Krechinsky and Nozdryov.

I greatly enjoyed reading the play Свадьба Кречинского (Krechinsky’s Wedding) by Aleksandr Sukhovo-Kobylin (and I call your attention to the truly remarkable facial hair visible at that link), and then I enjoyed watching two versions of it on YouTube, the 1953 Moscow Pushkin Drama Theatre one and the 1975 Maly Teatr one (the latter is far better in almost every way, but it’s slightly cut, and you can only see the bit in which Krechinsky sings the start of an aria from Der Freischütz in the earlier one). At first I thought it was going to be yet another marriage-plot drama in which the lovely young woman has to choose between the guy she wants, who dances divinely, and the boring guy her father wants, who has an estate on the adjacent property, but after the first act it became apparent that the focus of the play was on the gambler and conman Krechinsky and his pathetic sidekick Rasplyuev and his servant Fyodor, and it got a lot more interesting, reminding me of Gogol’s play The Gamblers (see this post).

During that first act, when all we know about Krechinsky is that he’s a charming fellow who dances divinely and of whom Muromsky, the father, disapproves, he’s talking with the skeptical Muromsky, who says “But I hear you don’t care for village life…” Krechinsky replies heatedly:

Кто вам сказал? Да я обожаю деревню… Деревня летом – рай. Воздух, тишина, покой!.. Выйдешь в сад, в поле, в лес – везде хозяин, все мое. И даль-то синяя и та моя! Ведь прелесть.

Who told you that? But I adore the village… The village in summer is heaven. The air, the silence, the peace!.. You go out into the garden, the field, the woods — I’m the boss everywhere, it’s all mine. And the blue distance, that’s mine too! It’s just delightful.

We have no way of knowing at this point that it’s all a lie, that he despises country life and wants to get his hands on the daughter’s money so he can move to Petersburg and get into really high-stakes games, but if we know our Gogol we can guess, because that little speech is a clear allusion to the boastful, lying Nozdryov’s similar one in Dead Souls:

– Вот граница! – сказал Ноздрев. – Все, что ни видишь по эту сторону, все это мое, и даже по ту сторону, весь этот лес, который вон синеет, и все, что за лесом, все мое.

There’s the border! – said Nozdryov. – Everything you see on this side, it’s all mine, and even on that side, all those woods, that show blue over there, and everything beyond the woods, it’s all mine.

But to pick up on that allusion, you have to have read Dead Souls. This is one reason I’m reading as much Russian literature as I can, so that I can catch allusions (as well as, of course, the pleasure of the reading itself), and I’ll point out that this is why it’s not enough to know about books, movies, etc. — you might impress people at parties, but unless you experience those things yourself, they’re not doing you any good.


  1. I believe that ‘truly remarkable facial hair’ is a neck-beard (scroll down to an earlier photo) brushed outward, with more growth added around the mouth. It may have begun because shaving irritated his skin, as in Hemingway’s case.

  2. Ah, very likely! But surely it looked as odd to contemporaries as it does now; at least, I don’t recall seeing anything like it.

  3. January First-of-May says

    It may have begun because shaving irritated his skin, as in Hemingway’s case.

    The only time I ever shaved, on July 24, 2006 (I think, could have been a day or two later), I ended up with an uncomfortable feeling in the chin for the entire next week.

    In retrospect, this might have been because I was fourteen and wasn’t really supposed to have a beard yet in the first place. (I don’t know why I did.) But I’m still afraid of shaving, so I only trim my beard occasionally (usually with scissors, but once or twice with an actual trimmer).

    Right now, I’m just about due (or, rather, long overdue) for another trim, and I’ve been putting it back for longer than usual, so my beard is rather impressive (as you can see, for example, here… actually I think that’s the only recent online photo of me).

  4. Ah, that is an impressive growth! My wife likes my beard but keeps it trimmed to a respectable length and shape; when she sees an image like the Sukhovo-Kobylin one her standard line is “Don’t even think about it.”

  5. I too have always worn a beard. I have it cut along with my hair, and Gale trims my mustache once in between just to keep it out of the soup.

  6. David Marjanović says

    So many fellow pogonophores! I guess the (Western) Roman empire is over for good, or at least the Roman republic is… 🙂

    Shaving is really hard on the skin, most people are just either not sensitive enough to notice or believe (as with so many other things) that it’s necessary to suffer. Using hair scissors instead works (any injuries are punctual instead of spread out), but is very time-consuming.

    (Seriously, I’m more sensitive than most people. It occurs very often that I can’t hold a hot cup long enough to lift it safely, while everyone else happily carries it around. The skin-prick test for allergies always shows I’m almost allergic to the prick itself, while the following blood test always shows I have antibodies against just a few allergens. Lots of clothes aren’t wearable because they’re just so uncomfortable. And so on.)

  7. Pogonophores? They remind me of Medusa.

    Further O/T: My IPad has mysteriously switched the keyboard to Spanish (probably because I have recently been corresponding in Spanish). It creates a lot more work. Could anyone tell me how to switch keyboards? There is nothing in the user guide.

  8. Trond Engen says

    I let my beard grow freely for a few weeks until it gets less bothersome to shear it off with a trimmer than to keep it. It became a habit because my electric shaver gave me a rash and I’ve a latent exema on my hands that I won’t provoke with regular appøication of shaving foam. But I suspect it’s really just an excuse for laziness.

  9. Don’t say bad things about laziness, it’s gotten me where I am today!

  10. Bathrobe says

    On a Mac, you can open Keyboard Preferences (in the System Preferences). I don’t know about iPad.

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