Sunday, 28 January 2018

Russian 19th-century Gothic Tales & Lermontov's Stuss

Earlier this month I shared a photograph of Straszna Wróżba. This is the Polish translation from 1988 of the Russian anthology фантастический Мир русской повести (Raduga), which has also been been made available in English as Russian 19th-century Gothic Tales (1984) and in German as Russische Geistereschichten (1990). All of these editions were printed by the Russian publisher Raduga in Moscow, USSR (in Poland in cooperation the publishing house "Czytelnik").

This volume provides another great point of reference for the beginning reader of Russian Gothic fiction. In one of my upcoming posts on CL I'd like to share the full list of strange fiction in Russian that I have managed to compile so far, but for now let me post the full table of contents of this single  important anthology in English:

•  Antony Pogorelsky. The Lafertovo Poppy-Cake Seller (trans. K. Cook-Horujy) 
•  Orest Somov. Tales of Buried Treasure (trans. K. Cook-Horujy) 
•  Orest Somov. The Werewolf (trans. T. Kuehn) 
•  Orest Somov. The Witches of Kiev (trans. K. Cook-Horujy) 
•  Alexander Bestuzhev-Marlinsky. The Terrible Fortune-Telling (trans. K. Cook-Horujy) 
•  Alexander Pushkin. The Undertaker (trans. I. Litvinov, T. Litvinov) 
•  Alexander Pushkin. The Queen of Spades (trans. I. Litvinov, T. Litvinov) 
•  Evgeny Baratynsky. The Ring (trans. O. Shartse) 
•  Osip Senkovsky. Antar (trans. D. Hagen) 
•  Mikhail Zagoskin. Unexpected Guests (trans. D. Hagen) 
•  Vladimir Odoyevsky. 4338 A. D. (trans. A. Miller) 
•  Vladimir Odoyevsky. The Sylph (trans. A. Miller) 
•  Vladimir Odoyevsky. The Ghost (trans. A. Miller) 
•  Vladimir Odoyevsky. The City Without a Name (trans. A. Miller) 
•  Vladimir Odoyevsky. The Living Corpse (trans. A. Miller) 
•  Mikhail Lermontov. Stuss (trans. O. Shartse) 
•  Nikolai Gogol. A Night in May, or the Drowned Maiden (trans. C. English) 
•  Nikolai Gogol. The Nose (trans. C. English) 
•  Nikolai Gogol. The Portrait (trans. C. English) 
•  Alexei Tolstoy. Vampire (trans. O. Shartse) 
•  Notes

I remember reading some of these stories 15 years ago, but my memory of the contents is so vague it will be sheer pleasure perusing all of the contents now in Russian. 

For an easy start I chose a short, unfinished tale "Stuss" (Russian "Штосс", Polish "Sztos") written by Mikhail Lermontov just before his death. Some information on translations and English-language publications of this text can be found here. Lermontov is considered to be the greatest figure in Russian Romanticism and the founder of the Russian psychological novel. Heavily influenced by E. T. A. Hoffmann and  first published in 1841, "Stuss" is a tale of an alienated man tormented by a dead spirit and coerced into committing suicide. This is the first story I will read entirely in Russian and continue with the rest of the contents later on.

Here is a fine short analysis of the story from Lermontov: Tragedy in the Caucasus by Laurence Kelly:

Both Shtoss and a ballad in verse, 'The Tale for Children' (attributed to 1839), contained elements of the fantastic, of the Gothic, and of a St Petersburg more familiar to Gogol and Dostoyevsky than to Pushkin. In both of them Lermontov mocked his earlier Demoniac self. There was a figure of evil in Shtoss, but he was a grey-haired, tight-lipped Old man in slippers and dressing-gown who arrived mysteriously every night at the flat of Lugin, the anti-hero. The latter —consumed by spleen — was ready to gamble away his possessions and finally his soul at faro. The story, short enough, and unfinished, could hardly be lengthened, but is powerful in its evocation of a gloomy, dank Petersburg where the isolated individual was at the mercy of his diseased imagination and the supernatural, there being nothing else to occupy him.

Stuss by Lermontov read in Russian

Bonus material on the origin of the story
Hailing back to my Genealogical Curiosities, today while preparing the very post you are reading I made yet another astonishing genealogical discovery, this time related to the story "Stuss". The following material is more suitable for The Little Ministry and I will most probably move this to an appropriate section there at some point, but the discovery described below would have perhaps never been made if it weren't for this very blog post. I am therefore publishing it here first as an extra. This should also provide some interesting facts with regards to the genesis of the story "Stuss" and Lermontov's fascination with the supernatural itself.
The first page of "Stuss" by Lermontov

Thanks to a Russian website which hosts the story and provides exhaustive footnotes I've managed to establish that the beginning and the entire first third of "Stuss" actually takes place in Saint Petersburg in my ancestral house that served as a famous musical saloon run and owned at the time by the musician and philanthropist Michał Juriewicz Wielhorski, who is mentioned (as count W.) in the very first sentence of the story. 

Obviously the foreign publications of Lermontov's text do not provide any background details as to the story's origin, so I had no chance of  discovering this any other way than through a research in Russian.

House number 4 in Mikhailovskaya Square, Saint Petersburg wherein Lermontov set the beginning of his story Stuss.

In "Stuss" Lermontov provides a very detailed description of the impression the house left on him. It turns out the story as much as Lermontov's interest in the supernatural might have been influenced by his visits to the aforementioned saloon and by the musical soirées held therein by Michał W., during which Lermontov meets with Odoevsky, another great Russian writer of supernatural fiction. The website Русская фантастика provides more details:
Lermontov's interest in the fantastic in 1841 is quite understandable. In early February Lermontov returned from the Caucasus to St. Petersburg. He is a welcome guest in the secular and literary salons of the capital. They warmly welcome him in the family of the late historian Karamzin, in the house of the famous musician Michał Juriewicz Wielhorski, at V. A. Zhukovsky's, V. F. Odoevsky's. [..] The poet is aware of the philosophical and literary interests of Odoevsky and Rostopchin and especially their attention to the questions of "the supersensory" in nature, the human psyche and the fantastic in literature.
P. Rohrbach, Musical Evening at Alexei Lvov Residence (The Brothers Vielhorski Quartet), 
1840s, paper, lithography, St. Petersburg: The State Hermitage.

I am adding this discovery as a chapter to the Table of Contents of the Little Ministry and as a place-holder for further examination in the future. Gobsmacked by this revelation, I am now off to continue reading this short (and regrettably unfinished) strange story in Russian.

Lermontov: Tragedy in the Caucasus by Laurence Kelly (Tauris Parke Paperbacks, 2003)
-- Cover illustration of the German and English editions of the book:
-- Source of the other illustrations:

Further reading:
Review of Russian 19th-Century Gothic Tales by Kathy O'Shaughnessy

No comments :

Post a Comment