Unlike that of the preceding chapter, our present subject is a self-contained entity—a specimen of consummate storytelling.

“Fro” was written and published in 1936, at the height of literary reaction, in an issue of the semischolarly Literaturnyi kritik (no. 8) under the Aesopian guise of providing material for literary analysis. It was largely spared the usual offi­cial anathema reserved for Platonov’s work and has been repeatedly reprinted and anthologized ever since the start of the post-Stalin thaw. In the 1980s, its fame was eclipsed, in part because of its previous acceptability, by texts that had been banned because of their greater ideological and stylistic daring, such as “Doubting Makar” (1929), The Foundation Pit (1930), and Chevengur (1972 [1929?]).[1]

We will begin with an analysis of “Fro” ‘s internal structure, to be complemented later by several contextualizations. In fact, even close reading itself[2] is not so exclusively intrinsic as is usually and uncriti­cally assumed. It too is a contextualizing operation, albeit an unspecific and limited one: unspecific in the sense that it reads the text according to the most universal, generic codes of literary reception, in the context, so to speak, of literature as a whole; limited because in its textual comparisons it deals with various components of the text (its parts, characters, planes, etc.) rather than external “co-texts.”


The plot of “Fro” is, briefly, as follows:

The heroine, Efrosin’ia (or Frosia [i.e., Frossie], or Fro), missing her husband, who has left for a construction project in the Soviet Far East, engages in all kinds of magic to get him back. She tries to commune with the train that “would have met the express rushing on to the Far East . . . and been close to her husband after her,” and when this fails, she joins the night shift “helping the transportation system” (transportu pomogat’) to establish symbolic contact with the traveling Fedor. She gets an amorous telegram from him, sniffs and puts away a strand of his hair, pours her yearning for him into the notes she takes in the classes in railroad communication, from which she then drops out: “In any event, science had become incomprehensible… She lived at home,… fearing the mailman might bring and take Fedor’s letter back” in her absence. To ensure direct access to the mail, she seeks a job at the post office; once in possession of Fedor’s address, she gets her father to wire him that she is dying. Thus, having moved from a passive expectation and solicitation of news about her husband to more active measures and finally to outright ma­nipulation of means of communication, Fro succeeds in performing a miracle: a train brings Fedor back. But after a two-week interlude he leaves for an even remoter spot (“to the Far East… even to China”), and Fro has to settle for the company of the little neighbor boy playing the harmonica.

Underlying the story are key value oppositions that are mediated in the denouement.


Both protagonists are enthralled by “the distance” (dal’), each with his own: the husband with the Utopia of Revolution and Socialist production, the wife with her love for the ever-distant husband. ‘Dis­tance’ is also the stuff her father Nefed’s life is made of; he is a retired locomotive engineer who has reregistered for occasional service and is always either out driving a train or waiting for a call—at home or by the tracks, “his eyes bright with tears, watching the trains.”

Fedor’s departure makes Nefed think of the train’s movement and itinerary, while at the moment of Fedor’s dramatic return the father’s attention is focused on the expert way “the engineer gently, tenderly put on the brake. Watching this thing, Nefed shed a tear, even forgetting the reason he had come.” Yet he “liked to be with his daughter or with someone when a locomotive was not occupying all his thoughts and feelings.” He was especially lonely since his retirement and the death of his wife, who used to “long for him,” as she had been a “little bourgeois housewife” (meshchanka), one of “those alright women”; Frossie thinks she is different, but essentially resembles her.

But when her father attempts closeness, Fro pushes him away, obsessed with her distant love in a pattern that is recurrent in the story:  ‘One lonely person gravitates to another, that other, to somebody or something else, and so on.’ Played in a sublime key between husband and wife, the pattern is replicated semi-farcically between father and daughter; in one scene, Nefed, rejected by Fro, “opened the oven door [and] put his head inside, weeping into the dish of macaroni,” and then wiped his face with a straw broom.

In the dance episode at the club, the same pattern is deployed twice.

At first the partner pressed close to Frossie and insisted that she was a familiar person, the daughter of the engineer he knew, but “this hidden caress did not excite her, she loved her distant man” and claimed she was not Frossie, but “Fro!… not Russian… certainly not!” Later, however, she “leaned oblivi­ously on his chest” and with the pressure of her head opening his shirtfront [shirinka, which also happens to mean “(pants’) fly”], “moistened [with her tears] the “virile hair” on his chest, and it was now his turn to be afraid that his fiancee “might maim him for the intimacy [or “closeness,” blizost’] with this Fro.”

Variations on the same theme are instanced by the numerous cases of Fro’s ‘failed contact’ with various minor characters—for example, with the railroad station porter and cleaner; with Natasha, of whom she loses sight; with Natasha’s husband, the lonely night watchman of “the storehouse—an official place.” At one point Fro is said to have “fallen asleep alone, like an orphan.” The sense of orphanhood also pervades the episodes involving the fourth major character, the little neighbor boy. “In her head the monotonous little song of his har­monica” sounded as follows: “Mother’s washing, father’s working,. . . it is lonely, lonely here.” The overall impression created by the story is one of disparateness, gaping emptiness, the absence of a single center in which the characters fixated on their separate distant objects of desire might come together.

For the sake of ‘distant values’ the characters readily sacrifice even the needs of their own bodies.

Fedor “was uncannily able to sleep amid noise, to eat any food with complete indifference to whether it was tasty or tasteless/’ and “he had never had his photograph taken after childhood, for he was uninterested in himself and did not believe in the significance of his own face.” Fro’s father, while longing for locomotives, would forget about food, but “was afraid of having to go out on an empty stomach, unfueled. … He was careful of … his strength and digestion, for in his own estimation he was the mainstay of the railroad, a steel-hardened cadre.” Similarly, Fro, once she concentrates on “longing for [her] husband here at home,” stops caring for her personal hygiene, beauty, and sus­tenance; moreover, even when Fedor comes back, she cooks “careless of the taste … so as not to waste time on the material, irrelevant side of their love.”

The central invariant underlying all these tensions is not strictly spatial, involving as it does an entire set of oppositions, such as:

general, communal
close, nearby, intimate
individual, private

In each character these oppositions are realized in different, some­times paradoxical ways. The men are obsessed with ‘distance/ which for them is represented by geographical notions (the Far East, “the Southern Soviet China”), mileage figures, transportation terminology (“local service”), and scientific and philosophical concepts (“ionized air,” “stratosphere,” “the ancient dream of heaven”).

But these ‘male abstractions’ have concrete and tangible counter­parts, creating a mediational interplay of ‘distance’ and ‘closeness’ based on the topical ‘man-machine’ metaphor of the times.

The father happily “hugged . . . the boiler, as the belly of the entire working mankind.” Fedor “felt [the machines] with the precision of his own flesh. He animated everything that he touched with his hands or his thought, .. . sensing directly . . . the suffering patient resistance of machines’ bodily metal.” He “presented to her the lively workings of the mysterious objects that for her were dead and the secret quality of their meticulous calculation by virtue of which machines live . . . ; she began to understand them and to cherish them in her mind like in her soul. . . . Embracing his wife, . . . Fedor himself turned into a microfarad or an eddy current. Frossie could almost see what before she . . . could not understand. They were objects as simple, natural and attractive as the motley grass in the fields.”

Despite this successful, literally speaking, ‘naturalization’ of inani­mate machines (which join in the loving embrace of husband and wife), the clash of values is unmistakable. Fro’s version of ‘distance’ is her romantic yet quite earthly love for the absent husband, her leitmotif is ‘an enamored soul.’

From its first occurrence in the text, ‘soul’ is opposed to ‘iron’ (Fro “ran her finger over the iron casting of the mailbox—it was strong, nobody’s soul in a letter would be lost in it”) and other ‘male values’ (e.g., Fedor’s dreams about “a radical transformation of man’s pathetic soul”). At first, Fro tries to mas­ter men’s metallic code: she would entrust her soul to the mailbox, takes a course in railroad signalization, turns to “iron shovels,” and addresses passing trains. But what she really needs is “for there to linger and grow inside her ordinary, dull soul a second cherished life,” that is, sexual love and its prod­uct, a child, while the “iron cores [lit. “hearts,” serdechniki] grew barren in her heart,” making her quit the courses. Attempts at her reeducation will be renewed later, but only for the short duration of Fedor’s stay and in a distinctly “dreamative” mood.

At ‘close’ range, soul is represented by the heart, which “bears no postponement” in pleasure because it is part of the ‘body’.

The first reference to Fro in the text is a close-up view of her lower half. “‘Move aside, citizen[ness]/ said the porter to the two lonely plump legs.” This emblematic sentence introduces the motifs of ‘closeness/ ‘corporeality/ and ‘social rejection.’ Later, Fro’s legs/feet are associated directly with the heart and sex: “Frossie… worked, hurrying to fatigue her feet in order to tire out her anguished heart.” Her job provokes the addressees to ask gynecological questions and propose marriage.

Another ‘close’ manifestation of the soul is respiratory—physi­cal and spiritual at the same time (additionally naturalized by the felicitous etymological-paronomastic affinities of dukh, dusha, dyshat’, dykhanie, vozdukh).

The ‘soul-breathing-air’ cluster permeates such high points of the narrative as the shoveling in the slag pit (“breathing was not easy… but in her soul she felt better”; “the women… stopped to rest and breathe the air”), Fro’s fainting (“breathing in her chest contracted … it was hard to bear her disappearing, empty breathing”), and the tragifarcical text of the telegram (“Frossie dying brink of death complication respiratory tract”).

The heroine literally suffocates in the iron world.

The only succor she finds in her surroundings comes from the land­scape, which she negotiates in a natural way, on foot (and that with a heavy mailbag), unlike the two men in her life, who ride trains.[3] Both Fro and the narrator keep combining this human-scale percep­tion of ‘the distance’ with the men’s industrial perspective, as, for instance, in the picture of the “free night, lit by stars and electricity,” that she watches from the slag pit or in the description of the train with which she tries to communicate; it is seen through her eyes yet couched in ‘masculine’ terms: “The locomotive performed on cut-off steam, the engine battled to cover the space.” The word ‘space’ (pro-stranstvo) is one of the story’s loci communes (and a Platonov favorite), literally a meeting ground for the characters, who are so similar in their centrifugality and craving for broad horizons.

Fro’s landscape surroundings—wind, sun, stars, sky, fields, grass, pine trees, cows, birds, grasshoppers—form her own ‘distance/ re­mote yet intimate.

Nature warms Fro’s heart and blood, sings to her, and promises “happiness, which from the outside penetrates inside the person.” At a low point in the plot, the pathetic semi-industrial landscape anthropomorphically echoes the heroine’s emotional state: “There grew some kind of grass, small, stiff, mean. Frossie… stood in anguish amid this petty world of undernourished grass, from where there seemed to stretch a distance of two kilometers to the stars” (i.e., they were not too far away, but were unattainable, and, moreover, the mileage is given, as in the male code). Fro faints in an urban environment and recovers only after “running off into the fields.”


Reaching out for support, Fro explores a wide range of social con­tacts. On the most abstract level, she joins her husband in addressing the impersonal ‘humankind/ yet she needs an immediate, ‘close7 con­firmation of such a distant pledge: “Having talked and talked, they moved into each other’s arms—they wanted to be happy at once, that very moment, before their future concentrated effort would yield results for their own personal and universal happiness.”

On the middle scale, Fro enjoys the contacts she has with the work crew, at the club, and at the courses, which briefly relieve her “from happiness and anguish”; “love slept peacefully in her heart,” letting her “listen to the music and hold others by the hand.” More intimate still are her sisterly ties with Natasha (and Fro’s ‘twin’ “the other Efrosin’ia”) and the potentially amorous contacts at the dance and on the mail delivery beat.

“Some even offered her wine or a bite/’ and “a man who got the journal Red Virgin Soil proposed marriage/’ as a collectivist measure: “This is a journal, it comes out edited by an editorial board, they are … a group, not just one person, and there will be two of us, as well! But an unmarried girl, what good is that—somebody lonely, practically antisocial!”[4]

All these bonds, however, come to naught, often undermined by the characteristic ‘figure of uncertainty’:

Marriage is proposed “on an experimental basis—let’s see what happens”; similarly, Fedor “hoped that machines would transform the world to the greater welfare and delight of mankind, or for some such reason; his wife did not know what exactly.” At the end, Fedor is not expected back until he “has all his work done… I don’t know… communism—isn’t it—or something like that—whatever comes up!”

The culmination of Fro’s unattachedness is marked by her words “Oh, Fro, Fro, if only somebody hugged you!” which combine the very personal angle (“Fro,” “you”) with an utterly impersonal one (“somebody”). It is after this that her brief and inconclusive reunion with Fedor takes place, which is then followed by the meeting with the little musician.

In fact, music functions from the story’s start as a salutary media­tor between the distant and the nearby, soul and body, nature and culture.

“While dancing, Fro’s . . . blood was roused by the tune” (as on other occa­sions by the sun), “her breathing coming fast.” Later, this role is taken over by the sounds of nature: birdsong, the chirrup of crickets, the creaking of pine trees, and the tunes played on the boy’s harmonica.

The music of nature and that of the little boy are linked in several ways: through consistent textual contiguity; through the similarity of Fro’s responses to the two; by direct association in the text; and by the shared seme of ‘breathing, air, wind instrument/

The musical theme is introduced in the very first paragraph, together with its industrial opposite (“The locomotive . . . began to sing a song of parting”). This paradoxical link is soon spoofed in the scene at the club (the amateur comedians’ singing: “Toot-toot-toot’—a locomotive”) and subverted by the narrator’s double pun (Fro forgets the “upper harmonics of current” and the “iron cores” [lit. hearts] for the boy’s harmonica and her heart’s troubles). The motif of the boy’s piping accompanies Fro’s emotional experiences in a dotted pattern, is dramatized through its conspicuous absence (“Why don’t you play?”), and makes a definitive comeback at the moment of Fro’s lonely awakening. The musical seme symbolically accompanies even Fro’s fainting: “She cried out on a high, singing note.”

Music is opposed to the ‘male’ means of communication: trans­portation, electrical signals, mail and telegraph, and the “cleverly worded sentences” that Fro had asked Fedor to teach her but then “saw through herself.”[5] Music is capable of affecting body and soul directly. It is understood without words (the burden of the harmonica tune is immediately clear to Fro) and even partakes of corporeality, as the boy “wiped his music on the hem of his shirt” in a child’s response to the false physicality of the male world as it were (cf. the soul in the iron mailbox, etc.).

The little boy bears a pointed resemblance to Fedor’s childhood photo.

Fedor: “In the yellowed photograph there stood a little boy with an infant’s large head and wearing a poor shirt and cheap pants, barefoot; behind him grew magical trees, and in the distance there were a fountain and a palace. The little boy looked out attentively into a world as yet little known to him, without noticing the beautiful life in the photographer’s cloth behind him. The beauti­ful life was within the boy himself with his broad, inspired and shy face, who held a green sprig instead of a toy and touched the ground with his trusting bare feet.”

The boy: “A log lay near the barn, and on it sat the barefoot little boy with a child’s large head, playing on his lip music [gubnoi muzyke].”

Both are “little boys” with “large heads,” “barefoot,” and in touch with immediate, ‘nearby/ nature (grass, twig, log). As a child, Fedor was attentive to himself and the world, uninterested in toys and magical settings. Similarly, the little musician “had not yet chosen some one thing in the entire world as the object of his eternal love; his heart beat empty and free, without stealing anything for itself alone.” ‘Empti­ness and freedom’ clearly oppose the little boy to the one-dimensional fixations of the adults.

The father, “after having lived four days at liberty” (i.e., in retirement), re­turned to the locomotives. Fro, thanks to the collective work in the slag pit, “saw the huge, free night/’ and at the club she was “free from happiness and anguish”; but the sense of freedom gradually disappeared, while her mail carrier’s experience showed that “nowhere did life have emptiness or peace.”

In opting for the company of the little boy and renouncing her claims on the hopelessly remote Fedor, Fro chooses ‘closeness’ over ‘distance/ Or, rather, she succeeds in mediating between these oppo-sites. In a passage written in free indirect speech, fusing the narrator’s voice with the heroine’s, Fro (whose name at this point reverts to Frossie!) is said to “know how to turn two kopecks into two rubles.” Fabula-wise, this closure is matched by her eventual consent to replace Fedor with somebody or something else—after a series of rejections (of the father, courses, work, other men and women).

The mediation achieved in the finale works on several levels.

Music, which until now was heard, as it were, from on high and from nature, comes down to the ground level (“The harmonica was not playing upstairs”) and enters the room. Instead of abstract mankind and the yellowed photograph of the ideal husband, Fro is visited by their living incarnation in the person of the little boy (he “probably was that mankind about which Fedor used to talk to her in so many nice words”). By “taking the child’s hands in hers,” Fro repeats the gesture that had freed her from her longing for Fedor and gave her a sense of kinship with other people. Moreover, the union with the little orphanlike boy (a double, in this respect, of her father and herself) symbolizes a reconciliation between parents and children (earlier the father is said to “know that children are our enemies”).

Figuratively, this union also stands for the idea of childbearing, which pervades the narrative.

Thus, the foreman expected some of the women “to go dancing to the club, [others], to conceive babies.” The father, taken aback by Fro’s coldness, won­dered: “How did I ever conceive her with my wife?” Fro walked around “carrying the heavy bag on her belly, like a pregnant woman/’ and while making love to Fedor, she “wanted to have children, she would raise them, they would grow up and finish the cause of their father, of communism and science.”

Yet the closure remains unstable and problematic.

“Fro left her father and went into her room/’ so that both the husband and the father (entrusted by Fedor with taking care of Fro) are included in the finale only through the intermediary of the little boy. Especially ambiguous is the status of the husband (“Farewell, Fedor! You’ll come back”)

.But the boy’s presence is also temporary; his parents are away only during working hours. What is more, his symbolic alliance with Fro has incestuous overtones:

He resembles the husband he has now replaced. His childishness calls to mind the tune “My Baby” (!) to which Fro danced with the dispatcher. Finally, the closing mise-en-scene has a bedroom aura: Frossie, wearing a nightgown, “let the visitor in, sat down on the floor in front of him, and took his hand in hers.”

Such is the overall thematic balance, precarious but quite distinctly spelled out, of the story’s major voices and valorizations. Turning now to the extrinsic presences enlisted into this internal dialogue, I will divide them into two main groups—classical and contemporary.

Intertexts: Classical

In terms of the formalist, as well as Bloomian, metaphors of literary power play, the “grandfatherly” voices, that is, the remote classical intertexts, exert a less domineering pressure (that is to be contested by the nascent original discourse) than do the more immediate “fatherly” (and “elder-brotherly”) contexts. The distant forebears are capable of providing authoritative support, even though they are subjected to willfully selective use and conversion. To cite an example from a pre­vious chapter, the persuasive energy “After the Ball” draws from its archaic intertext outweighs by far the pagan view of marriage inherent in that substratum and pointedly revised by Tolstoy.

We will concentrate on two such intertexts of “Fro”: one classical in the sense of the grand nineteenth-century tradition, the other in the sense of the universal folkloric-mythological stock. In each case, we choose one intertext from among several. Thus, in the Russian tradi­tion, along with the Chekhov connection (“The Darling”), one could explore a Bunin text[6] and probably some others; the same goes for the mythological substrata.

Essentially, “Fro” can be seen as a reworking of “Darling” (Chalmaev 1984: 182), especially if we discount the farcical tripling of the male partner by Chekhov.

In both cases, the man keeps going away. The heroine, from whose perspective the third-person narrative is told, longs for him, is attached to him, his work and ideas. In the end, she transfers her fixation to somebody else’s son (“as though the boy had been her own child” [Chekhov 1979: 2191).

In “The Darling,” the heroine’s links to her home are opposed to the ‘distant’ orientation of her male partners.

They go away on business or to the other world. For Olenka, the boy’s leaving for school is “as though he were about to set off on a long journey.” The links to ‘the distance’ are colored negatively and rely on mail (e.g., the letters from the first husband, the telegram about his “funneral” [khokhorony], the fear of a telegram spelling the boy’s recall). The two husbands’ deaths bring to mind the (telegraphically faked) death of Fro and Fedor’s “almost irrevocable” departure.

Moreover, like Fro,

Olenka lives with her father (whom she “had loved”), dreams of having chil­dren and “a love that would absorb her whole soul… and would warm her old blood.” Without the men, she cannot eat or sleep properly and feels “like a complete orphan.” She too is associated with nature (represented, at the lowest point in the plot, by an empty courtyard and “wormwood”) and music.

To generalize, the two stories share an ambiguous mediation between the ‘natural female emptiness’ and the ‘cultural male element’ needed to ‘fill’ it.

In “Fro,” the ambiguity—is this a story of an individualist reedu­cated or of utopianism tested by the case of a concrete human being?— may have been a deliberate Aesopian ploy. Interestingly, somewhat similar divergences in reading greeted “The Darling,” pitting its great author against its great reader and admirer Leo Tolstoy. According to Tolstoy, Chekhov “wanted to show what a woman should not be like,” but despite his authorial intentions, “the Darling’s soul is not funny but saintly, marvelous, for its ability to give all of its being to those she loves.”[7] In both cases, the opposing interpretations are determined by the way the quandary of a ‘female soul’ in the ‘male world’ is dramatized by the exaggerated departures of the hero and the exaggerated demands of the heroine.

Fro wanted to steal Fedor for herself alone and “was sad that she was only a woman and could not feel like a microfarad.” “The Dar­ling” is a classical precedent for such an overidentification with the male partner. Olenka’s addiction to her men’s “opinions” involves a breakdown of interpersonal boundaries, subtly expressed by the play with the meaning of the story’s pivotal “we” phrase.

Olenka referred to her first two husbands as “Vanichka (resp. Vassichka) and I” (in Russian, lit. “we with Vanichka/Vassichka”) only to be rebutted by her third partner (Volodichka), who insisted on the exclusive use of the first-person plural: “When we veterinary surgeons are talking among ourselves, please don’t put your word in.”

At a deeper level, the deaths of her two husbands and the centrifugal tendencies of the two subsequent partners (the veterinarian and his son) may be construed as resulting from the heroine’s psychological vampirism. Note that while “Olenka grew stouter, and was always beaming with satisfaction… Kukin grew thinner and yellower, and complained of terrible losses, although … he was not doing badly at all.”

Incidentally, Olenka’s plumpness (cf. Fro’s plump legs) reifies the idea of the ‘soul’s corporeality.’ The word dusha, “soul,” recurs in the text several times, and the heroine’s title nickname (Dushechka, a somewhat corny term of endearment, literally means “Soulie”) is consistently associated with her healthy physicality and sexual attrac­tiveness.

Remarkably, Tolstoy, who punningly emphasized “the Soulie’s soul” (dushu Dushechki), expurgated from his “popularized” redaction of the story (Tolstoy 1906, 1: 421-33) the two sentences that associate the heroine’s soulful nick­name with her curves: (1) “And when he had a closer view of her neck and her plump, fine shoulders, he threw up his hands, and said: ‘You darling!’”; (2) “Men thought, ‘Yes, not half bad!’ “[8]

Parallels with “Fro” include even such details as holding hands with women. “Ladies could not refrain from seizing her hand… exclaim­ing, ‘You darling!’” (Tolstoy apparently had no problem with this.)

To what use, then, did Platonov put the Chekhovian subtext? While obviously drawing on its classical prestige as well as ambiguity, he cer­tainly “rewrote” it in a new key. Not only did he modernize the story in several ways, but he definitely reinforced the narratorial identifica­tion with the heroine, tilting the balance, so to speak, in the direction of Tolstoy’s reading. The dynamics of such a conversion will become clearer in light of the intertextualizations that follow.


The correspondent who informed Chekhov of Tolstoy’s reader re­sponse to “The Darling” had slightly distorted the title, highlighting by his slip the story’s implicit link to the eighteenth-century narra­tive poem by I. Bogdanovich “Dushen’ka.”[9] Links with that poem —a rococo version of the Apuleius legend of “Cupid and Psyche” (bor­rowed through La Fontaine’s Psyche)—place “Fro” in a new, mytho­logical context. On Russian soil, it includes a group of Finist folktales: “Peryshko Finista iasna sokola” (The feather of Finist the bright falcon; Afanas’ev 1957, 2: 236-46, nos. 234-35) and its literary counterpart, “The Scarlet Flower” (“Alen’kii tsvetochek,” as retold by S. T. Aksakov in his fictionalized memoirs of childhood, 1983 [1856]).

Platonov’s mythopoeticity, as well as his use of folkloric style, has attracted the attention of critics—for example, S. Zalygin (1971) and N. Poltavtseva (1981). B. Paramonov (1987) has proposed Penelope as the master archetype of his oeuvre; E. Naiman privileges the Prome­thean mytheme (1987) and connects “Fro” with Orpheus (1988: 345); and S. Semenova (1988), discussing Platonov’s ‘soul’ theme, mentions “the sufferings of the Russian psyche.” Platonov’s use of the Psyche myth, however, has not yet been explored.

Incidentally, the link may have been quite deliberate. Sometimes Platonov overtly stressed his mythological sources; for instance, in “Aphrodite” (1945), a story considered cognate to “Fro.” The case for “Fro” is strengthened by the circumstantial evidence of Platonov’s interest in both the “Finist” tale (see his literary version [1970 (1947): 143-69]) and Apuleius’s “Cupid and Psyche” (mentioned in his letter to his wife, April 5, 1934; see Platonov 1988: 560).

But irrespective of any evidence of borrowing, the Psyche myth seems typologically relevant to “Fro,” and that is what I will focus on.

In folkloristic terms, this group of plots comes under tale type 425 in the Aarne-Thompson classification: “the search for the lost hus­band” (Thompson 1977: 98ff.), comprising the motifs of ‘forgotten bride/ ‘disobedient wife/ ‘disenchanting the supernatural/monster husband/ and some others. On a deeper level, this archaic cluster reflects the fear of exogamous marriage: the heroine is shown to over­estimate her kinship ties (e.g., by her sisters, i.e., her other selves, plotting against the marriage) and her own importance (e.g., beauty), to underestimate the husband (seen as a monster), and to aim at a nor­malization of the marriage (through disenchantment). Let us briefly state the common denominator, or archeplot, of this group of texts.

The initial situation includes the father and three daughters; the two elder ones are either unmarried or have ordinary husbands. The younger daughter, the father’s favorite, is famous for her beauty, which brings her admirers but not bridegrooms, and the envy of rivals (the sisters, Venus herself).

The heroine’s acquaintance with her future husband either takes place di­rectly (e.g., she is visited by the invisible Cupid, who is sent by Venus to marry her off to a monster but falls in love with her) or is implicit in the gift that she orders, which includes the bridegroom’s attribute (a feather, a red flower) and is obtained by the father in exchange for the promise of his daughter’s hand.

The engagement is arranged by the father with the daughter’s consent (overt or covert). The bride either stays with her father and sisters and is visited there by the bridegroom, who flies in, summoned by his attribute (displayed on the windowsill), or she departs for the bridegroom’s palace in a funerallike ritual, performed by magic means (e.g., by being left at a mountaintop, whence Zephyrus softly lowers her into the other kingdom).

In this preliminary marriage, the heroine enjoys the husband’s love, com­pany, and wealth, despite his supernatural/monstrous status (as a prince, visible only at night and only to his bride, who flies away as a falcon at daybreak, or the handsome but invisible Cupid, allegedly a monster).

The bride’s happiness is destroyed by her envious sisters, who make use of some condition included in the marriage contract (by arousing her mistrustful curiosity, they get her to break the vow not to look at the husband, and as a drop of lamp oil awakens him, he flies away; by fitting out her window with sharp nails, they injure the falcon, who, unable to get in, disappears, leaving feathers /blood [cf. his attributes] on the nails; by keeping the heroine from returning to her husband or tampering with the clock, they ensure a delay that proves almost fatal to the husband).

The search begins as, left alone (often in the fields), the heroine longs for her husband, finds out (from the wind or the stars; from some itinerant donors, e.g., Baba-laga or Ceres) where to look for him, and obtains magical means. She must wear out three pairs of iron shoes and pass three tests stipulated by a woman who represents an alien tribe and possesses the lost husband (by Venus, the future mother-in-law; by the hero’s new wife).

The decisive (third) test entails overcoming a death sleep. In “Cupid and Psyche,” the heroine, while procuring the secret of beauty from Proserpine, mistress of the nether world, violates an interdiction (she uses the secret for herself) and is plunged into a deadly sleep (the secret of beauty is sleep), but Cupid comes in time to save her. In the three Afanas’ev tales, the heroine exchanges her magic objects for nights with* the lost husband. Twice the new wife puts him to sleep, but the third time around the heroine succeeds in waking him up, and he recognizes her.

After the reunion, the spouses leave the house of the women rivals, the bridegroom is disenchanted or released from invisibility, the marriage is ac­cepted by its opponents (the sisters, Venus), the definitive wedding takes place, and the heroine acquires new attributes (rich clothes, immortality).

In light of this archeplot, we can now reread Platonov’s story anew, much as we did “After the Ball” in Chapter 3. Fro too remains semi-single (she even gets marriage proposals) and attached to her father’s name and apartment, where Fedor comes to visit. The window (albeit without the castrating nails) figures in the scenes of abandonment and longing as well as in the final induction of the boy into the bedroom.

Fedor exhibits supernatural characteristics, including invisibility and fiery nature.

Unlike Fro, he was able to “change himself into a microfarad or an eddy cur­rent” (cf. in Aksakov’s tale the monster’s connections with lightning and other “technological” effects). The Russian name of the hero, Finist, a distorted form of ‘phoenix/ as well as his nickname, the Bright (Falcon), signal a contami­nation with the myth of the phoenix and thus connection with sun and fire.[10] Fedor “was always warm, strange, uncannily able to sleep amid noise… was never ill.” Most of the time he is not there; nor does he believe in the value of his face, so that Fro (and the reader) have to settle for his childhood photo and his attributes (his hair, smell, and the Wheatstone bridges, etc.), which ensure her contact with him.

Fro almost succeeds in ‘disenchanting’ Fedor. She gets him to come back, and we finally see him “wearing a hat and a long blue raincoat, his deep-set eyes gleaming attentively.” A symbolic disenchantment of Fedor occurs in the very end where he is reincarnated in the person of the boy, the double of his “normal,” childhood self.

The courses of signalization and the other means of communication form an analogue to the magic palace,[11] and Fro’s loneliness resembles Psyche’s perception of Cupid’s palace as a “luxurious prison.” Fro’s attempts to ‘disenchant’ Fedor (first by entering his world, then by drawing him away from his) are comparable with Psyche’s spying on Cupid. Especially telling is the scene where Fro “drew her finger cautiously over his warm back.”[12] The Codes and Contexts of Platonov’s “Fro”.

The many ‘death’ motifs of the folkloric cluster (the heroine’s initial descent into the otherworldly valley; the bridegroom’s disappearance, death, or sleep; the heroine’s later descent into the underworld and her deathly sleep) are matched by corresponding details in “Fro.”

The very first sentence (“He had gone far off, and for a long time, almost irrevo­cably”) foregrounds this theme, and as the story unfolds, Fro descends under the ground, fakes death, loses consciousness, and says to Fedor that she will die if he stops loving her (i.e., refuses to become a ‘normal/ ‘disenchanted’ spouse).

Abandoned by her husband, Fro finds herself alone in the fields and tries interviewing the wind, the stars,[13] and—locomotives. Her mail delivery job is a modern form of searching for the lost bride­groom. The sequence of her jobs resembles a series of tests, and the iron shovel and carrying letters come closest to wearing off iron shoes. Just like Cupid, Fedor returns because of Fro’s near death, and the love interlude that follows corresponds to the folkloric motif of spending the night with the lost and found husband.[14]

It is at this pivotal point that a radical conversion of the intertextual paradigm takes place: regained sexual intimacy results in the hus­band’s leaving the heroine for his other attachments (in this case, the Scientific Utopia) rather than his rejoining her. This failure to retain the lost husband transforms the happy fairy-tale ending back into a serious mythological one,[15] aligning “Fro” with the myths of Orpheus (who at the last moment loses Eurydice to Hades) and Proserpine (who in the end is permitted only to shuttle back to earth for part of the annual cycle).

The presence of Orpheus can be detected in the person of the little boy, who descends with his music to Fro’s “hell” (downstairs) as her “husband.” Naiman (1988: 345) stresses the anagrammatic link between Orpheus and Fro and the Dionysian element that opposes Fro and the boy to Fedor. In an intertex­tual curio, Chekhov’s Darling and her first husband produce Orpheus in the Underworld.

In general, reading Fro as Psyche need not exclude alternative mytho­logical, literary, and linguistic contextualizations. Some of the other relevant references include

(1)  Penelope: note, in light of Paramonov 1987, Fro’s would-be husbands.

(2) Aphrodite:[16] Fro’s full name, Euphrosyne, meant “joyous” in Greek; it be­longed to one of the three graces in Aphrodite’s retinue (Vasil’ev 1982: 181), but originally the three names were simply epithets in her title, Pasithea Cale Euphrosyne, “the goddess of joy who is beautiful to all.” The three Graces rivaled Aphrodite’s beauty (Graves 1983, 2:14; cf. the rivalry between Psyche and her mother-in-law, Venus-Aphrodite). Fro’s face is first introduced as she looks at her reflection in a hairdresser’s window, in a modernized replay of Venus’s typical pose with a mirror. And Fedor is comparable to Hephaestus, Aphrodite’s blacksmith husband.

(3)  Eve: the archetypal biblical seductress and family founder; Fro’s illiterate ‘double/ “another Efrosin’ia/’ signs her name “with three letters that looked like Eve/’[17]

(4) Several interrelated Russian barbarisms: fru, “Mrs.” (from Ibsen and Ham­sun); frau, “Mrs’’’ freilein, froiliain, “Miss” (from German); fria, “a pretentious plebeian woman” (see Fasmer 1973, 4: 208); and last but not least:

(5)  Fru-Fru, Vronsky’s horse, whose death foreshadows Anna Karenina’s (i.e., a woman’s train-induced death in the male world). Tolstoy named her after his riding horse, whose previous owner had named her “after the heroine of the popular French play by Meilhac and Halevy Froufrou that appeared in 1870 and very soon came onto the Russian stage… The story line of this play touches on that of Anna Karenina. This was of importance to Tolstoy” (Eikhenbaum 1982: 161). Thus, Fro’s association with Fru-Fru is anthropomorphic.

For reasons of space, one major intertext of this kind, Psyche, will have to suffice.

Intertexts: Contemporary

Among the immediate contexts of “Fro”—those it is most intimately related to and most carefully distinguishes itself from—are the legacy of (post)symbolism and Platonov’s oeuvre. I will project the story onto these two backgrounds, again without any claim to exclusiveness and with an awareness of at least one important omission: the code of Socialist Realism.[18]


“Fro”’s complex involvement with the symbolist/postsymbolist mentality may have sprung from Platonov’s reaction to a popular ver­sion of its “miracle-mindedness”: Akesandr Grin’s short novel Crim­son Sails (Alye parusa, 1978 [1920]), reissued in 1937. Grin (1880-1932) wrote generically “foreign” adventure and science fiction, inspired by the example of R. L. Stevenson, Joseph Conrad, and H. G. Wells.

In Crimson Sails, Captain Gray, an English aristocrat, falls in love with a victimized poor girl, Assol. Learning of her conviction that one day a man will come for her in a ship with crimson sails, he outfits his ship accordingly, and sweeps Assol away.

Platonov’s review (1980 [1938]: 72-78) of Grin’s book sounds at times like a program for the writing of “Fro” (Chalmaev 1984: 75,181).

The happiness of two lovers cannot be based on purely animal satisfaction, divorced from the heroic efforts of the people and their hard everyday life. Miracles must grapple with the “abominable concreteness” of life; “when the ship took on board only Assol, the people remained on shore, along with the … great theme for a literary work that A. Grin would not or could not write.” The problem was, how does one write about “an Assol from Morshansk,” i.e. from a god-forsaken provincial town, rather than from a romantic never-never land?

The transformation Platonov seems to have performed on Grin’s novel to produce “Fro” can be described as follows:

To turn Assol into Fro, he made her a workingwoman, and in creating Fedor, he coupled Captain Cray’s generous idealism with socially useful goals. Both protagonists remained Utopian dreamers: Fro dreams of romantic love, Fedor of his machines and revolutions; both (especially Fedor) pay no attention to the minutiae of ordinary life while striving to bring their respective remote miracles closer, repainting reality the color of their dreams. Thus, not only Fedor but Fro, as she tries her voodoo magic on him, act in the spirit of Grin and the entire epoch, which bred, among others, Platonov (himself a lapsed utopianist, he could well say “Fro, c’est moi”).

To all these changes in the setup the major conversion of the Grin hypogram corresponds: the hero leaves the heroine behind, and their miracles, rather than converging on a happy ever-after, face in differ­ent directions as the center falls out of their story.

Incidentally, the comparison of the platform on which Fro is left standing (in the very first paragraph) to “the deck of a ship that has run aground” reads as a reference to Crimson Sails, anticipating the corresponding passage in the review.

Similarly, the very self-appellation that Platonov’s heroine chooses for her­self (and Platonov for his title)—the short, mysteriously outlandish Fro—may well be a subtle send-up of the pen name Grin: a contraction of Grinevskii, the writer’s real family name, Grin is the standard Russian rendering of Green, making the pseudonym sound even more “English.” Recall that the heroine insists she is “Fro . . . not Russian, no,” but in the end “settles” for Frossie.

Gray-Grin’s handpainted sails looming crimson in the horizon are but a popularized version of the symbolists’ constant expectation, conjuring up, and performing of miracles.

Zinaida Gippius’s programmatic “Song” (1893) features a window, a sun­set, and a promise “of that which is not there in the world.” In Alexander Blok’s famous poem “Incognita” (Neznakomka, 1906), the vision of the mys­terious lady “in the misty window” helps establish correspondances with the “enchanted distance,” “somebody’s sun,” and “the truth.”

The symbolists’ miracle mongering was not confined to their art, for they proclaimed the importance of “life creation” (zhiznetvorchestvo; see Grossman and Paperno 1994), in an activist spirit that was akin, in the broader perspective, to the world-remaking philosophies of Friedrich Nietzsche, Nikolai Fedorov, Vladimir Soloviev, N. G. Chernyshevsky, and Karl Marx. In 1910, discussing the “crisis of symbolism,” Alexan­der Blok formulated the movement’s history as a dialectical triad that reads almost like a summary of “Fro” ‘s plot (Blok 1974-80, 5: 425-36; Masing-Delic 1989):

Thesis: poet-child creates freely, in a magic unity of art and life.

Antithesis: poet-man subjects life to analysis, in alliance with the devil and in opposition to passive and amoral femininity, which lusts for passion, death, and a premature miracle.

Synthesis: the opposites are miraculously reconciled in an androgynous infant representing the new humankind.

Later on, symbolism’s vaguely para-Marxian ideas led to the accep­tance of the “music of the Revolution” (in Blok’s famous formulation), and in the hands of the futurists and other avant-gardists and finally Socialist Realists, wonder working was translated into various myths of social engineering, with a growing insistence on unceremoniously forcing ‘life’ to obey the ‘power of art.’

Characteristically, while in Blok’s poem “somebody’s sun” has been passively and impersonally “entrusted” (or “delivered,” vrucheno) to the speaker, Mayakovsky (in his “The Unusual Adventure That Happened to the Poet Vladimir Mayakovsky at His Countryhouse,” 1920) bosses the sun, making it stop by for some tea and a literary chat.

This ‘victory over the sun’ marked the height of Utopian bravado, and soon a mood of disillusionment set in (not unlike the transition from the optimism of the Enlightenment to romanticism’s postrevolutionary brooding to profound Flaubertian skepticism). To subject the storming of distances to doubt, various literary tools were now developed:

—the dystopian discourse and the character of the Grand Provo­cateur, desecrator of ideals—for example, in the works of Zamiatin, Ehrenburg, Ilf and Petrov, and Bulgakov (see Chapters 7, 9);

—the Zoshchenkovian mockery of the New Man’s linguistic and cultural pretensions (see Chapters 2, 3); and

—the direct subversion of ‘distance magic’ as for instance in Iurii Olesha’s Envy (2: 1), where Ivan Babichev as a little boy claims to be able to turn a soap bubble into a huge aerostat looming over the horizon:

He invented a special soap compound and a special little pipe, using which, one could turn out an amazing soap bubble. This bubble would enlarge in flight… and on, on, right up to the volume of an aerostat. . . . And when father Babichev was drinking tea on the balcony, suddenly… far away… gleaming in the rays of the setting sun, appeared a large orange sphere….

“He was a dry man, my dad, small-minded, but inattentive. He didn’t know that on that day the aeronaut, Ernst Vitollo, flew over the city. Magnificent posters had announced it.” (Olesha 1975: 60)

It is among these grotesque spoofs of the ‘manmade miracle’ that we should place the literary strategies of Platonov, who had been reared on symbolism, Fedorov, and the technological utopianism of Bogdanov; started his literary career with variations on these ideas; but ended by subverting them. (An Aesopian subversion was there already in “The Epiphany Locks” [1927], and in The Foundation Pit [1930] it became so blatant that the novel had to remain unpublished during the author’s lifetime.)[19]

Of particular relevance to Platonov’s ambivalence about faraway goals is a Nietzschean connection. In Thus Spake Zarathustra (1: 16, “Neighbor Love”), the idea of ‘love for the furthest and future ones . . . and phantoms’ (1967: 55) is proclaimed—over the more natural and easy love of one’s neighbor, typical of women. The Russian public was introduced to this notion in the enthusiastic exposition by S. Frank (1903), through whom, or through Fedorov (see Gunther 1982: 185), it must have reached Platonov. In fact, Platonov was to write a story entitled “The Love of the Distant” (1934) where the idea is already treated with irony.

The retreat from ‘distance’ was not, however, universal, even among the most serious and independent writers. An unexpectedly successful fulfillment of miracles, often in a semiofficial key, was char­acteristic of Pasternak. “You are close by, [you] the Socialist distance. / Or would you say—nearness?” he wrote in Waves (1931).[20] As early as 1924, Tynianov had noted Pasternak’s “strange visual perspective . . . attentiveness to things close at hand, and, immediately behind them, infinite space.”[21]

Tynianov cites an example from “To the Memory of the Demon” (the hero of the eponymous Lermontov poem), whose ghostly presence is perceived only “a yard or so away from the window” (apparently in the form of raindrops) and in the “ice on the summits” and the “avalanches/’ with which the demon promises to return.

This seemingly idiosyncratic angle of vision signals what can be described as Pasternak’s solution to the general problem of master­ing and superseding symbolist perspective on ‘distance/ It is made possible—naturalized—by the typically Pasternakian privileging of contiguity and metonymy (typical of narrative prose) over similarity and metaphor (typical of lyrical poetry, especially romantic and sym­bolist), in particular the tendency to involve a third, often distant partner in depictions of binary contacts that occur “here.”[22] As a re­sult, ideal distant entities are drawn into the immediate vicinity of everyday trivia, so that the miracles dreamed of by the symbolists, wrought by the futurists, and subverted by Platonov and others again come true in Pasternak’s world:

The demon, mountaintops, avalanches, and so on approach the window; trains and platforms mingle with the landscape; the horizon becomes the beloved’s pen pal; the air and distance are addressed, like letters, to ‘y°u’; lightnings and fireballs enter rooms, and so on.

One example of such successful “mingling” a la Pasternak sounds like a deliberate conversion of Mayakovsky’s adventure with the sun.

Solntse saditsia i p’ianitsei
Izdali, s tsel’iu prozrachnoi,
Cherez okonnitsu tianetsia
К khlebu i riumke kon’iachnoi.

The sun sets [sits down] and, like a drunkard From afar, with a transparent purpose, Reaches across the windows For bread and the brandy glass (Pasternak, “Zimnie prazdniki” [Winter holidays], 1959).

chem tak, bez dela zakhodit’,
kо mne na chai zashlo by!

rather than set [stop by] just like that, uselessly, you’d better stop by for tea at my place! (Mayakovsky, “The Unusual Adventure,” 1920).

Even the puns (on the ‘sundown’ verbs sadit’sia and zakhodit’) are similar, highlighting the difference of tenor: this time, the sun itself stealthily reaches from afar to join the poet at his kitchen table.

In ‘’Fro’’ much as in Pasternak, “the evening sun shone all through the apart­ment and penetrated all the way to Frossie’s body.” And the pine trees, which “grew outside the window, having begun their straight journey into the serene vastness of the skies/’ seem to prefigure Pasternak’s famous “Pine Trees” (“Sosny,” 1941), where men and trees are happily immersed in the sky and the (metaphorical) sea.

The entire poetics of juxtaposing the near and the distant is essentially the same, and Tynianov’s observations are applicable to the way the close-up of Fro’s “two lonely plump legs” follows the panoramic view of the “open space” and the “ship that has run aground.”[23]

On the whole, then, Platonov’s gesture in “Fro” is subversive of the shriller Utopian variants of miracle making (embodied in Fedor) and supportive of its milder, Pasternak-like version (represented by Frossie). In this sense, “Fro” may be described as part of the semioffi­cial postsymbolism of the 1930s.

The question of ‘semiofficiality’ is a delicate one, as is always the case with Aesopian discourse and other forms of fellow-traveler writing grudgingly accepted by the totalitarian establishment. While barely subsisting on the brink of Soviet literature, Platonov proclaimed his view of Grin (safely dead at the tiirie) as insufficiently in tune with the interests of “the people.”[24]


The poetic world of an author has been defined elsewhere as a sys­tem of invariant motifs—ideological, tabulate, stylistic, intertextual—unified by an overarching central theme (Zholkovsky 1984a, Shcheglov and Zholkovsky 1987). Briefly, Platonov’s world seems driven by ‘an urge to transcend the spatial, energetic, and existential limits of immediate reality.’[25] Hence such idiosyncratic oppositions as ‘saving energy and matter in a world of shortage versus performing energy miracles’; ‘solitude versus contacts/ ‘closeness versus distance/ ‘kin­ship versus alienness/ ‘attachment, one-sidedness versus freedom, emptiness/ and some others. All these are often treated with ambi­guity (“bipolarity,” Naiman 1987: 194ff.), even within one text. These major oppositions, in turn, underlie what can be called Platonov’s archediscourse about the world, which I will lay out in four install­ments, dealing, respectively, with the human being, his or her sur­roundings, family life, and existential drama.[26]

The human being consists of reason, oriented toward distance; soul, located in the throat and connected with breathing and air; and a body, with its physical needs. The body is dismemberable—in particular, divisible into the spiritual top and physical bottom. Reason tends to ignore the ‘close’ needs of body and soul, which experience cold, longing, and dessication as a result. Their warm­ing is achieved through the food, joy, and heat that come from the outside, with which successful close contact is therefore necessary. Inside an ideal human being (child, parent, Bolshevik) exists an empty space where everybody/every­thing can be placed, this emptiness being connected with breathing/air and holes/graves.[27]

The surrounding world is composed of nature, technology, and society, which have ‘distant’ and ‘close-by’ manifestations. Men relate mostly to tech­nology, women to nature, but not necessarily. Sometimes technology is iden­tified with the soul, body, people, family, animals, nature. In Platonov one may encounter “rough people and tender locomotives” (Bocharov 1985: 262). Nature is both a challenge (storm, snowfall, lightning) and a source of sup­port (sun, wind), and its representatives (flowers, butterflies, birds, animals) often figure as quasi-human protagonists. On the social plane, the oscillation is between underestimation of interpersonal relations (a leader’s or thinker’s indifference to real people; preference for technology over people) and their overestimation (in love, family).

Mediation often relies on means of communication (transportation, letters, mail, telegraph), sometimes with exaggerated ‘immediacy’ (getting around on foot, sending letters with friends rather than through the mail), and on art, espe­cially music (violin, accordion, musical broadcasts). The “ethereal road” (the efirnyi trakt of the eponymous novella), which embodies a sci-fi solution to all the problems of technology and human existence, is actually nothing else than a total means of communication.

Family life is usually unhappy. Family members feel orphaned (because of death, inattention, abandonment, poverty, crowding). The spouses’ (mostly the wife’s) egoism and fixation on family, property, and sex remove them from broader contacts with the world, and sexual love wastes the energy needed for ‘distant’ deeds. Also destructive are (the wife’s) jealous suspicions, which are often provoked by the ‘distant’ or asexual orientation of the husband and in turn lead to actual unfaithfulness and the breakdown of the family. These crises can be overcome by establishing ‘additional links/ outside or inside the family: extra-familially, by adopting a child, parent, or spouse (e.g., by absorbing an unfaithfulness or forming a sexually indefinite triple union); intra-familially, by upgrading the existing relationships (by a reconciliation of the spouses after an affair or even an alternative marriage; by a mutual adoption of children and parents; by a child’s assumption of mediational, sometimes androgynous, functions; by a resurrection of the parents, restoration of their graves, or through rejoining them in death). Mediation often includes hand touching or other non-erotic (‘brotherly’) physical contacts.

The meaning of life lies in striving toward impossible goals: upward (e.g., up a mountain) or into the distance in search of lost/distant parents or be­cause of expulsion from home by unloving parents, on the whole, symbolically and archetypally, a departure for the “other” kingdom/world. This involves disdain for the nearby or on the contrary insistence on direct and immediate fulfillment of desires and ideas, challenging all natural and human limitations and living on the brink of death.

The death cluster includes real, near-complete, or simulated dying, some­times by suicide; a fall, descent underground into a pit, gravedigging; miracu­lous rescue, resurrection, reunion across or beyond the grave, cult of the grave; return, humble reconciliation, settling for the nearby or some other mediation between the distant and the close-by.

In a surprisingly comprehensive rendering of this paradigm, “Fro” seems to “have it all”: a departure for the other world, attempts at an impossible remaking of the world, return, gravedigging, sym­bolic deaths, miraculous rescue, mediation between the ‘distant’ and the ‘nearby/ streamlining distant lines of communication, repress­ing sexual claims on the husband, familial reconciliation by forging additional ties, overcoming orphanhood.by a mutual reinforcement of links between parents and children.

But it is also true that “Fro” offers a rather moderate and benign version of the Platonov world, without real deaths, injuries, serious antagonisms or ruptures (in fact, Fedor is expected back, albeit in an indefinite future). Furthermore, its narrative follows (and very much identifies with) the heroine who stays ‘here, nearby’ rather than the hero who has embarked on a Utopian quest (as, for instance, in the “Epiphany Locks”). There are in Platonov intermediate cases featur­ing as their ‘protagonist on a quest’ not a Utopian dreamer/designer (usually a man) but rather an itinerant orphan (often a woman) whose ‘distant goal’ is more tangible and human. Yet, even compared to these (e.g., “At the Dawn of Misty Youth/’ 1938), “Fro” stands out in that its pointedly asocial heroine lays claims to her husband and per­sonal happiness without incurring authorial disapproval (or having to counter it by heroic deeds). This lyrical tenor is reinforced by the Chekhovian subtext—both its presence per se and the direction in which it has been “reworked.” Platonov continued with the rehabili­tation of marital love in such stories as “The River Potudan” (1937), where the husband’s centrifugal tendencies are for the first time in Platonov devoid of high social justification, and “The Homecoming” (1946), where they are definitively debunked.

From comparisons between “Fro” and the Platonov master dis­course I have slipped into specific parallels with individual texts. A systematic survey of such parallels would have to begin with listing all the situations, narrative moves, and details in “Fro” that have been used by Platonov elsewhere.

Compare, for instance, the wife summoning her husband back (from America) by a telegram about her alleged death (‘The Ethereal Way/’ 1926); the top-bottom division of the body (“Chevengur,” 1929; “Dzhan,” 1934; “Dusty Wind,” 1936); phrases like “Farewell—I’ll welcome you back [ia dozhdus’)” (“The Ethereal Way”; “Takyr,” 1934; “The Multicolored Butterfly”).

“Fro” should also be correlated with whole plots that look like its close variants—some synonymous, others antonymous. This would involve what can be called Platonov7s Socialist Realist cycle: “Love for a Distant One” (1934), “Amid Animals and Plants” (1936), “The Old Mechanic” (1940), “A Great Man” (1941), and in particular “Im­mortality,” which appeared in The Literary Critic alongside “Fro” in a sort of “little dilogy” (Chalmaev 1984:160-61). An intriguing problem also concerns the relation between “Fro”‘s ostensibly “conformist” stylistic and Platonov’s earlier overt surrealism, in a shift generally characteristic of the 1930s.[28]

Such comparisons, however, would far exceed the scope of this section, whose main point is that in “Fro,” Platonov, although remain­ing generally true to the aesthetic of ‘transcendence/ sounded a more “humane” note, toning down his earlier stridency.


*  *  *

The five decodings seem to yield the following results. Intrinsically, “Fro” reads as a cautious but definite emancipation of the heroine (who represents individual, human, female values) from ‘distant’ utopianism (Communist, technological, male). With respect to “The Darling,” it is a modernization and what’s more, lyricization, all the more surprising in the context of the Soviet production novel of the time. On the archetypal level, the story offers a dramatic conver­sion of fairy-tale optimism back to the seriousness of original myths. Vis-a-vis (post)symbolism, “Fro” marks a step toward the prosaiza-tion of miracles in the spirit of Pasternak’s ambiguous, semi-idyllic acceptance of the official discourse. In Platonov’s own terms, “Fro” is a milder version of his transcendence fixation.

One obvious consequence of such intertextual layering is a power­ful effect of overdetermination. Every juncture of the plot proves to lie at the intersection of several forces; for instance, the episode of Frossie’s shoveling work in the slag pit has a fourfold composition (the Chekhovian voice being practically inaudible):

Structurally, this is one of several attempts at mediation between Fro’s soul and the iron world of transportation, between her solitude and the collective, be­tween nature and technology (from the pit she sees the “free night, lit by stars and electricity”). Mythopoetically, the scene represents a graphic descent into the underworld and an early intimation of death, so far rather innocuous. In the (post)symbolist perspective, the image is one of contact with a faraway sky, launched, so to speak, de profundis. And, of course, in terms of the author’s oeuvre, it is an umpteenth instance of the ‘pits, canals, holes, and graves’ that Platonov’s heroes seem forever so keen on digging.

The multiple superpositions enhance the narrative’s coherence and persuasiveness by ensuring an effective mutual naturalization of the layers, grounded, respectively, in the rhetorical, Russian, archetypal, contemporary, and specifically Platohovian discourse modes, and co­alescing into a well-motivated, meaningful whole. The theme of (Fro’s) ‘soul’ finds its classical embodiment in the mytheme of Psyche, and the lyrical ambiguity, characteristic of Platonov’s later work, draws on Chekhov’s. On the other hand, the orientation toward nineteenth-century Russian tradition (and away from the avant-garde) is very much in the spirit of Soviet literature of the 1930s, as is, in fact, the ori­entation toward myth.[29] Such mutual agreement helps outbalance and thus sustain the contradictory tensions among voices. For instance, Fro’s lyrical individualism is successfully played off against the offi­cially prescribed collectivism, thanks to the reliance of the former on the classical, and therefore newly acceptable, Chekhov. Similarly, pre­sented through (post)symbolist optics, topical Soviet material emerges both ennobled and subverted. On the whole, the mutual accommo­dation of the five different voices seems not to exceed the limits of a unified if ambiguous cumulative reading.


[1]  For the complete Russian text of “Fro,” see Platonov 1971: 389-408; for an English rendering (by Helen Colaclides), see Pomorska 1971, 1:183-202.

[2]   In the Russian critical tradition it is known as “slow” rather than “close,” following M. Gershenzon (1919).

[3]  Cf. Marina Tsvetaeva’s “An Ode to Walking on Foot” (1931).

[4] Platonov foresees, as it were, the attacks to which “Fro” was to be sub­jected on the pages of that same journal by Gurvich (1938 [1937]). That article is remarkable for the way it grounds a Zhdanovite political denunciation in a perceptive and thorough analysis of Platpnov’s poetics. Platonov responded in Literaturnaia gazeta (1938).

[5] Anticipating Yurii Zhivago, she “asked: ‘But why does it follow that any­one should say В after saying A? What if … I don’t want to?’” Cf. ” ‘Anyone who says must say B/ . . . I’ll say but I won’t say В—whatever you do” (Zhivago to Liberius; Pasternak 1958: 339). Both seem to go back to the Underground Man’s rejection of the 2 + 2 = 4 principle.

[6] “Fro” shares with Bunin’s “Gentle Breathing” (about which see Chap-334      Notes to Pages 280-90

ter 4) the ‘soul-spirit-breathing-wind’ cluster, and a direct influence is not improbable. Bocharov (in his article on Platonov, “The Stuff of Existence/’ 1985: 249-96) compares a ‘breathing’ passage from “Fro” with a similar one in “Aphrodite,” which he shows to refer directly to “Gentle Breathing” (259-60).

[7] Tolstoy 1928-58, 41: 375; see also Lakshin 1975: 81-97 (the chapter “Tolstoy’s Favorite Story”).

[8] See Lakshin 1975: 96; for a complete list of Tolstoy’s corrections, see Tolstoy 1975, 1 (2): 440.

[9] I.I. Gorbunov-Posadov’s letter of January 24, 1899, see Chekhov 1974-80, 10: 410. See also Poggioli 1957: 122-30 (repr. Chekhov 1979: 319-28) and Winner 1963.

[10] The phoenix was a solar bird reborn in flames (Leach and Fried 1972: 868). This reconciles our reading of Fedor as an ‘enchanted husband’ with Naiman’s “thematic mythology” (1987), in terms of which he is, of course, a Promethean character.

[11] Cf. in Apuleius and Aksakov, the “technological” wonders permitting the heroine’s communication with the invisible spouse: the magic music and voices, writings on the wall, immediately delivered letters, etc.

[12] Cf. in some plots the disenchantment by kisses or by burning the ani­mal skin of the monster husband; on a parallel to Psyche’s spying on Cupid in Anna Karenina (7: 25), see Mandelker 1990: 63-64.

[13] Her special links to the wind have Apuleian roots: Psyche is the Greek for “soul, breathing, butterfly,” and Zephyrus is a “(westerly) wind.”

[14] In Platonov’s “Finist,” the heroine “leans down close to him, breathes one and the same breath with him” (162), very much in the spirit of Fro.

[15] It is an accepted view that the folktale is a late, “sanitized,” descendant of myth. For calculi of possible thematic and structural transmutations of the same plots, see Frye 1957 and Bremond 1973.

[16] On Fro’s affinities with the heroine of Platonov’s “Aphrodite,” see Tolstaia-Segal 1977: 202; Geller 1984: 363

[17] On this signature and the semanticization in Platonov of the characters’ names, including Fro’s, see Tolstaia-Segal 1977: 196-209.

[18] On Platonov’s relations with Socialist Realism, as well as its (post)-symbolist links, see Gunther 1982, Seifrid 1987, 1992.

[19] On Platonov’s links to Fedorov and Bogdanov, see Tolstaia-Segal 1981: 238-40; Geller 1984: 30-33; Teskey 1982.

[20] On Pasternak’s rhetoric of born-again Socialism, see Chapter 8.

[21] See “Promezhutok” (Tynianov 1977b: 185); the section that deals with Pasternak is translated in Davie and Livingstone 1969 as “Pasternak’s ‘Mis­sion’ ” (126-34; see 130-31).

[22] See Jakobson 1969 [1935], Lotman 1978 [1969], Zholkovsky 1985b. The prosaic connection of such perspectives is illuminated by the literary origins of the soap-bubble passage in Envy. Olesha admired Edgar Allan Poe’s story “The Sphinx/’ where a man “who sat in front of an open window saw a fan­tastic monster moving across a distant hillside. . . . But it turned out . . . that it had been a most ordinary insect … crawling in a cobweb at a very short distance from the observing eye against the background of the distant hills” (Olesha, “In the World” [1937]; see 1956: 345). Рое had been a mentor of the French and subsequently Russian symbolist poets; remarkably, Olesha, a postsymbolist, turned to Poe’s prose for a pointedly ironic naturalization of the mystical communion with ‘the distance/ Since the symbolists focused on the “invisible to the eye,” preferring to ignore “the crude bark of the matter” and “erase the occasional features” of things (in the classic formulations of Vladimir Solov’ev), it was up to the postsymbolists to reinvent “realistic,” i.e., spatial and causal, links between nearby phenomena and faraway noumena (see also Bocharov 1985: 258).

[23] The affinities between the two poetics extend into the linguistic realm, where the juxtaposition of the near and the distant, the concrete and the ab­stract, etc., is iconized by ungrammatical collocations; cf. Fedor “surrounded by Siberia” with such Pasternakian lines as “Smotrel otsiuda ia za krug Sibiri, / No drug i sam byl gorodom, как Omsk/ I Tomsk,—byl krugom voin i peremirii” (I looked from here beyond the circle of Siberia, / But [my] friend himself was a city, like Omsk/Or Tomsk,—[he] was a circle of wars and armistices), (“Okno, piupitr” [The window, the music stand], 1931). On the treatment of language in Platonov and Pasternak, see, respectively, Seifrid 1987, 1992, and Zholkovsky 1985b; on the analogies between the two, see Tolstaia-Segal 1981: 272.

[24] On the problematic of adaptation to the official discourse, see Chap­ter 8.

[25] Platonov’s theme of ‘overpowering’ (prevozmoganiie) is discussed by Vasil’ev (1982: 165).

[26] I omit both the corresponding examples (superfluous for an informed Platonov reader) and an overview of the stylistic and intertextual motifs.

[27] On the role of ’emptiness’ in Platonov’s worldview, see Tolstaia-Segal 1979: 246-47; 1981: 270; Naiman 1987; Epshtein 1989: 303-7; see also Podoroga 1991.

[28] On Platonov’s surrealism (and its links to Fedor Sologub), see Tolstaia-Segal 1979: 239.

[29] Katerina Clark’s view of the Socialist Realist novel as ritualistic is re­flected in the subtitle of her 1981 book, The Soviet Novel: History as Ritual.