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“His uncles laughed at their extravagant young nephew” (Panaeva)

October 2, 2011

More from Avdot’ia Panaeva’s trip to the country:

All the heirs (and with their children it came to about twenty people) had breakfast and dinner together before the division of the estate. Behind every chair stood a tall lackey [лакей] with a large branch in his hands, who, slowly waving it over the heads of those seated, shooed away the flies. The lackeys angrily and gloomily looked at all the heirs, knowing that their fate would now be decided soon, and many of them would be torn away from the places and people they loved [от родины и родных].


First they began to divide the contents of some enormous trunks in which were kept a great deal of all sorts of rubbish and various ancient clothes from Strakhov’s sisters. Crazed, amusing scenes took place as these things were divided up: Turkish shawls were cut into five pieces so the heirs would each get an equal amount, while trays and other silver items were broken up with an ax and weighed on a scale. The unhappy mediator tried until his voice went hoarse to convince the heirs not to argue over every rag and prolong the division. The heirs were to draw lots for already divided portions of the estate. It was terrible to look at the heirs as the lots were drawn: they all stood pale and shaking, whispering prayers, their eyes flashed as they kept their eyes on the hand of the house serf boy [дворовый мальчик] who, his eyes filled with bitter tears from fright, drew the lots.

Almost all the heirs were in despair, having drawn a village other than the one they would have liked, and envied each other, enumerating the advantages of one village over another.

But to me the most shocking thing was the division of the house slaves [дворовые].

The mediator wanted at first to divide up the house slaves by families, but all the heirs rebelled against this.

“For heaven’s sake,” cried one, “I am sure to get old folks and little children!”

Another objected, “With all due respect, Malan’ia has five daughters and not a single son! No, sir, that’s not how it should be done; suppose I draw Malan’ia.”

It was decided to divide in equal parts first the young male house slaves, then the full-grown girls, and finally the old people and children.

When the time came to draw lots, all the house slaves [вся дворня] surrounded the manor house, and the enormous entrance hall was packed with people. When it became known that mothers and fathers had been separated from their daughters and sons, there broke out everywhere shrieks, moans, sobbing… The mothers, forgetting all their fear, burst into the room and threw themselves at the heirs’ feet, begging them not to separate them from their children. It took me a long time to recover after such shocking scenes. Staying in the country became so repellent to me that I anxiously looked forward to the day we would leave that place.

Panaev managed to trade with his uncles, giving them a strapping young lackey for a frail little girl in order not to break up a family. His uncles laughed at their extravagant young nephew and gladly agreed to the trade. Panaev relinquished one grown house-slave girl [взрослая дворовая девушка] for nothing because her mother begged him not to separate her from her only child. (chapter 4)

Panaev is singled out when he is selfless and compassionate, but where is he when “all the heirs rebelled” against keeping families together as a matter of procedure?

The field slaves are divided not as individuals, nor even as families, but by villages.

The story of the shawls and silver trays being broken into pieces just before the slave families are is artfully done and reminiscent of Gertsen’s ironic treatment of “person-belongings” being on the same level as the master’s other goods.

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