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The Old Man (31)

July 22, 2016

“Hmph! Be glad, will he!” began Mikhail Fyodorovich. “An idiotic people! What is there to be glad about? What have they accomplished? Who benefits from it? England. And what is England to them? Their natural and irreconcilable and principal enemy! A frivolous, empty people! They are ready to do anything for the sake of a phrase, out of a frivolous love of words. That’s just it — Voltaire was right when he mocked the French. And where is the true glory to be found here…? On whose side? Doesn’t everyone know that a properly carried out siege must sooner or later overcome any stronghold? But who could have predicted that a stronghold thrown together haphazardly in plain view of the enemy would be able to withstand a year of a properly carried out siege? Yes, sir, it’s an empty victory on the part of the French, and on ours it’s something truly heroic, it’s lasting glory! And what are you all so glum about? Don’t you see that the defense of Sevastopol is as good as ten victories?”

M. Dubois came in. The old man stood erect and looked proudly at the Frenchman… The latter looked at him in the manner of a man prepared to listen and respond; but Mikhail Fyodorovich walked slowly out of the room without saying a word.

Qu’a donc monsieur, au nom du ciel?” asked the puzzled Frenchman.

I left as quickly as I could. A cold autumn rain beat against the windows of the carriage; the final groans of the martyrs of Sevastopol sounded in my ears; the furious face of the old man, Lutvinov, remained before my eyes… But Katerina Alexevna came out to meet me, beaming.

Rostislav is safe and sound; Rostislav has been given the Cross of St. George; Rostislav has been sent from the army to Petersburg… We shall see him.

Naturally, it was decided that we should go to Moscow the very next day; but I did not want to leave without enquiring about Mikhail Fyodorovich, and in the evening I set off to take leave of him.  I was received by Tatyana Grigoryevna; the poor old woman was terribly flustered: Mikhail Fyodorovich had fallen ill in earnest.

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what is this?

— Гм! радоваться! начал Михаил Федорович. Глупый народ! чему радоваться? Что они сделали? Кому в этом польза? Англии. Да что она им? Естественный, непримиримый, первый их враг! Пустой народ! На все готов из фразы, из пустого словолюбия. То-то и есть, Вольтер был прав, когда осмеивал французов. И где тут истинная слава?.. На чьей стороне? Кто не знает, что рано или поздно, правильная осада должна одолеть всякую крепость? Но кто мог полагать, что год правильной осады выдержит крепость, кое-как воздвигнутая в глазах самого неприятеля? Да-с, пустая победа на стороне французов, на нашей стороне истинное геройство, прочная слава! Да что вы все приуныли? Не видите ли вы, что ли, что защита Севастополя стоит десять побед?

Вошел M-r Dubois. Старик выпрямился всем станом, и гордо взглянул на француза… Тот посмотрел на него, как человек, приготовившийся слушать и отвечать; но Михаил Федорович, не сказав ни слова, медленными шагами вышел из комнаты.

— Qu’a donc monsieur, au nom du ciel?.. спросил озадаченный француз.

Я поспешила уехать. В окна кареты бил осенний, холодный дождь, в ушах моих раздавались последние стоны севастопольских мучеников, перед глазами оставалось гневное лицо старика-Лутвинова… Но ко мне навстречу с сияющим лицом вышла Катерина Алексевна.

Ростислав цел и невредим; Ростислав получил георгиевский крест, Ростислав послан из армии в Петербург… Мы увидим его.

Разумеется, было решено, что мы завтра же едем в Москву; но я не хотела уехать, не осведомившись о Михаиле Федоровиче, и вечером отправилась с ним проститься. Меня приняла Татьяна Григорьевна; бедная старуха была в страшных попыхах: Михаил Федорович не на шутку занемог.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. July 23, 2016 1:49 pm

    So it ends with an allusion to the opening of Onegin! Fascinating stuff.

    By the way, I’m currently reading Melville’s The Confidence-Man (a wonderful book that was too modern and ironic to be appreciated in its day), and I just got to this passage in chap. 13: “In short, with all sorts of cavilers, it was best, both for them and everybody, that whoever had the true light should stick behind the secure Malakoff of confidence, nor be tempted forth to hazardous skirmishes on the open ground of reason.” A note explains: “This Russian fortress in the Crimean War was still resisting siege in the summer of 1855 when Melville began this book; it fell in September.” I can’t escape Sevastopol!

    • July 23, 2016 10:46 pm

      Wow, it’s everywhere! I’m ready to read more prose and nonfiction about the Crimean War now – it feels much different here and in Tolstoi than in the poems that used to be my main associations (“Внимая ужасам войны,” “Клермонтский собор,” and I guess “The Charge of the Light Brigade”).

  2. July 24, 2016 8:45 am

    Well, I can recommend an excellent history (that focuses on the Russian side): Orlando Figes’s The Crimean War: A History; I wrote a bit about it here. Apparently the only significant Russian Crimean War novel is Sergeev-Tsensky’s Sevastopol′skaya strada (1937-40) — and in the course of searching my Russian Prose Literature Chronology for “Crimean War,” I learned who wrote “The Old Man”!

    • July 24, 2016 11:30 am

      Thanks for reminding me of that post! I’m reading Figes’s Natasha’s Dance: A Cultural History of Russia now and will have to move on to The Crimean War: A History after that.

      Was “The Old Man” already in the chronology you’re reading through? That’s great, though I shouldn’t be surprised, since you know where I first learned of the author.

      • July 24, 2016 12:49 pm

        Yes, I added it when I was doing a determined search for female authors a few years ago. I don’t know if it’s in the version I sent you; I’ll e-mail you the latest one (to which I’ve finally added proper soft signs everywhere they belong!).

      • July 24, 2016 2:50 pm

        Got it – thank you! What an amazing list!

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