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The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Book XI, Chapter IX

The expression "eighteen stone" is mentioned 3 times in the whole book, all in same chapter:

What I dream of is becoming incarnate once for all and irrevocably in the form of some merchant's wife weighing eighteen stone, and of believing all she believes.

You are for ever angry, all you care about is intelligence, but I repeat again that I would give away all this super-stellar life, all the ranks and honors, simply to be transformed into the soul of a merchant's wife weighing eighteen stone and set candles at God's shrine.

Well, this wild legend belongs to our middle ages—not yours, but ours—and no one believes it even among us, except the old ladies of eighteen stone, not your old ladies I mean, but ours.

What is the relevancy of it?

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The translator chose to "translate" the Russian measure of weight of that time into something that would make sense to English natives.

In the original text Dostoevsky uses the phrase семипудовая купчиха, where пуд is approx. 16 kilos, while семь means "seven".

The narrator ("devil" from Ivan's nightmare) alludes to a stereotypical image of a "merchant's wife" (купчиха), usually depicted as.. well, a couple of examples can explain it better:

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  • Was семипудовая купчиха a popular/well-known phrase in Russia at that time? Or just something that made sense to describe the stereotype of these ladies? – Rand al'Thor Oct 16 at 15:26
  • @Randal'Thor Tough question as I haven't lived at that time :) As a native speaker, though, I don't see anything special about this phrase - it's just an epithet, and a good one, which might have been coined by Dostoevsky himself on a spur of a moment. It sounds quite natural in Russian, as opposed to "merchant's wife weighing eighteen stone" - which is really awkward and indeed draws one's attention as something weird (especially when repeated several times). – tum_ Oct 16 at 15:44

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