Эдит Хэйбер. Ведьма Тэффи: мифология русской души (20529-1)

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Эдит Хэйбер. "Ведьма" Тэффи: мифология русской души

Teffi herself considered the collection Ведьма (Berlin, 1936) among her best things. Recalling proudly in a late autobiographical note how it was praised highly by Bunin, Kuprin and Merezhkovskii, she adds: «В этой книге наши древние славянские боги, как они живут еще в народной душе, в преданиях, суевериях, обычаях, все, что встречалось мне в моем детстве в русской провинции»1. The key words here, I believe, are «живут еще в народной душе»; in other words, the «славянские боги» in Ведьма join to form not so much an externalized mythological system, as what one may call a mythology of the Russian psyche. That Teffi is recalling specifically Russian phenomena is evident from the beginning of the title story: «Иностранцу, само собою разумеется, рассказать об этом совершенно невозможноничего не поймет и ничему не поверит. Ну, а настоящий русский человек, не окончательно былое забывший, тот, конечно, все сочтет вполне достоверным и будет прав»2.

Fantastic stories generally fall into two categories: one in which supernatural forces indeed operate, the other where a rational explanation is given at the end — the protagonist has been dreaming, someone was playing a trick, etc. What is unusual and striking about Teffi's uncanny tales is that they fall into neither of these categories. Some strange events occur, which simple folk interpret as the intercession of unclean spirits, but the events are never unambiguously supernatural, and Teffi doesn't force us to admit the existence of various нежить. At the same time, however, no more plausible explanation is given and the reader therefore is left in a state of disturbing uncertainty: is the supernatural really involved or is this merely some weird coincidence? A clue to Teffi's method is provided by the remarks of the narrator of «Собака»:

«Я вообще считаю, что чудесных историй на свете гораздо больше, чем мы думаем. Надо только уметь видеть, уметь проследить настоящую нить событий, не отметая сознательно то, что нам кажется невероятным, не подтасовывая фактов и не навязывая им своих объяснений.

Часто люди склонны видеть чудесное в пустяках или вообще там, где все обычно и просто, любят припутать какие-нибудь свои предчувствия или сны, которые они толкуют соответственно случаю, так или иначе. Другие же, трезвые натуры, наоборот, очень скептически относятся ко всему необъяснимому, разбирая и объясняя истории, лежащие вне их понимания.

Я не принадлежу ни к тем, ни к другим, объяснять ничего не собираюсь, а просто честно расскажу, как все было, все, начиная с того начала, которое я сама началом считаю» (295-96).

The sober tone of the passage quoted above is very characteristic of this book of uncanny tales. Teffi on the whole eschews the usual techniques of gothic fiction; her stories are understated and restrained, and the narrators usually convince the reader of their level heads and calm natures. The stories generally create an atmosphere of prosaic, even boring, everyday life, into which some strange occurrences intrude, disturbing the placid surface.Such a treatment of the uncanny fits well into Teffi's vision of the world as it emerges from an examination of the totality of her writings, especialle her late works. In generally, Teffi looks upon our seemingly rational and rather boring everyday life as a sort of artificial screen, which only serves to conceal the chaos beneath. As she writes elsewhere:

«Дело в том, что мы живем в двух планах! Один план — это наша бесхитростная реальная жизнь. Другой — весь из предчувствий, из впечатлений, из необъяснимых и непреодолимых симпатий и антипатий. Из снов. У этой второй жизни свои законы, своя логика, в которых мы неответственны. Вынесенные на свет разума, они удивляют и пугают, но преодолеть их мы не можем»3.

In Ведьма she gives us instances of the appearance of these underlying irrational forces, which can be given supernatural interpretation.

A good example of this is the title story, «Ведьма». The narrator, described as an «очень уважаемая дама» (198), tells of an odd occurrence in her past, when she was nineteen years old and living with her husband and year-and-a-half old daughter in a small town in the steppes4. The town is an extremely boring, dreary place: «И скучное же было место этот самый городишка! Летом пыль, зимой снегу наметает выше уличных фонарей, весной и осенью такая грязь, что на соборной площади тройка чуть не утонула, веревками лошадей вытягивали» (198).

The servants are as awful as everything else, but the narrator seems to be lucky with her maid, Ustiusha. She is quiet, doesn't smoke or get drink, and has as unusual ability to find lost objects. Nevertheless when she disappears for four days after being sent to buy salmon for масленица, the narrator and her husband decide to fire her. The cook, however, warns her mistress that Ustiusha «каждую ночь на вас шепчет и бумагу жгет в трубу дует. Вы ее прогнать не можете» (202). The narrator's husband regards these words contemptuously: «— Мало ли у темных людей всяких суеверных пережитков средневековья» (202). The distinction he makes between the enlightened master and mistress and the benighted servants is soon blurred, however, for although the husband and wife vied earlier for the privilege of firing Ustiusha, now neither is capable of doing it.

It is at this point that the main «horror» occurs. One evening the nanny ominously leads her mistress to the dining room, where she finds that the twelve dining room chairs are placed with their back to the table and that a thirteenth unknown chair is there as well. Whwn asked why this has occurred, the nanny answers: «А затем, что нам отсюда всем поворот показан», and adds enigmatically (the incantatory sound repetitions increasing the sense of threat): «— Да, от ворот поворот, вот Бог, а вот порог. Поворачивайте и вон отсюда!» (206). In a state of hysteria after these mysterious words, the narrator runs to get her husband at the club. A police officer questions the servants, including Ustusha, but finds out nothing. No further horrors occur that night, but in the morning the husband decides that, although all this is nonsense, it might be best if they leave this house, which they proceed to do.

As a supernatural events, the turning of the chairs is extremely trivial. What is important in the story is not the event itself, but the power of the irrational over the minds of the characters. For, whether or not one believes that Ustiusha is a witch, still her «поворот» worked, as the narrator herself acknowledges in the conclusion of the story: «Однако, если бы я была суеверной, то, пожалуй, подумала бы: все-таки глупо это, а тем не менее ведьповоротиложе нас из этого дома, поворотило и выгнало. Как там не посмеивайся, а ведь вышло-то не по-нашему, по-разумному и интеллигентному, а по темному нянькиному толкованию...» (211). In «Ведьма», indeed, both the outer and inner worlds operate on two levels. For while the town is depicted at the beginning as a model of dreary monotony, unexpected and disturbing events occur there. And these dark, inexplicable events echo in the minds even of the seemingly rational people.In certain other stories in the collection this psychological dimension of the uncanny is particularly emphasized. One such story is «Русалка», which takes place on a country estate during the childhood of the narrator. The protagonist here is another maid, Kornelia, whose gentry origins and affectations earn her the title «панночка». She has a white, puffy face, protruding fish-like eyes, and stern eyebrows, but her most striking feature is her remarkably long hair, which she wears in an unattractive crown around her head. Kornelia's nature is quiet, slow, secretly proud. The children are particularly struck by the way she prays on Sundays, dressed in her finest clothes and sitting by the ice house, paying no attention to the prosaic farmyard activities going to around her:

«Рядом хлопотливо кудахтали куры, клевал петух сердитым носом у самых ног “панночки”, обутой в праздничный прюнелевый ботинок, проходила в ледник ключница, гремя ключами, громыхая кувшинами — она, гордая, белая, пухлая, густо распомаженная, не замечала ничего. рихо потрескивали четки, беззвучно шевелились губы, подкаченные глаза, казалось, зрели неземное» (272).

One summer when the family arrives from Moscow, they find that Kornelia has married and is now living in the wing by the pond. She seems little changed, except that she now prays while sitting, русалка-like, on a low branch of a willow growing by the pond. One occurrence, however, causes a sharp change in Kornelia's behavior. One day the many young ladies spending the summer at the estate (the narrator's older sisters, cousins, and their friends) send for Kornelia to bring sugar to the stable so that they can feed the horses. When she arrives, her hair comes tumbling down her back and one expansive young lady exclaims: «Корнеля! ... Да вы настоящая русалка!» (275). She then asks the strikingly handsome young groom, Fed'ko, if he doesn't agree that Kornelia has remarkable hair, and he, to please the young ladies, responds: «Эх, и бывает же красота на свете!» (275) . At this Kornelia stares at Fed'ko with her fish eyes, drops the piece of sugar, and walks out.

The narrator comments that there are instants when the line of fate is broken. Sometimes these moments don't seem unusual at the time and it is only later that one can appreciate their special significance. Such, it seems, is this moment for Kornelia. Now on Sundays, when she sits on her willow tree, she no longer prays, but combs her hair, singing «Злоты влосы, злоты влосы...» (276). Kornelia's русалка-like natura takes a more striking form one time when the narrator, her little sister Lena, and the nanny see Kornelia and the laundress bathing in the pond. They suddenly hear a voice from the other shore shouting: «Го-го-го! ... Го! Руса-алка!» (276). It is Fed'ko, bathing the horses. Upon hearing these words Kornelia turns in his direction and, laughing hysterically, suddenly begins to leap high out of the water up to her waist, while making a beckoning motion with her fingers. Lena screames out: « — Корнеля лошадок манит!» (276). Another time, in the evening, the narrator hears a quiet groan from the pond, which sounds like crying or singing: «O — o... и o-o!» (278). The following day Kornelia looks as if she has been crying and the nanny mutters: «— Плачет! ракие всегда плачут. Попробуй-ка пожалей, она тебе покажет!» (278). Teffi has already described the русалка's habit of luring people by weeping and arousing their pity in an earlier story: «Русскую душу надо брать жалостью. Поэтому что делает русалка? — она плачет. Сидит на дереве женщина маленькая — она собственно не женщина даже, потому что у нее с половины тела рыбий хвост... И вот сидит такая — нежная, маленькая, и горько, горько плачет... Жалостью и потянет»5.






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