Cover Image: Woe from Wit

Woe from Wit

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This was a pleasant read. First of all, reading plays that are translated from Russian is not a common thing for me. I went directly to the content, (reading the introduction or translator's note at last in the hope of not getting influenced by their opinions). The language has been beautifully translated, a thorough and nice job from the translator. Although I don't read any Russian, but the English verses are so beautiful and rhyming, I could imagine the play on the stage simultaneously. Back to the translator's note, of course, there is explanation of how carefully words are chosen, rhymes are retained in various forms, and so on. Just for choosing the Title, the translator quoted Nabokov's suggestion etc., it was an insightful job. 

The play and story itself is ok, I expected more conflicts, but I still enjoyed reading the witty monologues. It shines the Russian high society wording and echoing a mixture of French, German accent marks, reflecting very well the era. 

Another point is the "aphorism-like" verses. There are many sentences that could very much be put in nowadays context and echo emotions and ripples. Again, wonderfully translated.
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"The Woes of Wit" was an easy read and it was interesting to see how the matter of madness was dealt with, but it's not one of my favorite classics. I really liked reading the preface though were they explained how many Russian sayings derived from this play.
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It was The Master & Margarita that first, truly, brought Russian literature and its potential for irreverence, absurdity and (not so-) disguised social commentary to my attention. From there I expanded to the more classical texts such as Pushkin’s Onegin (love at first read) and Tolstoy’s War and Peace (merely whelmed). Thankfully there are publishers out there, such as Columbia University Press’ ‘Russian Library’ project and Pushkin Press, which continue to shine a spotlight onto great, newly translated literature. Woe from Wit is definitely an addition to this. Thanks to Columbia University Press and NetGalley for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for a review.

Woe from Wit, according to this edition’s introduction, is still frequently quoted by Russians in their everyday life. When asked what the time is, those without watches will say that “no one happy minds the clocks” and Chatsky’s speech brings us the phrase “and who are the judges?”, letting us question who dictates what we should do and why. I’m always amazed by the influence of plays on out culture. You see it now with films and series which are quickly picked up by popular culture but also very quickly dropped again. Only a few end up giving voice to a sentiment that endures, but as long as the sentiment endures, so does the play that voiced it. Woe from Wit gives voice to many things, especially the frustration of a younger generation of men in 10th century Russia, who traveled abroad and adopted more progressive ideals than those at home. This clash, although with comedic timing, is present throughout Woe from Wit and it leaves our Romantic protagonist frustrated. These frustrations end up later leading Russia into the Decembrist Uprising of 1825 and, of course, the Russian Revolution.

In Woe from Wit, a young man, Chatsky, returns to Moscow from abroad, hoping to reconnect with his former love. Unfortunately, Chatsky finds a Moscow, and a beloved, that has changed and grown while he was away. She has moved on and will no longer greet him with the same enthusiasm and devotion, while Moscow itself is now full of quick judgements, nepotism, and a fear of radicalism. Of course, everything coming out of Chatsky’s mouth is seen as revolutionary and upsetting. Woe from Wit is a comedy, but one that has a keen eye and a sharp tongue. Much can be found to criticize, whether it is the job security of the maid depending on keeping her mistress’ secret, the father who grovels before all, the Princess whose own racism she only ever allows to be adorable, and the clerk who understands the safety of being meek and mild. Chatsky himself bursts onto this scene of carefully played personas and carefully established mores with a distaste for all, and although the consequences are comedic, they are also tragic. The title itself is also key to understanding this balance between comedy and tragedy within the play. 'Wit' is usually something we associate with fun and laughter, being adored by the crowd around you for your quick tongue. In Chatsky's case, his cleverness and way with words sees him scorned by those around him who are either not quick enough themselves or dislike being the object of mockery. It also allows the reader/observer of the play to question whether Chatsky's wit does him any good. Perhaps he is morally above the other characters, but perhaps he is also a little cruel in his mockery.

This is my first time reading anything by Griboedov, but I greatly warmed to the quick wit and sly judgment on display in Woe from Wit. The quick repartees between different characters, especially Chatsky and Sophie, are a joy to read and made me long to see the play performed. The array of characters and their idiosyncrasies they all display are a joy to read, even as Chatsky remains a solid protagonist. It is important to read the Introduction, however, since it provides a good context for the play and its twists and turns. It is absolutely possible to read and enjoy the play without, but the added depth of the context really brings some of the play’s elements to life. Betsy Hulick, who is a part of Columbia University Press’ ‘Russian Library’ project, produces a great translation that allows for easy reading, while maintaining a rhythm and a rhyme that makes this Russian play feel familiar to an Anglophone audience used to Shakespeare.

Before I end this review, I do want to heap a little bit of praise onto the ‘Russian Library’ project itself. I’ve read a few of their translations so far and many of them, such as A Double Life by Karolina Pavlova, trans. by Barbara Heldt, were immediate hits with me and introduced me to a whole new way of writing. It’s definitely a project I will be keeping an eye on in the future.

Although reading plays may not be for everyone, I would recommend that those with an inteest in Russian literature and history give Woe from Wit a chance. Not only was the play in and of itself crucial to the development of Russian drama, it also provides a fascinating insight into the frustrations of Russian youths that influenced and caused major historical and societal changes.

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I appreciated the introduction and note from the translator in the beginning of Woe from Wit. As a lover of history, I enjoyed learning about Alexander Griboyedov. I don’t know much about Russian history, thus, it helped me understand this satire’s context. 

The play was fast-paced and at times poetically fluid (which shows the artistic abilities of their translator too!). I particularly enjoyed the interchanges between Chatsky and Sophie. My romantic heart wanted to see them together. Afterall, they were young lovers. 

Throughout the scenes, the reader will notice the hypocrisy within the Russian aristocratic society. They, the aristocratic characters, claimed that Chatsky had lost his mind, a rumor sparked by Sophie. When, in fact, Chatsky is the only one who appears sane and intelligent. All the other characters are too closed-minded and narcissistic. They only care about high-society, and keeping their traditions the same (not wanting others to read books and get an education...insane!).

This book has definitely incited a personal interest in Russian history for me. I hope it does for you too!
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Thank you to Netgalley and Columbia University Press for access to this arc. 

When I saw this arc offered, it sounded as if it would be fun and interesting to try reading a classic Russian play. I haven't read many plays and by the halfway point I remembered why - I find I don't care for them as much as prose. So this is definitely an "it's not the play, it's me" reason for stopping. It appears to be well translated but as plays are not my thing and I don't know the famous Russian aphorisms, it just wasn't working for me.
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Early 19th Century Russia. Estate life of Moscow's nobility was changing. Chatsky represented a new generation of nobles. His estate was run with the assistance of over three hundred serfs. He was "seized by wanderlust, and- off he goes...seeking greener pastures...And then...He deigns to reappear...". Three years have passed. He determined that "It's good to travel to a distant land...-or live on one's estate, with work its own reward, not kowtowing to the powers that be." Chatsky can't wait to see Sophie, the girl he loves. Growing up they were inseparable. He was in for a rude awakening.

Famusov, Sophie's father, was hosting a high society ball on the night of Chatsky's unannounced arrival. Chatsky observed the so-called moral and ethical behavior of Famusov's elite guests. Literary life replete with "delight, curiosity and enthusiasm" was painfully absent at this salon. "...anyone who has "five or six thoughts in his head" has no place in this society...People waltz, play cards...frivolity personified." Liza, (Sophie's maid) tells Sophie, "Like all gentlemen hereabouts, your father's set his sights on decorations and high rank...".

Chatsky noticed that "old prejudices linger". His outspokenness was misunderstood. He would not "practice civility...And join the civil service...". He said, "Service, not servility...Trample those beneath whom you despise, Flatter those above you adulate-an age of servile urges...". "But listen! in uniform, or a civilian who's a more delightful and amusing man than Alexander Chatsky?...He had a sharp, inventive wit...".

"Woe from Wit: A Verse Comedy in Four Acts" by Aleksandr Griboyedov and translated by Betsy Hulick, was written in the 1820's in the period between the War of 1812 against Napoleon and the Decembrist Revolt of 1825. The four act satirical play was heavily censored during the author's lifetime. This reader lacked familiarity with the Russian language and was unable to experience the colloquialisms and oft quoted Russian proverbs. The masterful introduction by Angela Brintlinger was thoroughly researched and most informative. I highly recommend this tome.

Thank you Columbia University Press and Net Galley for the opportunity to read and review "Woe from Wit".
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I received this book for free from Netgalley. This did not influence my review.

Woe from Wit by Alexander Griboedov (translated by Betsy Hulick) is a short, fascinating book. The text taken by itself would be a cute and mildly amusing play in verse. But taken together with the introduction, it is much more. 

I had never heard of the author, an early nineteenth century Russian playwright and poet who remains a very influential writer in Russia. Apparently lines from his plays, this one in particular, are quoted even today and it’s social commentary is still relevant after a fashion.

The play itself centers on Alexander Adreevich Chatsky, a young man who returns to Moscow after three years abroad, to court the young woman he left behind. The woman, Sophie, has moved on, falling in love with her father’s secretary, Molchalin. She has other suitors as well.  The father wants someone wealthier and higher in rank for his lovely daughter but her mind is made up.

The father throws a party to which numerous friends and acquaintances are invited. Chatsky is there. He has a sharp wit and is quick to criticize what Moscow was and what it has become. Sophie has no patience for his cynicism, especially when he turns it on Molchalin. She starts a rumor that Chatsky has gone mad.

The entertainment picks up as the guests make wilder and wilder claims about Chatsky’s loss of sanity. Eventually the news gets back to him. Shortly, Sophie overhears Molchalin hitting on her maid. She breaks off their affair. Chatsky, furious and disillusioned that she would make up a tale about him, no longer wants anything to do with her. He stomps off after a blistering tirade against everyone of the guests, leaving the father to conclude the rumor must be true.

Like most plays, I imagine this would be much more enjoyable to watch than to read. However, it did leave me wishing I could see it performed.
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It's been awhile since I sat down and read a play. I really enjoyed "Woe from Wit," but I would have been entirely lost had I not read the forward. The forward provided the political and cultural background necessary to really track what was happening within the 4 acts. 

I was actually shocked by how many common phrases could be found within the play. I was happy to receive the early release of this addition because I don't know that I would have otherwise taken the time to give this a read. Overall, I really enjoyed it.
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I enjoyed this quick little witty read. Told in 4 acts, classic social motifs are made fun of, there is a wonderfully shallow cad character, a miss-guide young lady, and a father that has no idea what is going on around him. What more could one ask for from this classical play?  I laughed out loud at the satirical take on Post-Napoleanic Moscow and was very surprised that I had not given this play a chance before now. 
If you want a chuckle-inducing, fast-paced, easy to understand work, then Elizabeth Hulick's translation of Alexander Griboyedov's Woe from Wit is for you. 

Thank you NetGalley and publisher for the ebook ARC of this title in exchange for my honest review.
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You probably don't always read translations of plays from Russia, and plays with rhyming dialogue at that.  But this is certainly one instance where those with half an eye to that country should do so.  A young man returns from abroad to the place where his childhood sweetheart lives, to find her more grown up and moved on.  Also, the whole family seems to find everything he says quite strident – in being so utterly, utterly quick to criticise, and finding everything about society fuddy-duddy, nepotistic and old-fashioned.  The comedy follows him as he tries to stick around with the family, and while she tries to avoid him, leaving him to work out who his rival might be en route to a great society ball the household is hosting.  The good thing is this is a breeze to read, with snappy dialogue in short lines of verse, and it remains funny, even if we might not know all the ins and outs of what the author was saying.  Never mind, the fantastic introduction is on hand to explain the full social context of the times the play was set in, and gives us both the author's life story and the history of the play since.  It's kind of a loose approximation, but where Russians might just have to need such a similarly annotated edition of "The Importance of Being Earnest" to understand us current Brits, so we might need to read this to understand the Russian that constantly quotes this, or performs this in full, to this day.  I've always respected this publisher, even if I've not always loved their work, but this volume really does prove to me the 'classic' status of, and the worth in reviving, this text.  It's not for everyone, but it should well be for many.
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Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for providing me an advance copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!

Since I'm unfamiliar with Russian literature, poetry, and drama, I was a bit apprehensive about reading this title. However, I was pleasantly surprised with how enjoyable and amusing this play was to read! Griboedev's characters are hilarious and contrast each other nicely, and the dialogue is fast-paced and funny. The entire play reminded me a lot of Jane Austen's work, especially Lady Susan. 

I definitely benefited from the substantial introduction at the beginning of the play, which provided excellent information on the social, political, and cultural environment in Russia at the time of the play's publication. Without this, I don't think I would have enjoyed the play so much.
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I assumed this was a modern adaptation of the old classic for some reason. It isn't, just a new translation. I believe we already have one in our collection, so will not be purchasing a new one.
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There are so many writers that have used Chatsky as a reference point in their work, so it was nice to finally read the original work featuring this character.  This was an enjoyable read and I can see why it has had such an influence.
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