A NOVEL IN LETTERS
Твори О.С. Пушкіна.Переклад англійською мовою.>A NOVEL IN LETTERS

 

A NOVEL IN LETTERS

(1829)

 


I. LIZA TO SASHA


Dear Sashenka, you must have been surprised by my unexpected departure for the country. I hasten to explain it all candidly. My dependent position has always been painful to me. It goes without saying that Avdotia Andreevna brought me up as an equal with her niece. Yet in her house I always remained a ward: you cannot imagine how many petty grievances are attached to that tide. I had to put up with a great deal, to yield in many things and close my eyes to others; while my vanity assiduously took note of the remotest hint of a slight. My very equality with the Princess was a burden to me. When we appeared at a ball in identical dresses, it annoyed me that she wore no pearls. I felt that the only reason why she had not put them on was that she didn't want to be different from me, and this very tactfulness offended me. Does she presume envy or any such childish meanness of spirit in me, I asked myself. The way men treated me, however polite they might have been, wounded my vanity every minute. The coldness of some and the affability of others both suggested a lack of respect for me. In short, I was an extremely unhappy creature, and my heart, though tender by nature, was becoming more and more hardened. Have you not noticed that all young girls who have the status of wards, distant relatives, demoiselles de compagnie, and the like, are usually either base sycophants or insufferable eccentrics? The latter I respect and exonerate with all my heart.
Exactly three weeks ago I received a letter from my poor grandmother. She complained of her lonely life and urged me to come and live with her in the country. I decided to take this opportunity. I could just barely persuade Avdotia Andreevna to let me go, and I had to promise to return to Petersburg for the winter; but I have no intention of keeping my word. Grandmama was overwhelmed with joy: she had not really thought I would come. I cannot tell you how much I was moved by her tears. I have grown to love her with all my heart. At one time she belonged to the best society, and she has retained much of the courtesy of those days.
Now that I am living at home, I am the mistress of the house, and you will not believe what a heartfelt pleasure this is to me. I grew used to country life in next to no time, and the lack of luxury doesn't seem strange to me at all. Our property is truly charming. An ancient house on a hill, a garden, a lake, and pine forests all around — all this is somewhat melancholy in the fall and winter, but must seem like paradise on earth in the spring and summer. We have few neighbors, and so far I haven't seen anyone. I love solitude — just as it is sung in the elegies of your Lamartine.
Write to me, my angel; your letters will bring great comfort to me. How are your social gatherings and our common acquaintances? Although I have become a recluse, I have not given up all the vanities of the world: news about it will be entertaining to me.

The Village of Pavlovskoe


2. SASHA'S REPLY


My dear Liza,
Just imagine how astonished I was when I heard about your removal to the country. Seeing Princess Olga by herself, I thought you were unwell, and I couldn't believe what she told me. Then, the next day, I get your letter. Congratulations, my angel, on your new way of life. I'm glad you like it. Your complaint about your previous situation moved me to tears, though it sounded unduly harsh. How can you compare yourself with wards and demoiselles de compagnie! Everybody knows that Olga's father was obligated to yours for everything he had, and that their friendship was as sacred as the closest family tie. It seemed that you were content with your lot. I would never have guessed that you were so oversensitive. Confess: isn't there another, secret reason for your hurried departure? I suspect... But you're being terribly discreet with me and I don't want to anger you with my conjectures from a distance.
What can I tell you about Petersburg? We are still at our dacha, but almost everybody else is already gone. The balls will start in a couple of weeks. The weather is wonderful. I walk a great deal. The other day we had some guests for dinner: one of them asked me if I had any news of you. He said that your absence is as noticeable at the balls as a broken string in a piano - and I completely agreed with him. I keep hoping that this fit of misanthropy will not last long. Come back, my angel: otherwise I'll have nobody this winter with whom to share my simplehearted observations and the epigrams born in my heart. Farewell, dear - give it some thought and change your mind.

Krestovskii Island

3. LIZA TO SASHA


Your letter cheered me up no end. It reminded me of Petersburg so much; it seemed as if I were hearing your voice. How ridiculous are your perpetual speculations! You suspect in me some deep, arcane feelings, some unhappy love, don't you? Calm down, my dear, you're wrong: I resemble a heroine only in that I live in a remote village and pour cups of tea, like Clarissa Harlowe.
You say you won't have anybody this winter with whom to share your satirical observations. But what is our correspondence for? Write to me about anything that attracts your attention: I repeat I have not at all given up society, and everything connected with it interests me. As proof, let me ask you who the person was that found my absence so noticeable. Was it our warmhearted chatterbox, Aleksei R.? I am sure I've guessed right... My ears were always at his service, which was all he wanted.
I have become acquainted with the X. family. The father is a buffoon and a great host, the mother a fat, well-humored matron, very fond of playing whist, and the daughter a slender melancholy girl of seventeen, brought up on novels in the fresh air. She is in the garden or in the fields with book in hand all day, surrounded by dogs from the farmyard; she speaks about the weather in a singsong and offers you jam with affection. I found a whole bookcase full of old-fashioned novels in her room. I intend to read them all, and I have already begun with Richardson. Only if you live in the country do you get the opportunity to read the vaunted Clarissa. Crossing myself, I began with the translator's preface and, finding in it an assurance that though the first six parts were a bit on the dull side the last six would fully reward the reader's patience, I bravely set about the task. I read the first, the second, the third volumes... at last I reach the sixth one: dull beyond endurance. Well, thought I, now I shall be rewarded for my pains. And what happened? I read about the deaths of Clarissa and Lovelace, and that was the end of it. Each volume contained two parts, and I did not notice the transition from the six boring to the six entertaining ones.
Reading Richardson led me to some reflections. What a frightful difference between the ideals of the grandmothers and those of the granddaughters! What is there in common between Lovelace and Adolphe? Yet at the same time the role of women has not changed. Clarissa, except for some ceremonious curtsyings, is very like heroines in the latest novels. Is this because man's attractiveness depends on fashion, on attitudes of the moment, while that of women is based on an emotional makeup and nature that are enduring?
You see, I'm chattering on with you as usual. Please don't be any less generous in your epistolary conversations with me. Write to me as often as possible and as much as possible: you cannot imagine how much one looks forward in the country to the day the post comes. Looking forward to a ball cannot be compared with it.

4. SASHA'S REPLY


You are mistaken, my dear Liza. I declare, in order to humble your pride, that R. does not notice your absence at all. He has attached himself to Lady Pelham, an Englishwoman recently come for a visit. He never leaves her side. She responds to his remarks with a look of ingenuous surprise and with the little exclamation: "Oho!" He is in raptures. Let me tell you: the person who has been inquiring after you and is missing you with all sincerity is your faithful Vladimir Y. Are you satisfied? I imagine you are, and let me presume, in my usual way, that you didn't need my help to guess who it was. Joking aside, Y. is very much preoccupied with you. If I were you I'd draw him out as much as I could. Why not? He is a highly eligible young man... There is no reason why you shouldn't marry him: you would live on the English Embankment, throw parties on Saturday nights, and drive by to pick me up every morning. Stop being silly, my angel: come back and marry Y.
K. gave a ball the other day. There were swarms of people. The dancing went on until five in the morning. K. V. was dressed very simply: a white crepe dress, without even any lace trim, but on her head and around her neck half a million's worth of diamonds — that's all! Z. as usual was dressed in an excruciating fashion. Wherever does she get her outfits? She had, instead of flowers, some sort of dried mushrooms sewn on her dress. Did you, by any chance, send them to her from the country, my angel? Vladimir Y. did not dance. He is going on leave. The C.s came (probably the very first), sat through the night without dancing, and were the last to leave. The oldest of the girls, I fancied, had put on some rouge — it is high time, too... The ball was a great success. The men were not satisfied with the supper, but then men always have to be dissatisfied with something. I had a very good time, even though I danced the cotillion with that insufferable diplomat, St., whose innate stupidity is reinforced by a blasé manner, imported from Madrid.
Thank you, sweetheart, for your report on Richardson. Now I have some notion about him. With my impatience I have little hope of ever reading him: I find superfluous pages even in Walter Scott.
That reminds me: Elena N.'s romance with Count L. seems to be drawing to a conclusion; at least he looks so crestfallen and she is giving herself such airs that a wedding date appears to have been fixed. Farewell, my precious one, are you satisfied with my chatter today?

5. LIZA TO SASHA

No, my dear matchmaker, I am not about to leave the country and come back to attend my wedding. I admit frankly that I did like Vladimir Y., but it never entered my mind to marry him. He is an aristocrat, and I am a humble democrat. I hasten to explain and proudly remark, like a true heroine of a novel, that by lineage I belong to the most ancient Russian nobility, while my cavalier is the grandson of an unshorn millionaire. But you know what aristocracy means with us. Be that as it may, Y. is certainly a man of good society and he may even like me, but he will never forgo a rich bride and an advantageous connection for my sake. If I ever marry, I'll choose a forty-year-old landowner right here. He will get involved in his sugar-refining plant, I in my household -and I'll be happy, even though I will not be dancing at the house of Count K. and will not be giving Saturday-evening parties on the English Embankment.
Winter has arrived: in the country c'est un événement. It radically changes one's way of life. Solitary walks come to an end; bells are tinkling; hunters ride out with their dogs — everything becomes brighter and gayer with the first snow. I never expected it to be this way. Winter in the country used to frighten me. But every cloud has a silver lining.
I have become better acquainted with Mashenka X. and have grown fond of her; she has many good qualities and much originality. I've learned quite by accident that Y. is a close relation of theirs. Mashenka has not seen him for seven years but is enchanted with him. He once spent a summer with them, and Mashenka still cannot stop talking about all the details of what he did then. As I read her novels I come across his faintly penciled marginalia: it is obvious that he was still a child back then. At this time he was struck by ideas and sentiments that he would of course laugh at now; but at least his remarks show a fresh, impressionable mind. I read a great deal. You can't imagine how strange it is to read in 1829 a novel that was written in 1775. It seems as if you suddenly stepped out of your drawing room into an ancient, damask-wainscoted hall, sat down in a soft atlas-upholstered armchair, and saw around you old-fashioned costume yet familiar faces, in which you recognized your uncles and grandmothers, grown young. Most of these novels have no other merit. The action is entertaining, and the plot skillfully tangled, but Bellecour stammers and Charlotte stutters. A clever man could adopt these ready-made plots and characters, amend the style, eliminate the absurdities, supply the missing links - and the result would be a splendid original novel. Pass this on to that ungrateful R. from me. It is time he stopped wasting his wits on conversations with Englishwomen. Embroidering new designs on an old canvas, he should present us, in a small frame, with a picture of our society and people, which he knows so well.
Masha is well versed in Russian literature - generally, belles lettres occupy people here more than in Petersburg. They receive the journals, take a lively interest in the squabbles therein, trust each side in turns, and become indignant on behalf of their favorite author if the critics tear him to pieces. Now I understand why Viazemskii and Pushkin are so fond of provincial misses: they are their true reading public. I myself thought I'd take a look at some journals, and started reading critical reviews in the European Herald, but the banality and boorish tone of these writings struck me as repulsive: it is ludicrous when a work of literature that we have all read - we, the touch-me-nots of St. Petersburg! - is being pompously accused of immorality and indecency by a former seminary student.

6. LIZA TO SASHA


My dear, I cannot pretend any more; I need the help and advice of a friend. He from whom I have fled, whom I fear as the plague, Vladimir Y., is here. What am I to do? My head is swimming; I am at a loss; for heaven's sake decide for me what I should do. Let me tell you all about it.
You noticed last winter how he would never leave my side. He did not visit us at home, but he and I saw each other everywhere. I armed myself with coldness, even with scornful looks, but all in vain: there was no way for me to get rid of him. At balls he always managed to find a place next to me; on our walks we always ran into him; and at the theater his lorgnette was always directed at our box.
At first this appealed to my vanity. It is possible that I made that all too obvious to him. At least he fancied he had acquired new rights over me and kept speaking to me about his feelings, now voicing jealousy, now complaining ... I asked myself with alarm what all this was leading to, and acknowledged with a sense of despair that he had power over my heart. I left Petersburg in order to prevent calamity while it was not too late. The decisive step I had taken and the conviction that I had done the right thing were beginning to calm my heart; I was already thinking of him with greater equanimity and less grief. Then, I suddenly see him.
This was how I saw him. Yesterday there was a name-day party at the X.'s house. I arrived just before dinner: as I come into the drawing room I find a whole crowd of guests; I see uhlan officers' uniforms; the ladies surround me; I exchange kisses with them all. Noticing nothing, I sit down next to the hostess and lift my eyes: Y. is right in front of me. I was stunned... He said a few words to me with such a look of tender, genuine joy that I could not gather enough strength to hide either my confusion or my pleasure.
We went to the dining room. He sat just across the table from me; I did not dare look at him but noticed that everybody else's eyes were fixed on him. He was silent and distracted. At another time it would have very much amused me to see such a general desire to attract the attention of a newcomer — an officer of the Guards — such unease on the part of the young ladies and such awkwardness in the men, roaring with laughter over their own jokes while their guest showed cool politeness and total indifference... After dinner he came up to me. Feeling obliged to say something, I asked him rather unfelicitously whether some business had brought him to our part of the world.
"I've come on a business on which the happiness of my life depends," answered he in an undertone, moving away from me immediately. He sat down to play Boston with three old ladies (grandmama among them); as for me, I went upstairs to Mashenka's room and lay on her bed until evening on the pretext of a headache. Indeed I felt worse than ill. Mashenka did not leave my side. She is enraptured with Y. He is going to stay with them a month or more. She will be spending all day with him. The truth of the matter is that she is in love with him — may heaven grant that he, too, fall in love with her. She is slender and enigmatic — just the two traits men want.
What am I to do, my dear? I shall not be able to avoid his relentless attentions here. He has already succeeded in charming grandmama. He will be coming to see us — and the confessions, laments, vows will pour forth anew: but to what end? He will obtain my love, my confession; then he will consider the disadvantages of marrying me, will go away under some pretext, abandon me, and I... What a terrible prospect! For heaven's sake, hold your hand out to me! I am sinking.

7. SASHA'S REPLY


Isn't it much better to have unburdened yourself with a full confession? You should have done it a long time ago, my angel! Why on earth did you not admit to me, what I had already known, that Y. and you are in love? And what's the great misfortune about that? Enjoy it. You have a knack for looking at things from God knows what angle. You're asking for misfortune: take care not to bring it on yourself. Why not marry Y.? Where do you see insurmountable obstacles? He's rich and you're poor - that's immaterial. He's rich enough for two: what else do you want? He is an aristocrat; but aren't you one also by both name and upbringing?
Some time ago I heard a discussion concerning ladies of the best society. R., as I learned during the discussion, had once declared himself on the side of the aristocrats because they wore nicer shoes. Isn't it clear, if we follow his logic, that you are an aristocrat from top to toe?
Forgive me, my angel, but your pathetic letter made me laugh. Y. had arrived in the country in order to see you. What horror! You're going to ruin, you're asking for my advice. I fear you've really become a provincial heroine. My advice is this: hold the wedding at your wooden church as soon as possible, and move to Petersburg in order to take the part of Fornarina in the tableaux vivants that are just being organized at S.'s house. Your cavalier's gesture has touched me, I'm not joking. Of course, in the old days a lover went to fight in the Holy Land for three years in order to win a charitable smile, but in our day and age, if a man travels five hundred versts from Petersburg in order to see the one who rules his heart, it truly means a great deal. Y. deserves his rewards.

8. VLADIMIR Y. TO A FRIEND


Do me a favor, spread the rumor that I am on my deathbed; I intend to extend my leave, but I want to do it observing propriety in every possible way. I've already been here in the country for two weeks, but I've scarcely noticed how time flies. I am taking a rest from Petersburg life, which had really gotten on my nerves. Only the pupil of a convent school, just freed from her cell, or an eighteen-year-old gentleman of the Emperor's bedchamber can be forgiven for not loving the countryside. Petersburg is the entrance hall, Moscow is the maid-servants' quarters, the village is our study room. A man of good breeding goes through the entrance hall by necessity and drops by the maids' quarters on occasion, but he sits in his study. And that's what I'll end up doing. I am going to retire from the service, get married, and settle in my village near Saratov. The occupation of a landowner is also a service. To manage three thousand serfs, whose welfare depends entirely on us, is more important than to command a platoon or to copy diplomatic dispatches...
The state of neglect in which we leave our peasants is inexcusable. The more rights we have over them, the greater our obligations toward them. Yet we leave them to the mercy of some scoundrel of a steward, who oppresses them and robs us. We use up our future income in payment of debts; we ravage our property; old age catches us in need and worry.
This is the reason for the rapid decline of our nobility: the grandfather was rich, the son lives in want, the grandson goes a-begging. Ancient families come to insignificance; new ones rise, but in the third generation disappear again. Estates merge, and not one family is conscious of its ancestry. What does such political materialism lead to? I don't know. But it is time to put some obstacles in its path.
I have never been able to contemplate the degradation of our historic families without sorrow: nobody cherishes them in our country, not even those who belong to them. Indeed what pride of the past can you expect from a people whose national monument is inscribed with the words: "In memory of Citizen Minin and Prince Pozharskii"? Which Prince Pozharskii? What does Citizen Minin signify? There was a privy councillor called Prince Dmitrii Mikhailovich Pozharskii, and a citizen named Kozma Minich Sukhorukii, elected representative of the state. But the fatherland has forgotten even the correct names of its liberators. The past does not exist for us. A wretched people!
No service aristocracy can replace a hereditary aristocracy. The gentry's family traditions should be the nation's historical heritage. But what family traditions are there for the children of a collegiate assessor?
When I speak out in favor of the aristocracy, I'm not trying - like the diplomat Severin, grandson of a tailor and a cook -to pose as an English lord; my origin, though it is nothing to be ashamed of, gives me no right to do that. But I agree with La Bruyère's statement: "Affecter le mépris de la naissance est un ridicule dans le parvenu et une lâcheté dans le gentilhomme."
I've arrived at all this wisdom by living in someone else's village and watching petty landowners manage their estates. These gentlemen are not in the service, and they do manage their small villages, but I confess I wish they would go to ruin just like you and me. What barbarity! As far as they are concerned, Fonvizin's times have not yet passed. Prostakovs and Skotinins are still flourishing among them.
This, by the way, does not refer to the relative I'm staying with. He is a very kind man, his wife a very kind woman, and their daughter a very kind little girl. You can see I've become very kind myself. In truth, since I've been living in the country I've grown exceedingly benign and forbearing - the effect of a patriarchal way of life and of the presence of Liza Z. I had truly been missing her. I came to persuade her to return to Petersburg. Our first meeting was splendid. It was at my aunt's name-day party. The whole neighborhood had assembled. Liza came too, and could hardly believe her eyes when she saw me... She couldn't in all honesty not realize that I had come here solely for her sake. At least I did my best to let her perceive it. My success here has surpassed all my expectations (which means a lot). The old ladies are enraptured with me, and the young ones run after me "because they're patriots." The men are distinctly annoyed with my fatuité indolente, which is still a novelty in these parts. They're all the more furious because I am exceedingly polite and proper: although they sense that I am insolent, they cannot quite say what that insolence consists of. Good-bye. What are our friends doing? Servitor di tutti quanti. Write to me at the village of X.

9. THE FRIEND'S REPLY


I have carried out your commission. Last night I announced at the theater that you had succumbed to a nervous fever and in all likelihood had already given up the ghost; ergo, enjoy life until resurrected.
Your ethical reflections on the management of estates make me rejoice on your behalf. They are long overdue.

Un homme sans peur et sans reproche.
Qui n'est ni roi, ni duc, ni comte aussi.

The position of the Russian landowner, in my opinion, is most enviable.
Ranks in Russia are a necessity, if only for the sake of post stations where you cannot get a horse unless you have rank.

Indulging in these weighty considerations I quite forgot that your mind is not on them just now: you are busy with your Liza. Whatever makes you imitate M. Faublas and get entangled with women all the time? It's not worthy of you. In this respect you are behind your times, behaving like a ci-devant chesty officer of the Guard, dated 1807. Right now this is only a shortcoming, but soon you'll become even more ridiculous than General G. Wouldn't you do better if you got used to the austerity of mature age in good time and gave up your withering youth voluntarily? I realize I am preaching in the wind, but that is my destiny.
All your friends send their greetings and are deeply upset by your untimely demise. Count among them your former mistress, too, just back from Rome and in love with the Pope. How very like her, and how very thrilled you must be to hear it! Won't you return in order to compete cum servo servorum dei ? That would be very like you. I am going to expect your arrival any day.

10. VLADIMIR Y. TO HIS FRIEND

Your censures are totally unjust. Not I, but you have fallen behind your times, by a whole decade. Your grave metaphysical musings belong to the year 1818. At that time an austere code of behavior and political economy were in vogue. We made our appearance at balls without taking our swords off; we were ashamed to dance, and had no time to devote to the ladies. I have the honor to report to you that all this has now changed. The French quadrille has replaced Adam Smith; all flirt and make merry as best they can. I adapt to the spirit of the time; it is you who are hidebound, ci-devant, un homme stéréotype. Aren't you tired of sitting all by yourself, glued to the bench of the opposition? I hope Z. will guide you in the right direction: I hereby entrust you to her Vatican-style coquetry. As for me, I have entirely abandoned myself to a patriarchal way of life: I go to bed at ten o'clock in the evening, ride out with local landowners, tracking down the game in the fresh snow, play Boston for kopeck stakes with old ladies, and get upset if I lose. I see Liza every day, falling deeper and deeper in love with her. She's captivating in many ways. Her mien has something quiet, dignified, harmonious, about it, showing the grace of the best Petersburg society, and yet there is in her a spontaneity, a capacity for tolerance, and (as her grandmother puts it) a constitutional good humor. You never notice anything sharp or uncharitable in her judgments, and she doesn't scowl when faced with a new impression, like a child before taking rhubarb. She listens and understands - a rare virtue among our women. I have often been struck by a dullness of intellect or by an impurity of imagination in otherwise perfectly well-bred ladies. Frequently they will take the most subtle joke, the most poetic compliment, either for an impertinent epigram or for an indecent banality. On such occasions the frigid countenance they affect is so atrociously repulsive that even the most ardent love cannot survive it undamaged.
I experienced just this with Elena N., with whom I was madly in love. When I addressed a tender phrase to her, she took it for an insult and complained to a girl friend about me. That incident dashed all my illusions about her. In addition to Liza, I have Mashenka X. here to amuse myself with. She is sweet. These girls, brought up by nannies and nature among apple trees and haystacks, are much more appealing than our stereotyped beauties, who cling to their mothers' opinions until their weddings and to those of their husbands ever after.
Farewell, my dear friend; what's new in society? Tell everybody that I have at last plunged into poetry. The other day I composed an inscription for Princess Olga's portrait (for which Liza scolded me very charmingly):

As stupid as the truth, as boring as perfection.

Or would this be better:

As boring as the truth, as stupid as perfection.

Both versions look as if there was some thought in them. Ask V. to furnish a rhyme for the next line and to consider me a poet from now on.





.


 

Оригінал твору

Бібліотека ім. О. С. Пушкіна (м. Київ).
А.С. Пушкин. Полное собрание сочинений в десяти томах