Saturday, April 16, 2016

Learning to Curse in Russian

don't let the bastards get you down notesBondar's Simplified Russian Method sounds like a tame linguistic instruction manual. And it is. But Kenneth Roberts (1890-1972), a reporter and historical novelist who received an honorary degree from Dartmouth in 1934, wanted to learn a different kind of Russian.

In the front of Roberts's personal copy of Bondar's book, there are several taped-in notes. Each one contains some variation on the phrases "Don't let the bastards get you down" and "They're all a bunch of bastards." The notes contain the Cyrillic script for these two phrases and a pronunciation guide.

don't let the bastards get you downDuring World War I, Roberts served as a member of the Siberian Expeditionary Force. Was this part of his training? How he kept up his spirits in the field? The rest of the book is curiously unmarked.

To see the Roberts copy of Bondar's Simplified Russian Method, ask for Roberts Library PG2111 .B65 1917. We also have a Kenneth Roberts manuscript collection (ML-25), and have written about Roberts in the Library Bulletin, discussing his nickname "the irascible Mr. Roberts" -- which these notes seem to bear out!

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