Having finished Lermontov’s unfinished novel Княгина Лиговская [Princess Ligovskaya], written 1836-37—and it’s too bad he didn’t finish it, because a main character, the chinovnik Krasinsky, is a remarkably early instance of the “poor folks” theme that was to become prominent a decade or so later, and it would be nice to know where he was going with it—I’m now starting Odoevsky‘s 4338-й год (The Year 4338; new online translation here) and am looking forward to this early sf novel in which a somnambulist sees via Mesmeric self-magnetism a future in which Russia is the cultural center of a world about to be destroyed by a comet. But just a few pages into the introduction I’m taken aback to discover that the comet involved is not Halley’s, as I had been informed by authoritative scholarly sources, but Biela’s, which was as terrifying in the 1830s (to people who like to be terrified by such things, of course) as the 2012 phenomenon was in recent memory. As Wikipedia says, “the fact that Biela’s Comet was the only comet known to intersect the Earth’s orbit was to make it of particular interest, both to astronomers and the public, during the 19th century,” but the fact that it broke up and turned into a meteor shower later in the century means that it’s forgotten today, and I guess people just automatically substitute Halley’s in their minds. Still, I direct a click of the tongue at those who perpetrate the lazy error.

Update. Well, for Pete’s sake. Later on, there’s a reference to the threat of Halley’s comet. Did Odoevsky not understand that they were two different things, or did he change his mind and not bother to make the text consistent? Bah.

Addendum. Not worth making a separate post of, but I can’t resist passing on the best typo I’ve seen this month (and probably the best since “melted down into Ottoman canons“). On page 340, fn. 8, of Catriona Kelly’s A History of Russian Women’s Writing 1820-1992, we find: “Stalin’s best-known personal intervention was in the field of linguistics, in which he published a volume in 1950 refuting the doctrines of Marx, which he had earlier supported…” For Marx, read Marr.


  1. Yes, I don’t know what Halley is doing in there. Interesting that Odoevsky uses the transliteration “комета Вьелы”, “Viela’s comet”. And in the note in this edition doesn’t elucidate why he mentions two different comets, but it does mention another place where the comets seem to be connected:

    Отметим, что Одоевскому была известна повесть “Галлеева комета” М. П. Погодина, опубликованная в альманахе на 1833 год “Комета Белы”, СПб.

    (Note that Odoevsky was familiar with M. P. Pogodin’s novella Halley’s Comet, published in the 1833 anthology Bela’s Comet, St. Petersburg.)

    And is Biela pronounced /bila/ or /biela/?

  2. It pretty much has to be /bila/; Wilhelm von Biela (1752-1856) was a German-speaking Austrian subject from Saxony, though his remote ancestor was born in the Bohemian lands.

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