That doesn't mean they're fundamentally impossible to understand.
This, at least, is my belief. Holding this belief made reading War and Peace a bit of a chore. Tolstoy creates wonderfully nuanced and realistic characters, but in War and Peace he hammers you over the head with his own philosophy and it's an unpleasant experience if you happen to disagree with it. The book would be better if he'd been more subtle, and could still benefit from having entire chapters (you know which ones) excised completely.
That having been said, War and Peace is my favorite Russian novel by far. First time I read it I was 15, they force you to read it high school. I disliked it intensely. Second time I read it I was 40. I absolutely loved everything about it, even Tolstoy's relentless arguments in favor of his positions on historical events. To understand them, you have to understand the traditionally Russian fatalism, that still exists there even to this day. The overriding belief that things are largely predetermined, and the capacity of any single person (including Napoleon) to change anything is pretty limited. Which is not an unreasonable position to take, IMO.
There are a ton of subtle, impossible to translate details in it that you simply will not get if you read it in any language other than Russian and without the Russian cultural background. Same is true in the opposite direction: Russians will not get some of the subtleties in US classical literature. There's just far less of it, and nothing, as far as I can tell, quite of the same stature as Tolstoy or Dostoevsky.
It's not condescension, it's just a simple fact. This actually becomes blindingly obvious only when you move to live in another culture/country about which you might have had some preconceived notions.
For instance the stock market is an example of a complex system that ought be trivial to create a very strong deterministic model of. Though it qualifies as complex, in reality it's quite a trivial system. Things tend to go up on good news, down on bad news, and all actors involved have mostly the same very simple motivation of increasing their returns. Real complex systems in practice are exponentially more difficult than the stock market because motivations and quantifications are far less clear. Yet in spite of its triviality and the fact that there has likely been more manpower and money dedicated to 'solving' the stock market than perhaps any other endeavor ever, we still remain completely clueless.
I'm sure your logic is to suggest that we yet lack the means of deciphering even such simple systems. Yet you are also making one extremely strong implicit statement. Systems with sufficient entropy become impossible to 'decode' to any meaningful degree. Consequently, you're arguing that there is a limited amount of entropy in complex social systems. Where is the logic for declaring this a reasonable view? I am not saying this to antagonize. The reason I'm curious is I imagine your view is quite common, yet I've never once heard it plainly stated (and I imagine most who hold such views aren't even aware they hold them). And now it's quite sparked my curiosity!
It is precisely because of the effort to predict and exploit the stock market that predicting it is so difficult.
Markets Are Anti-Inductive
Let's say you see me flipping a coin. It is not necessarily a fair coin. It's a biased coin, and you don't know the bias. I flip the coin nine times, and the coin comes up "heads" each time. I flip the coin a tenth time. What is the probability that it comes up heads?
If you answered "ten-elevenths, by Laplace's Rule of Succession", you are a fine scientist in ordinary environments, but you will lose money in finance.
In finance the correct reply is, "Well... if everyone else also saw the coin coming up heads... then by now the odds are probably back to fifty-fifty."
Recently on Hacker News I saw a commenter insisting that stock prices had nowhere to go but down, because the economy was in such awful shape. If stock prices have nowhere to go but down, and everyone knows it, then trades won't clear - remember, for every seller there must be a buyer - until prices have gone down far enough that there is once again a possibility of prices going up.
Nicolson goes on to point out how the Nazis — who were well aware of the example — made many of the same mistakes as Napoleon, who himself was repeating the same mistakes as Charles XII in his doomed invasion a hundred years earlier.
It's not to say that the problems of war and society are impossible to understand — but human factors such as hubris, bias, cults of personality, politics by committee, etc. usually conspire to obscure their solutions, even with the perspective of time.
whoa- things people say .. here's a chance to reconsider that line ..
>In spite of the fact that during these fifteen years I regarded writing as a trivial endeavor, I continued to write.* I had already tasted the temptations of authorship, the temptations of enormous monetary rewards and applause for worthless work, and I gave myself up to it as a means of improving my material situation and as a way of stifling any questions in my soul concerning the meaning of my life and of life in general.
*It was during this period, when he "regarded writing as a trivial endeavor,"
that Tolstoy produced War and Peace (1869).
It reminds me of some words from another, more recent, visionary: "Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans."
(though some investigation shows this quote originates from before Lennon)
The article contains many subtleties and interesting observations. Comments on those, or ones of your own, will make for a much better thread.
It's astonishingly good, both as literature and as an indictment of war and totalitarianism, and I'd recommend it to anyone who loves War and Peace.
(google translate does a good job actually https://translate.google.ru/translate?sl=ru&tl=en&u=https%3A...)
The problem with Les Miserables is that of wide circulation of translations which are actually abridgements, I fear many readers would have missed the grandeur of the whole unabridged novel. Same seems to be the case with Count of Montecristo.
12 chapters of Waterloo for waterloo’s sake is meaningless.
Russians get a bit too much press for most everything, from nukes to unstoppable social progress to foreign election meddling.
Curiously, but possibly related, not for https://www.google.com/search?q=largest+country+on+earth
"We know that man has the faculty of becoming completely absorbed in a subject however trivial it may be, and that there is no subject so trivial that it will not grow to infinite proportions if one's entire attention is devoted to it."
"It was the best of times, it was the blurst of times."
Definitely the greatest line I've ever read. Such extensive imagery and metaphor (well beyond just the sky), tucked into 15 words.
It's hard to pinpoint a "best," but I agree that this one (from Gravity's Rainbow) it quite, quite good, one I recall often.
Even if one adopts the mundane definition of topping all time greatest lists put together by various organizations, I still think this would apply to War and Peace, as commented here Anna Karenina probably would be a better candidate.
People who make such claims should be forced to watch the first classroom episode in Dead Poets Society till they get the idea.
"In England, utilitarianism supported moderate liberalism, but by the 1860s Russians took it as proof of revolutionary socialism."
.. you know, umm.. except for the ones that didn't.
not to mention that marx and his 'dialectical materialism' was published from london, etc.
Tolstoy's faith (though clearly not always in agreement with the church) is here simply a 'personal' one which magically appeared in a vacuum.
Just for reference, the grammatical reform had been designed during the tsarist times, started by the ephemeral Provisional Government, and only finished by the Soviets.