I’m progressing through Chukovsky’s Diary, 1901-1969 pari passu with my reading of Russian fiction, and on October 11, 1927 he had some interesting things to say about Tynyanov (see my Kije gripe):

He read his Lieutenant Kizhe. The opening sounds like Leskov, the middle like Gogol, and the end is Dostoevsky. He doesn’t quite convey the horror of Kizhe’s nonbeing, but his Meletsky and Emperor Paul are marvelous, the language is magnificent, and the work as a whole is a good deal more airy than the Griboedov novel he’s slaving away at now. He read me an excerpt from the latter — about how Griboedov was plagued by his own Wit Works Woe — the emptiness, the soullessness, the absence of a knack for fertile foolishness. As I see it, the two subjects — Kizhe and Griboedov — are one, and both are about Tynyanov. To some extent he himself is a Kizhe, as is evidenced by his Heine translation: it lacks the “fluid,” “lyric,” “melodic” qualities that come only to fools. He’s got everything else in spades: he is charming in his tiny book-lined flat at his bazaar-stand of a desk amidst pads covered with notes of plans for future works such as novellas about Maiboroda and the dying Heine (Maiboroda is to some extent a Kizhe too); he is charged with creative energy; he’s got thousands of themes in his head; he goes on about Sapir and Nekrasov’s influence on Polonsky and the film version of Poet and Tsar.

(The Russian is below the cut; Arkady Máiboroda — an odd surname, primarily borne by Ukrainians, whose etymology is not explained by Unbegaun, my usual source for surnames — was an infantry commander who died in 1844.)

I’m just starting the second chapter of his Griboedov novel (which he wound up calling Smert’ Vazir-mukhtara, “The death of the vazir-mukhtar [ambassador plenipotentiary],” just one example of the many exoticisms he lards the novel with), so I can’t make any judgments yet, but I do feel the force of what Chukovsky says: it is definitely less airy, more clogged, than Kizhe. Which is not to say that I’m not enjoying it.

Читал свою повесть о поручике Киже. Вначале писано по Лескову, в середине по Гоголю, в конце — Достоевский. Ужас от небытия Киже не вытанцевался, но характеристики Павла и Мелецкого — отличные, язык превосходный, и вообще вещь куда воздушнее Грибоедова. Он сейчас мучается над грибоедовским романом. Прочитал мне кусок — о том, как томит Грибоедова собственное Горе от Ума — пустота, бездушие, неспособность к плодородящей глупости, и мне показалось, что обе эти темы — о Киже и о Грибоедове — одинаковы, и обе — о Тынянове. В известном смысле он и сам Киже, это показал его перевод Гейне: в нем нет «влаги», нет «лирики», нет той «песни», которая дается лишь глупому. Но все остальное у него есть в избытке — он очарователен в своей маленькой комнатке, заставленной книгами, за маленьким базарным письменным столом, среди исписанных блокнотов, где намечены планы его будущих вещей: повести о Майбороде и об умирающем Гейне (причем Майборода — в известном смысле тот же Киже), он полон творческого электричества, он откликается на тысячи тем, он говорит о Сапире, о влиянии Некрасова на Полонского, о кинопостановке «Поэта и Царя»

Майборода Аркадий Иванович (ум. 1844), командир Апшеронского пехотного полка
Полонский Яков Петрович (1819-1898), поэт
Сапир Михаил Григорьевич, сотрудник изд-ва «Кубуч»


  1. even though Chukovsky it seems was always so nice a man like everybody’s granddad like, perhaps he was not always that nice, when he was young, at least, sometimes he sounds even, like, mean bordering on spiteful
    if to read the excerpt in English it sounds like that to me
    in Russian it sounds just friendly, how strange that i perceive the same excerpts so differently

  2. I’ll be interested to hear what you think of Smert’ Vazir-Mukhtara, Languagehat. I was sorry to get bogged down about 120 pages in but will probably try it again some year.

  3. Poruchik Kizhé was made into a full feature film in 1934 with Prokofiev’s original score. It’s available in full here. And another version was made in 1990.
    Does Chuk mention that this story is based on a supposedly true episode from the reign of Paul I? Tynyanov took it from Vladimir Dahl’s book of anecdotes from that period and Dahl heard it from his father.
    It may be interesting to non-Russian visitors to this cafe that Kizhé has been a favourite family read for generations – it’s both funny and educational. I remember listening to it for the first time and now, looking back, I think I can almost feel how new brain cells grew as the absurd new twists in the story unfolded.

  4. and is it clear how Chuk uses ‘foolish’ and who he means by ‘fools’? To me it’s obviously Pushkin and ‘foolish’ here means lighthearted, bubbling as in дурачество.

  5. Сашура: I discussed the movie (about which I had bad things to say) and some of the background in this post; the Wikipedia entry on Kije is largely my doing.

  6. oh, sorry, walk out of the cafe for a second – and miss tons of fun.
    But thanks for ploughing through Chuk’s diary. What transpires from you posts (and his diary) is how Chuk’s tremendous importance as an ‘organiser’, an inspirational figure in literature.

  7. Yes, he knew absolutely everybody and was sympathetic to most (though sternly honest about his opinions of what they wrote).

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