The Shaken-Up Rubbish Heap
The Shaken-Up Rubbish Heap
The Subordinate and His Superiors
Subordinate: As I was passing by in these parts, I considered it my duty to call upon your excellency.
Superior A: Very well, my good fellow. But it seems to me there are unpleasant rumors about concerning you?
Subordinate: It is not my fault, your excellency, it’s just that the younger men at the office have sullied my reputation, but before you, sir, I am innocent as I am before god.
Superior B: You’re not a child to put the blame on others. Off you go…
This epigraph, from a novel that would be very famous if it existed, presented itself vividly to the hero of our story on one summer day of 1862…
It was evening, the weather was rainy, it was on the Isle of Wight.
Our hero was sitting at the window and looking at the sea.
The postal agent was standing by the door and looking at red-haired Kecaya.
Kecaya went up with a letter and a package, and went out without a letter or a package.
Our hero stopped looking at the sea.
The postal agent continued to look at golden-haired Kecaya.
Our hero read the following: “One of the main purposes of my journey to London was to meet you in person, to shake the hand of a man whom I have been so long accustomed to love and respect. When will you return? Please inform NN, whom I had the good fortune to meet back in RR.”
P.S. “I ask you to accept this new edition of my works as a sign of my deep… deep respect for you…”
And our hero unwrapped the works, which were bound in Morocco leather and gilded — and did not read them.
A week passed, summer and the rain continued…… Kecaya remained on the little island, our hero was on a very big one. At nine o’clock in the evening it was raining on Westbourne Terrace and rain was not the only thing…
(to be continued)
That’s all of Gertsen’s “The Shaken-Up Rubbish Heap” (Взболтанная помойная яма, 1863), a parody of Pisemskii’s Troubled Seas (Взбаламученное море, 1863). It’s in the December 15, 1863 issue of The Bell (Колокол), available in .pdf format here. It’s nice to see The Bell as scanned pages, by the way — I knew it was published in London for years, but I didn’t realize that meant that every page had “THE BELL” and the date in English, and the first page noted that it was “registered at the general post-office for transmission beyond the United Kingdom.”
The hero of “The Shaken-Up Rubbish Heap” is Gertsen himself. Here’s Charles Moser on what happened:
[Pisemskii] continued to London, where he went to great lengths to obtain an interview with Herzen. Evidently he told Herzen that he had come to London largely for the purpose of paying him a visit, and presented the exiled revolutionary with a copy of his collected works as a “sign of his immense esteem.” Pisemsky had always regarded Herzen as one of the most attractive figures of the generation of the 1840’s, that “golden age” of his youth, and it is likely that he expected to find in him a sympathetic listener to his complaints against the younger radical generation, with whom Herzen had also had some misunderstandings. If such was his expectation, he was grievously in error, for Herzen was quite cool toward him in the course of an uncordial conversation. As a consequence, Pisemsky temporarily turned against Herzen. For example, in his antinihilist novel of 1863, Troubled Seas, Pisemsky caused one of his heroes to be arrested for attempting to smuggle revolutionary proclamations from London into Russia. The implication was that Herzen incited rebellion from a safe distance, using dupes as his agents so that they might suffer if detected, while the master revolutionary sat comfortably in London. (120)
In the parody I think the short sentences and paragraphs that describe people outwardly, but in a way that makes their internal states seem straightforward and obvious, are meant to simulate Pisemskii’s style. I’m not sure if the changing hair color is playing on some inconsistency. It’s personal enough to seem a bit petty, but it’s more elaborate in the context of the “Miscellany” column in The Bell, where the rubbish heap starts as a criticism of Gertsen made by the hostile Northern Bee in Russia (Gertsen has a team transport нечистоты ‘sewage’ out of London), but is turned around to be a trash heap of Russian periodicals written by informers and conservative fanatics for hire, who unlike the Hébertists cannot even claim to be sincere fanatics. On this trash heap crawl all sorts of northern “bees, worms, gadflies, and gilded houseflies.” This flows into an attack on Katkov, who emphasizes his voluntary service to the authorities, “as if one could force a man against his will to inform on people, and slander them, and point out victims, and clap for the executioners?” And from there to Pisemskii, writing in Katkov’s journal.
Is “Superior B” in the made-up epigraph Ogarev? And what kind of name is Kecaya (Кецаiя)?