Intimacy and Estrangement: Instrumental Singular Variation in Deictic Pronouns in Nineteenth-Century Russian Literary Prose

Ellen Langer, University of California, Berkeley

This paper addresses a small but interesting variation in the instrumental forms of the deictic pronouns (мною/мной and тобою/тобой) in nineteenth-century Russian prose through observation of similarities and differences in usage by Gončarov and Turgenev. These pronominal forms have similar but not identical histories in this period. Relatively stable in literary prose of the eighteenth century, тобою begins to lose ground to тобой rapidly in the nineteenth; мною, similarly dominant in the eighteenth century, does not disappear as quickly in the nineteenth, but for the generation of authors born after 1812, it is usually the exceptional form. The differences in rates of decline can be attributed to several causes, among them the initial perception of the newer, shorter forms as more colloquial (less formal) and thus of the appropriateness of using тобой rather than тобою in the reported speech of persons addressing each other на ты.

Against the background of the general decline of the older disyllabic forms of the case ending –ою in favor of the newer monosyllabic ending –ой, this paper examines specific instances of use by Gončarov (b. 1812) and Turgenev (b. 1818) which demonstrate the literary effects these authors achieve in playing on the theme of estrangement and rapprochement within familiar and/or intimate relationships. Both authors use the newer forms in –ой as their standard, although the shift to forms in –ой is far more pronounced in Gončarov’s prose. For both, use of the older forms in –ою appears motivated, although the specifics of usage are not identical. In Gončarov’s Oblomov, the use of the long forms appears to introduce an element of formality (old usage) to support a redefining of separate identity, in which context it alternates also with reintroduced вы forms in a relationship normally на ты, while for Turgenev, the shift to the older disyllabic forms in Otcy i deti bespeaks outright hostility between individuals whose relationship remains intimate/informal and entirely на ты. The instrumental singular variation in these pronouns appears as an indicator of intimacy and estrangement, but, like many affective markers, a token which is subject to different interpretations in different contexts and the voices of different authors or speakers.