I’ve run across a couple of mistakes in my recent reading; one is substantive, the other trivial but hilarious. The first: Katerina Clark’s Petersburg: Crucible of Cultural Revolution is an excellent book, but we all make mistakes, and she makes one on page 95 when she calls Lermontov’s Masquerade, lavishly performed on the eve of the February Revolution, “that old chestnut of the classic repertoire.” It’s an understandable assumption about a play written by an acknowledged classic of Russian literature in 1835, but it’s wrong; as Marc Slonim writes in his book Russian Theater, from the Empire to the Soviets (p. 46):

[Lermontov’s] most important theatrical work is Masquerade (1835) written when he was twenty-one. He tried hard to put it on the stage, and revised it three times but could not break the resistance of censors, who banned it in 1836. Permission to present Masquerade was not given until 1862, but then it failed to arouse the audience. By a strange irony of destiny, it was not played again until the last days of the tsarist regime in 1917 and did not become a theatrical success until 1933 and 1938 when it was a century old.

It’s not clear to me why the play was so determinedly banned—surely not simply for showing aristocrats behaving badly—but I’ve just finished reading it and I can certify that it is a powerful work, and an astonishing accomplishment for a twenty-one-year-old.
The other error is a simple typo, but it gave me much joy: on p. 94 of Tannenberg: Clash of Empires 1914, by Dennis E. Showalter: “No state in history had fought a war to restore the exact status quo ante helium.”


  1. The images of page 94 shown at both Amazon (not the Kindle version, but the print version) and Google Books have been corrected. But Google does find 69 non-duplicative hits for status quo ante helium, so it is not (alas!) an error hitherto unknown to science. Most of them are OCR errors: italic text is more likely to be mis-OCRed than roman text, especially if it’s in a foreign language. But one is an article about Allied World War II aims that does not appear to be the result of scanning. More disturbingly, another is a judicial decision from Nigeria. Did the judge or his clerk actually believe that helium is the correct form?

  2. If the phrase “status quo ante helium” hasn’t been used in a steampunk novel yet, that oversight should be rectified immediately.

  3. Theophylact says:

    Yes, I’ve noticed that OCR problem, most recently in Tim Parks’s books about life in Italy, which I tend to read on my Kindle. Italicized Italian suffers badly, and “rn” routinely becomes “m“. Buon giomo!

  4. dearieme says:

    WKPD: “After the initial expansion [post Big Bang] the Universe cooled sufficiently to allow … various subatomic particles … thousands of years were needed before the appearance of … hydrogen, along with traces of helium and lithium.”
    So the status quo ante helium is a chaos including protons, neutrons, and electrons.

  5. yeah, If the phrase “status quo ante helium” hasn’t been used in a steampunk novel yet, that oversight should be rectified immediately.

  6. I read a bootleg book some while back that had been OCRed without regard to all the proper names in it, and since it was a fantasy, many of those proper names were not to be found in the dictionary. For example, the city of Vindium most often appeared as Vmdmm, and the hero, Jorian, is frequently )onan. The problem of reading minims (upright strokes) correctly, thought banished after the invention of printing and the dot on the letter “i”, has now returned with a vengeance.

  7. it was not played again until the last days of the tsarist regime is incorrect. While not a ‘staple’ It had a substantial number of stage productions with varying interpretations. The ‘return’ of the play in 1930s is partly due to that it fitted with socialist realism’s demand for criticism of the old regime.
    And of course a great impulse to its popularity was Khachaturian’s musical suite for the play (1943), subsequently made into a ballet. The haunting waltz for Masquerade enjoys a never-fading pop-hit popularity.

  8. Ah, thanks for the correction! And here‘s a link to the waltz.

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