Tuesday, March 10, 2009

French in Russia

I've just finished reading Adam Zamoyski's chilling 1812: Napoleon's Fatal March on Moscow. A striking aspect of the Franco-Russian war was the extent to which the Russian elite was linguistically and culturally Frenchified. Zamoyski writes:

Over the past hundred years educated Russians had drawn heavily on French culture. To them more than to any other European society, France was the fount of civilisation. The nobility were brought up by French tutors on French literature, and spoke French amongst themselves. [Footnote: It is true that some teachers at Russian universities did use German or Latin.] Few of them had any more Russian than was needed to give orders to servants. French books were as widely read in Moscow and St Petersburg as in Paris. Fluency was mandatory for anyone wishing to make a career in the army or the administration. The only senior officer in the Russian army in 1812 not to speak French fluently was General Miloradovich, who was of Serbian extraction, and Alexander prided himself on the fact that his French was better than Napoleon's. Underpinning this francocentrism was a huge colony of teachers, artists, musicians, tailors, dressmakers, cabinetmakers, jewellers, dancing masters, hairdressers, cooks and servants, some of whose parents or grandparents had settled in Russia and established dynasties. From the beginning of the revolution in France they were joined by thousands of French émigrés, some from the highest aristocracy, many of whom took service in the Russian army.
[p. 62]

The chasm dividing the officers from the other ranks was unbridgeable, and there was no possibility of promotion. The officers were drawn exclusively from the nobility. They were supposed to serve their apprenticeships in the ranks, but usually did this in cadet formations or officer schools, and kept contact with their troops down to a minimum. This was not a problem, since many could not sustain a conversation in Russian. But they did personally cane them for minor faults.
[pp. 115-116]

Once Napoleon's Grande Armée had crossed into Russian soil:

It was up to Alexander to ensure patriotic feeling, or rather the determination to stand by the whole political, social, religious and cultural edifice which he embodied, spread through every class of the nation. A huge propaganda exercise was required, and in this Shishkov was to be invaluable. Alexander would hand him a draft proclamation, written in French, and Shishkov would turn it into stirring Russian. The manifesto issued in Polotsk on 6 July announced that Napoleon had come to destroy their 'great nation'.
[p. 201]

How and why did the Russian elite become speakers and readers of French? Inna Gorbatov explains:

After she ascended the throne in 1762 Catherine embarked on reshaping Russia into a European nation politically, administratively, and culturally. In her youth Catherine had shown no particular preference toward France; she seemed to be more interested in political theories than literature. But she studied what fashion dictated during those years, which saw the triumph of Montesquieu and the maturation of Voltaire. Catherine had been tutored in Stettin by a French governess, Mlle Gardel, and in St. Petersburg by "the most French of all Poles," Stanislas Poniatowski, who became her lover and whom she later installed on the throne of Poland. Having received the solid education worthy of a German princess of her time, Catherine was fluent in French, loved the language, and used it in her personal correspondence. She belonged to the cosmopolitan elite, who expressed themselves in French, and, as empress, she made French the language of her court. Not surprisingly, during Catherine's reign the French language became an important subject in Russian educational institutions at all levels and was introduced in regular schools. In Moscow and St. Petersburg French and German acquired the same importance as Latin and Greek. The Smolniy Institute, which Catherine created on the model of the Saint-Cyr School of Mme de Maintenon, opened its doors in St. Petersburg and welcomed 480 daughters of the Russian nobility. Although French had been excluded from use at the Academy of Sciences, Catherine introduced it along with Latin. Indeed, after 1776, Les actes et les memoires of the academy were usually written in French. The Academy of Sciences was, in fact, a genuine educational institution and contained a university with three departments. The university studies of young aristocrats in Moscow and St. Petersburg were considered incomplete without a trip to Paris. Thus the Russian nobility of the eighteenth century became completely "francified." As French became important in society and education Russia needed many French teachers. Catherine issued several orders that granted foreigners considerable privileges. This welcome in Russia, along with the revolutionary events in France, resulted in a substantial French colony in Russia. Unlike the colonies of Western Europeans in Russian cities under Peter the Great, this French colony consisted less of artisans and more of artists and intellectuals, who made their living by teaching French. Taught using a direct immersion method, the language spontaneously entered everyday conversation. Russians adopted French completely, almost as the Gauls had adopted Latin in antiquity, forgetting and neglecting their own tongue. Learned in this way, the French language became a symbol of culture and sophistication, while Russian came to symbolize ignorance, savagery, and lack of progress. When an Englishwoman, married to a Russian, began to study the language of her new country, her husband told her it was a total waste of time "except to speak to the servants." The French language was not simply learned or borrowed; in time it was assimilated by the entire upper class, becoming the only acceptable instrument for expressing their thoughts and ideas. This reality is immediately evident in the text of Leo Tolstoy's War and Peace, whose aristocratic characters use French as a matter of course. [...] Early proof that French had spread and assimilated in Russia under Catherine came in the form of many available French publications. These were read not only in Moscow and St. Petersburg but also in the provinces. In The Business of the Enlightenment Robert Darnton concluded that libraries in Moscow and St. Petersburg ordered works in French from Switzerland in great numbers, especially works by Voltaire and Rousseau. Nearly every major library had a department of foreign literature. The demand was so great that, starting in 1780, the newspaper Moskovskie Vedomosti regularly published announcements about books that had recently arrived from abroad. So many people were reading foreign works in the original language that the Academy of Sciences published its own works in foreign languages. In addition, many foreign works of literature were translated into Russian. According to Ferdinand Bruno, in one decade, 1769-79, the Translation Society of the Academy of Sciences published ninety-five different titles.   It was calculated that under Catherine II, six novels were translated   from English, seven from Italian, one hundred seven from German, and   three hundred fifty from French. Kivastov translated Andromaque, L'Art   poetique, several satires or epistles by Boileau, Kniajnin, Tancrede,   Karabanov, Mohomet et Alzire, the Russian Academy was mostly busy with   translations from French. One of the first was Candide. By around 1800 the cultivated, "Westernized" Russian intelligentsia had attained a very high intellectual level. They adopted French as a common language, traveled extensively, read the same books, enjoyed the same extravagant rococo and neoclassical styles in their interiors and architecture, and followed the same French fashions in clothing for men and women.