At first glance, the juxtaposition of the two names may sound bizarre. In fact, Zoshchenko (1928: 8-11) was at pains to distance himself from the great forebear. Ridiculing the officially sanctioned order (“social command”) for a “red Leo Tolstoy,” something hopelessly dated from his point of view, “almost Karamzinian,” Zoshchenko insisted on delivering literary production of a “bad,” “petty,” lowbrow, and “little respected” sort. But he also claimed that in this way he actually filled the bill as the only proletarian Leo Tolstoy possible — a parodic one.1 The two could accordingly be yoked together by contrast, with Zoshchenko instantiating the formalist “canonization of a junior branch,” but that would cast Tolstoy as a generic “senior,” a role better fit by a figure like Turgenev, perhaps the most correct and uncontroversial among the nineteenth-century greats.2 Yet there is a common feature that makes the juxtaposition of Zoshchenko with Tolstoy meaningful: defamiliarization.

Theater and Truth

The concept of defamiliarization was introduced by Shklovsky (1965a [1917]), whose master example was the episode of Natasha’s perception of the opera.

In the center of the stage sat some girls in red bodices and white shirts. One very fat girl in a white silk dress sat apart on a low bench, to the back of which a piece of green cardboard was glued. They all sang something. When they had finished their song the girl in white went up to the prompter’s box…. [The] man with bare legs jumped very high and waved his feet about very rapidly. (He was Duport, who received sixty thousand rubles a year for this art)…. After her life in the country, and in her present serious mood, all this seemed grotesque and amazing to Natasha. (Tolstoy 1966, 7, 9: 620-23)

Shklovsky was primarily interested in defamiliarization as an overall aesthetic strategy of creating “a special perception of the object … a ‘vision’ . . . instead of . . . ‘recognition’” (1965a: 18-19), i.e. “a way of experiencing the artfulness of the object” (12). But he was also aware of its specifically Tolstoyan ideological potential, inherent in the refusal to take things for granted and the tendency to see them in an unpreconceived and therefore more perceptive way. Tolstoy later used similar techniques (“typical of [his] way of pricking the conscience,” 13) in his attacks on the institutions of marriage (“The Kreutzer Sonata”), property (“Strider”), law and church (Resurrection), urban life, and others. In an anticipation of modem theories of discourse, Shklovsky stressed the heuristic power of art, claiming that such “perceptions had unsettled Tolstoy’s faith” (18).

In fact, a closer look at the opera episode shows that it, too, is exploited for moralistic rather than purely aesthetic purposes. In the space of a short chapter, Tolstoy has Natasha make the transition from her “natural” failure to understand opera — first, to a reluctant acquiescence in the norms and ways of the world (“I suppose it has to be like this”; Tolstoy 1966: 620) 3and then to their complete and joyous acceptance (“Natasha no longer thought this strange. She looked about with pleasure”; 624). Moreover, speaking in French, she agreed with Helen that Duport was “delightful” (admirable, in French in the Russian text) in a sign of utter moral disorientation that foreshadows her stumbling into the snares of Anatole. Tolstoy’s logic here is essentially the same as in the later and extremist “Kreutzer Sonata” (1889): “Why is gambling forbidden while women in costumes which [are prostitutelike and] evoke sensuality are not forbidden?” (chap. 9; see 1968b: 137). It is only a short step from speaking French and admiring opera to moral fall.

What, then, is the target of this denunciatory rhetoric? According to Lenin, Tolstoy’s “tearing away of all masks” (see Tolstoy 1966: 1393) and conventions 4

was undertaken in the name of the revolutionary “genuine muzhik” (“And you know something? … You couldn’t find a genuine muzhik in literature until this Count came on the scene”; Gorky 1932: 51). In semiotic terms, this reads as a total rejection of culture and symbolic systems.

“For Tolstoy, desirable communication occurs when the sign matches exactly the ‘thing,’ or, ideally, when signs are altogether absent” (Pomorska 1982: 387). Tolstoy resented the more arbitrary signs — symbols and indexes — and partially accepted icons and ostensive signs, based respectively on similarity with and direct pointing to the signified object (ibid.: 385-88).

Conventions, much as they were reviled by Lenin and Tolstoy (and Rousseau before them), 5 became a foundation of modern social science. The realization of the symbolic — and therefore inevitably conventional, that is, arbitrary — nature of language, art, and culture in general started with the critique of the notion of the ‘natural man’ and subsequently absorbed a variety of intellectual inputs: Nietzschean relativization of cultural values, Saussurean concept of language as a system, superstructure as a reflection of the base, and others. In the twentieth century, the ongoing interrogation of the foundations of culture coincided with the era of mass revolutionary movements and relativistic revision of the entire philosophical and scientific picture of the world.

In this historical context one is tempted to ask, When did Natasha go to the opera? In the novel’s fictional time, circa 1812, when the influence of the Enlightenment and Sentimentalism was still recent? Or at the time of the writing, half a century later, in the period of social ferment and questioning of traditional values, in particular of Pushkin’s aristocratic aestheticism by such radical critics as Pisarev? Or perhaps when the episode was at long last accorded a congenial reading (a “vision” rather than mere “recognition”) in Shklovsky’s 1917 article? In that case, Natasha’s “grotesque” perception of the opera can be said to have taken place in the revolutionary year 1917, that is, soon after Lenin saw “The Living Corpse” (see note 4), not long before he tried to close down the Bolshoi, and just at the time when the theater was to be discovered by Mikhail Zoshchenko’s characters, who were “natural” to a fault.

In Zoshchenko’s oeuvre, which has been aptly summarized as the “encyclopedia of an ‘un-culture’” (Shcheglov 1986b), theatergoing is a recurrent theme.

In fact, his famous “The Lady Aristocrat” (1963: 127-30) is about a theater outing: “There, in the theater, she unfurled her ideology to its full length” (127).

In the no less famous “Bathhouse” (1963: 131-33) the theme would seem to be out of place but is brought up anyway, as a powerful negative metaphor: “‘This isn’t the czarist regime, that you can go around bashing people with buckets…. This isn’t a theater.’ . . . ‘We’re not here to watch over the holes [in your tattered clothes]. This isn’t a theater,’ the attendant replied…. ‘Citizens, I can’t undress a third time. This isn’t a theater. At least reimburse me for the soap.’ They won’t” (132-33).

In a word, theater connotes political reaction and tiresome, prohibitively expensive conventions, among which is the dress code, enforced by the authorities on the poor natural man. Characteristically, the leitmotif (“This isn’t a theater”) refers not to the theater per se, i.e. the staged performance, but rather to the checkroom.

This is emblematic of the way theater is portrayed in the dozen or so “theatrical stories” where the protagonist invariably displays what Shcheglov describes as a shameful “inadequacy to cultural challenge” (1986b: 61-63). The masterplot of these stories is as follows:

Unwilling to pay, the spectators either fail to materialize or insist on having free passes; when they do buy tickets, they often try to get their money back.

Financial problems begin at the box office, and more turmoil takes place at the crowded entrance to the hall, with doors being broken, clothes torn, and so on.

Another hurdle is the checkroom, where the visitors must, but cannot — for lack of money or because of the shabby condition of their wardrobe — leave their coats. 6

Inside, their attention focuses on the toilet (“I wonder whether the water pipes work here,” says the plumber protagonist of “The Lady Aristocrat” trying to make a conversation piece out of his professional interests) and the concession stand with its financial and gastronomic connotations.

Even when seated, the characters keep being immersed in practical rather than aesthetic experiences:

— they mend their torn clothes, not noticing “what the picture is about”;

— do athletic exercises to get warm, obstructing the view of others;

— “Go to Riga” (a street euphemism for vomiting);

— use theater as a way of staying on the wagon (while in fact they merely move their drinking to another night) or for dating “in the marriage sense.”

Further obstacles to the proper reception of the performance can come from:

— the spectators, who misinterpret what they see (e.g., by assuming different performers to be the acts of one and the same quick-change artist and thus missing the actual content of the show);

— the stagehands, who are in the way of the production (e.g., a cocky electrician “refus[ing] to light your production” [“The Electrician,” Zoshchenko 1961: 47-48]);

— the actors themselves (who rob a newcomer of his wallet “in the course of this here drama” [“The Actor,” Zoshchenko 1961: 37-39]);

— or the narrator’s focus, which just does not encompass the stage.

Only in three stories does information about the performance come across — in those narrated from the point of view of behind the stage. But it is precisely in these that “pure art” either sustains losses (“Theater for Oneself”) or “reaches the masses in a somewhat strange form” (“An Incident in the Provinces”– with the quick-change artist), or succeeds only because stealing (always rampant in Zoshchenko’s world) finds its way even onto the stage (“The Actor”).

Despite obvious differences, this script resembles at some level Natasha’s visit to the opera and can be seen as a parodic actualization, intentional or unintentional, of Tolstoy’s ideas. Like the real lady aristocrat, Countess Natasha Rostova, Zoshchenko’s heroes arrive at the theater straight from the country, but unlike her — and Count Tolstoy himself — they are “genuine muzhiks.” That is why their defamiliarization — shall we say, misprision? — of the theater is much more drastic. In Natasha’s case, the unfamiliarity with the operatic conventions results in her registering indiscriminately the irrelevant aspects of the performance along with relevant ones — those that are skillfully ignored by the experienced, “cultured” spectator. But Zoshchenko’s simpletons are foreign even to the rules of minimal decency that concern dress, hygiene, food, mutual respect, and public order. In a nutshell, if Natasha misses, on the stage, the performance for the props, Zoshchenko’s characters miss the stage itself for the buffet and the coat check.

Some correspondences are striking. For instance, Tolstoy’s sentence “They all sang something” is not only germane to the aesthetic deafness of Zoshchenko’s heroes but literally recurs in his stories; for example, “Then one [woman] sang” (at a party, in the story “U pod”ezda” “At the Door”); “he sang something or other” (a drunk in “The Earthquake”). As for Tolstoy’s aside about Duport’s honoraria, it prefigures the endless financial reckonings around the box office in Zoshchenko’s stories as well as his frequent narrative digressions about the reader’s right to get his money’s worth of storytelling. In fact, sometimes Tolstoy brings Natasha dangerously close to a Zoshchenko-like level of vulgar misunderstanding.

During a reception at Helene’s, the famous French actress “Mademoiselle George looked sternly and gloomily at the audience and began reciting some French verses describing her guilty love for her son. In some places she raised her voice, in others she whispered … ; sometimes she paused and uttered hoarse sounds, rolling her eyes” (1966: 632). What’s more, the naive mix-up of the actor with the role is here the responsibility of Tolstoy as narrator, rather than of Natasha, who, we are told, “looked at the fat actress, but neither saw nor heard nor understood anything” (632).

This device is a favorite with Zoshchenko’s narrators.

In quoting poetry, they will comically confuse the speaker with the poet himself and either “ignore the conventions of verse as some sort of noise that drowns out the message or take them literally…. Commenting on a poet’s lines: ‘I will build a new home/In her unknown heart; 7 the narrator says: ‘Sounds like the poet wants to move in with this lady”‘ (Shcheglov 1986b: 80).

In the theatrical stories, since the content of the plays is largely ignored, there is not much room for this kind of confusion. The only example is “The Actor,” where the “mistake” is committed not so much by the naive spectators or the amateur recruited on the spot from their midst (the narrator-protagonist playing the victim of robbery) but by seasoned actors who “lift his wallet for real” — in a comic variation on the ‘mousetrap’ motif, where the quoted play interacts with the offstage plot.

Property Versus Theft

In another major example cited by Shklovsky, “Strider: The Story of a Horse” (1856-85; see Tolstoy 1964: 377-418), Tolstoy defamiliarizes the institution of property. This time, the unconventional refusal to suspend disbelief is entrusted to so radically “natural” a creature as a horse.

I could not at all understand what they meant by speaking of me as being a man’s property. . . . They like not so much to do or abstain from doing something, as to be able to apply conventional words to different objects. Such words, considered very important among them, are my and mine…. They have agreed that of any given thing only one person may use the word mine…. Many of those who called me their horse did not ride me, quite other people rode me; nor did they feed me — quite other people did that…. In this lies the essential difference between men and us. Therefore, . . . in the scale of living creatures we stand higher than man. (396-98)

The portrayal of humans through animal eyes often uses defamiliarizing means, but not necessarily to denunciatory ends, as the example of Chekhov’s canine stories shows.

In “Kashtanka” (1887; see Chekhov 1959: 14-37), tears are perceived as “shining drops, such as one sees on the window pane when it rains” (30), and an elephant as “one fat, huge countenance with a tail instead of a nose and two long gnawed bones sticking out of his mouth” (32). Both images are very vivid but without an ideological ax to grind. Even the culmination scene, where the dog, recognizing her previous master, makes a spectacular exit from the circus arena, is surprisingly free of what could have been an effective defamiliarization of a crumbling convention.

In “Whitebrow” (1895; see Chekhov 1979: 128-32), Chekhov resorts to defamiliarization to portray drunkenness: “Sometimes he used to sing, and as he did so, staggered violently, and often fell down (the wolf thought the wind blew him over)” (129); the effect is again rather amusing than moralistic. 8

On the whole, despite his focus on the breakdown of communication in the world of cliched cultural postures (Shcheglov 1986a), Chekhov did not go in for the radical tearing off of masks or pin his hopes on the “natural” in man (see also note 12).

Not unlike Natasha’s “resolution about the opera,” Strider’s “Communist Manifesto” of sorts also had an instructive post-revolutionary sequel. In Mikhail Bulgakov’s Heart of a Dog, the dog-turned-man, Sharikov, commenting on the Correspondence Between Engels and Kautsky, has this suggestion: “Just take everything and divide it up” (89). The discussion between Sharikov and his Frankensteinian creator, Professor Preobrazhenskii, covers a wide ideological ground.

The Professor likes opera and professionalism in art: “I am an advocate of the division of labor. Let them sing at the Bolshoi, and I will operate. And there will be no ruin [I nikakikh razrukh[” (39). He commands handsome fees as a physician and most likely would have no quarrel with the price tag of Duport’s leaps. He is annoyed by the amateur choruses of his Soviet neighbors and Sharikov’s balalaika playing, and one wonders how he would have reacted to Natasha’s folk-song-and-dance act (of which Tolstoy makes such a big point).

For Sharikov’s educational entertainment the Professor recommends if not opera then at least drama. Sharikov predictably prefers the circus. “‘Everyday the circus,’ Philip Philipovich remarked benignly In your place, I would go to the theater for once.’ -‘I won’t go to the theater,’ Sharikov said peevishly. . . . ‘Nothing but fooling around…. Talk, talk…. Counterrevolution, that’s what it is”‘ (88). Thus Sharikov, too, associates theatrical conventions with reactionary values.

Discussing another convention, table manners, Sharikov echoes the Zoshchenko formula ‘at the theater’ = ‘under czardom’: “‘All those rules you keep to, always on parade…. Napkin here, tie there, and pardon me, and please, and merci — but for the real thing, it isn’t there. Torturing your own selves, just like in Czarist times’” (87).

Bulgakov ridiculed the critique of the allegedly exploitative elitist culture waged by the populist-egalitarian ideologues on behalf of the “natural soil.” He stacked his narrative deck accordingly: for the honest workaholic Strider, he substituted the lazy lout and drunkard Sharikov; for the parasitic libertine Prince Serpukhovskoi, the valuable specialist Doctor Preobrazhenskii. And as a programmatic solution of the conflict, he offered the counterrevolutionary second surgery, after which Sharik(ov) was to resume his proper place at his master’s feet. (Sharikov’s canine self is “a perfectly delightful dog” [102], akin to Kashtanka and Strider.)

Zoshchenko’s position was more ambiguous. He also produced a “Strider” of sorts: “The Adventures of a Monkey” (1963: 316-24), famous for Zhdanov’s vicious attack on it.

Zoshchenko . . . portrays Soviet people as idlers and monsters, primitive, stupid people … ; put[s] into the monkey’s mouth a disgusting anti-Soviet sentence, in which he claims that life in the zoo is better than outside and that it is easier to breathe inside a cage than amongst Soviet people .. , [makes] the monkey the highest judge of our social life, and makes him preach a code of morals to the Soviet people. The monkey is portrayed as a .. . source of reason, which sets the standards of people’s behavior. (Zhdanov 1978:47-48)

Zhdanov’s last item could as well be addressed to “Strider,” since the major target of the story’s barbs is the conventionality of property.

With his tail he couldn’t go into a restaurant…. And besides, he had no money. No reduced rates. He didn’t have any ration cards…. No, he wasn’t going to stand in line…. He ran to the salesgirl right along the customers’ heads…. He didn’t ask how much a kilo of carrots cost. Just grabbed a whole bunch of carrots…. 9And he ran along, chewing on his carrot, having breakfast. He didn’t know what was going on. . . . The monkey grabbed Grandmother’s piece of candy and crammed it into his mouth. Well, he was only a monkey. Not a human being. A human being, if he took something, wouldn’t do it right under Grandmother’s nose. But the monkey did it right in Grandmother’s presence. (317-20)

Later on, the monkey himself becomes the object of litigation, which culminates in a sort of collective judgment of Solomon on the problem of ownership (323-24). To whom does the monkey belong? To the handicapped Gavrilych, who claims it as “my monkey, which I want to sell at the market tomorrow … my own monkey, which bit me on the finger”? To the driver who brought him to town in his car? Or to the little boy Alyosha, “who is holding him lovingly in his arms”? The public rules in favor of the latter. Thus, contrary to Zhdanov’s accusations, Soviet society as portrayed by Zoshchenko realizes the “natural ideal” propounded by Marx (“Land belongs to those who till it”) and Tolstoy (the horse should be called “mine” by those who feed, ride, and take care of him).

Moreover, in the epilogue, the monkey is reconciled with cultural conventions. “He doesn’t run away anywhere. . . . He wipes his nose with a handkerchief. And doesn’t take other people’s candy,” for Alyosha has “brought it up like a human being, and now he sets a good example for all children and even for some grownups” (p. 324). The outcome is no less idyllic than in Bulgakov and much more optimistic as to the acculturation of the “natural man.”

But the difference does not end there. With whom does the author of “The Adventures of a Monkey” sympathize and identify? The sugary “conflictless” ending (this is, after all, a Soviet story for children from 1945) is preceded by rather ambiguous episodes. Zoshchenko is torn between simian “nature” and human “culture.” In fact, the story varies the recurrent Zoshchenkovian quandary: barbarism and thievery are criticized from the perspective of an ideologically pure and nice “simple” character, whose simplicity, however, turns out to be part and parcel of the all-pervasive stealing. (There is a Russian proverb to the effect that “simplicity [i.e., stupidity] is worse than theft.”) What makes this particular variation on the theme special is that in simian disguise, the “natural” character stands out more clearly from the context, while at the same time his anticultural behavior seems more excusable.

The theme of property’s pernicious effects, shared with Tolstoy, underlies a large group of Zoshchenko’s plots. Many of them are about the victims of greed: the newly rich who would rather swallow their gold than part with it; the émigrés who come to touch their expropriated possessions; and the rank-and-file Soviets who, as a result of hitting the lottery jackpot, go on a drinking binge, quarrel with their family, or otherwise show themselves unequal to the challenge of putting the unexpected treasure to sensible use.

In fact, the motif of ‘failure to meet the challenge of culture’ is crucial not only to the Tolstoy-Zoshchenko connection but to the problematic of the Russian Revolution as a whole. Tolstoy’s rigorism and his dream of “going simple” (oproshchenie) were in accord with an influential trend of Russian liberal and populist thinking. One of the philosophers of the Russian spiritual renaissance, S. L. Frank, devoted his contribution in the 1909 Landmarks collection to a detailed analysis of what he termed the “nihilist ethic” of the Russian leftist intelligentsia. Frank (1977 [1909]) identified the pivotal contradiction of its mentality as deep-seated mistrust and fear of wealth in all its forms, coupled with the aspirations of leading the people from poverty to prosperity, that is, the maligned riches. By subsuming the various objects of hatred — financial, material, cultural, artistic, and spiritual — under one general heading, ‘wealth,’ Frank in effect pointed out the discursive, i.e., cultural, character of the problem (and thus, prophetically, of the future historical catastrophe). Zoshchenko’s focus on the motif of ‘cultural challenge’ is one more demonstration of how attuned he was to the sensitive issues of his time.10

Irrespective of this wider intellectual context of the two writers’ common anticapitalist moralism, Zoshchenko’s similarities with Tolstoy (in particular with “The False Banknote” and such parables for children as “Equal Inheritance”) are evident. Sometimes they are acknowledged openly. For instance, one of Zoshchenko’s stories bears a pointedly Tolstoyan title “How Much Does One Need” (the hero rides the free merry-go-round until he literally loses consciousness).11

Incidentally, the original 1885 Tolstoy story is believed to have provoked Chekhov’s polemical response in “Gooseberries” (1898; see Chekhov 1979: 185-94)12 where the narrator, Ivan Ivanych, says: “They say man only needs six feet of earth. But it is a corpse, and not man, which needs these six feet. It is not six feet of earth, not a country-estate, that man needs, but the whole globe, the whole of nature, room to display his qualities and the individual characteristics of his free spirit” (188). This rejoinder agrees well with Chekhov’s general stance, which was pro-culture and against “going simple.” It also highlights in Tolstoy’s ethical rigorism an embryonic form of withdrawal from ‘culture’s challenge.’

Leaving aside for the moment the many obvious differences between Tolstoy and Zoshchenko, let us concentrate on their profound affinities in one more sphere — aesthetics.

“Good” Ideas— “Bad” Writing

The common interest in addressing adolescent or otherwise “simple” readers was an outgrowth of the programmatic search for a way of writing “accessible to the poor,” i.e., to the people at large, and Tolstoy’s direct influence on Zoshchenko in this respect is not excluded.13 Each in his way, but both in the general civic spirit of Russian literature, gradually moved away from conventional artistic forms and toward openly ideological writing. Tolstoy, who from the start had been obsessively searching for the meaning of life, underwent a religious conversion and ended up renouncing his earlier masterpieces, thus following in a sense in the footsteps of Gogol (to whose Selected Passages he “gave … high marks” [Shklovsky 1978: 86]).

Zoshchenko traveled a similar route. From the tongue-in-cheek spoof of naive Soviet preaching in his comic stories of the 1920s and early 1930s, he moved to a more earnest — monologic and authoritative — discourse in his Socialist-Realist tales of the 1930s, on the one hand, and in his semifictional search for his inner self and its physical and spiritual salvation in Youth Regained (1933) and Before Sunrise (1943), on the other.14 It so happened that the latter led to its author’s fall from official grace — in an ironic replay of Tolstoy’s excommunication from the church (and also of Gogol’s ideological chastisement by Belinsky).

A transitional stage in this process was The Sky-Blue Book (1935), where Zoshchenko used his earlier parodic style to produce an ideologically correct but entertaining primer in the history of mankind.

Striving as he did at this time to live the master myth of the Russian Poet turned Citizen, Zoshchenko however, wanted to be seen not as a purvevor of entertainment but as a Master Teacher. “The preacher in his book [Before Sunrise] took the upper hand over the artist, — a familiar fate of typically Russian talents beginning with Gogol and Tolstoy, who renounced the charms of art in the name of serving the people directly…. Zoshchenko belonged to this breed of writers” (Chukovskii 1981: 64).

Contemporaries testified to his grim seriousness; for instance, Ilf and Petrov have the following vignette in one of their stories: “He even takes offence, when they tell him that he again wrote something funny. One must now speak to him like this: ‘Mikhail Mikhailovich, with your tragic talent, you are a real Grand Inquisitor ” (“Literaturnyi tramvai,” 1961, 3: 175).

Already in his early period, Zoshchenko, or rather his literary mask, would often intersperse fictional narrative with mock-instructive disquisitions about art. They form a strange seriocomic sequel to Tolstoy’s own pronouncements, in particular his critique of Shakespeare and Guy de Maupassant and his harshly doctrinaire dismissal of contemporary Western poetry in “What Is Art?”

Tolstoy’s critical fervor seems to have had its roots in his pointed rejection elsewhere (e.g., in War and Peace) of all that smacked of “unnaturalness” and “amorality.” The heuristic interrelation between ideology and style is especially relevant to the later writings of such authors as Gogol, Tolstoy, and Zoshchenko. It hinges on the problematic of boundaries between defamiliarization (skaz, unreliable narrative, etc.) and serious authorial philosophizing. A typical round of oscillations involves the writer’s earlier purely aesthetic stage, a later ideological literalization of the technique, and as often as not, a posthumous aesthetic reinterpretation even of the most passionately ideological texts (like the one undertaken in Chapter 1).

In a remarkable twist, two decades after Tolstoy had denounced the decadent art of Baudelaire, Verlaine, and Mallarme, Zoshchenko was to repeat the gesture. Switching from a juvenile imitation of the Russian progeny of the French symbolists (see Mikhail Zoshchenko and Vera Zoshchenko, 24-47), Zoshchenko came to a decisive break with the “high” aristocratic tradition. Soon after the Revolution he stated that the old intelligentsia-oriented literature was over, that it was meaningless to write for “readers who are not there” and “pile up verses about flowers,” pretending that “nothing had happened in the country” (Zoshchenko 1940: 334-36). This primitivist anticultural stance, which can be seen as an extension of Tolstoy’s, was not a mere product of adaptation to the new reality by a writer of gentry origin and high artistic sophistication. It ran deep in Zoshchenko’s psyche, connected as it was with his search for primordial health and simplicity (an echo of the Tolstoyan return to the soil), and thus endured throughout his life and works, including the quite un-Soviet Before Sunrise.

This proximity of aesthetic views may account for the similarities between Zoshchenko’s notoriously “poor language” and certain tendencies of Tolstoy’s style. As noted by Shklovsky (in an article about Zoshchenko! — see 1976 [1928]: 409-10):

“Tolstoy’s language is not neutral,” resulting from defamiliarization proper, “the alternation between French and Russian,” and the calquelike “projecting of forms from one language into the sphere of the other for the reader.” For example, “‘You are a scoundrel and a blackguard, and I don’t know what deprives me from the pleasure of smashing your head with this!’ said Pierre, expressing himself so artificially because he was talking French” (Tolstoy 1966: 656). Shklovsky points out that “the translation belongs to Tolstoy,” who thus “resorts to skaz without motivation,” i.e., rather than “forcing Pierre to speak clumsily in Russian,” does so himself. 15

Such studied linguistic incompetence is akin to defamiliarization. Exponents of the “natural” outlook (Natasha, Pierre, Strider, Tolstoy’s fictional narrators, and his nonfictional preaching self) struggle with the multilayered shell of conventions, rules, and other manifestations of the hated comme it faut, trying to get through to the simple, fundamental, unconventional Truth. This results in “non-neutral,” awkward, poor, but “true” discourse, groping for the real essence of things and not ashamed of its own aesthetic uncouthness.

This aspect of Tolstoy’s style was noted and even parodied by his contemporaries. 16 The parodies, taking off on Tolstoy’s openly didactic texts as well as the publicistic passages in such later works as Resurrection, help to bring out less jarring but essentially similar stylistic tendencies in other texts. For example: … Obviously he knows something that I don’t,” I said to myself, thinking of the colonel. “If I knew what he knows, I would understand what I saw and it wouldn’t torment me.” But however much I thought, I couldn’t understand what the colonel knew. ..” ‘ and so on and so forth.” (“After the Ball”; see Richards 1981: 239-50, 249). The lack of verbal skills in the narrator-hero, who tells about his spiritual quest in a manner that at times resembles that of Gogol’s Akakii, is supposed to certify the genuine and uncompromising nature of that quest, just as Natasha’s perplexity at the opera is evidence of her moral integrity.

Tolstoy was evidently quite deliberate about writing “badly.” “Gorky … said to Erdman about Tolstoy: ‘You think his awkwardness came easy to him? He knew very well how to write. He would scratch out [peremaryval ] nine times — and on the tenth it would come out really awkward” (L. Ginzburg 1989: 11-12).

Zoshchenko’s narrator can be said to have adopted and further “simplified” this style (his sentences are even shorter, as in fact are Tolstoy’s when he writes for peasant children). Among the manifold uses to which he put it, a major one was to mark a rupture with the self-assured diction of traditional “great literature,” associated with the names of Bunin, Turgenev, Karamzin, and Tolstoy in his “monumental” role.17 Less authoritative still is the speech of Zoshchenko’s characters, for example, “la vykhozhu za Nikolaia, eta za togo, a eti tak” (i.e., literally, “I am marrying Nikolai, this one here [marries] that one, and these [will stay] like this [unmarried]”; “An Amusing Adventure” [1935], Zoshchenko 1963: 218-28). This below-zero-degree writing forms the linguistically “virgin” soil from which grows the discourse of the implied author — “the red Leo Tolstoy.”

Cultural Roles

The parallels between the two writers are many, including some interesting biographical coincidences.

Both Tolstoy and Zoshchenko were brave, battle-seasoned officers. Both were on the verge of dueling with a fellow writer (Tolstoy with I. Turgenev, Zoshchenko with V. Kaverin; see Kaverin 1981: 98-101). Both pondered and wrote about existential issues, connecting them with nutritional ones (cf. Tolstoy’s vegetarianism and Zoshchenko’s — terminal — anorexia, which is even more reminiscent of Gogol).

Rather than continuing with the list of biographical and literary similarities, let us try to pin down the underlying connection. In Tolstoy, the comparison brings out his fundamentalist anticulturalism, featuring him as a prophet of the coming revolution, spokesman of the radicalized peasantry, forerunner of ideological Scythianism and of the actual barbarity that was soon to break loose in the country.

Even terrorism was not totally alien to Tolstoy, which should not come as a surprise if one draws the conclusions implicit in his praise of “the cudgel of the people’s war” as opposed to the rules (!) of fencing in War and Peace (1966: 1147).

According to Korolenko (1978: 244-46), Tolstoy “half-approved of the terrorist assassinations” in the early 1900s. “When they told him … about the latest attempt…. he made an impatient gesture and said with annoyance: ‘And, I am sure, he missed again…. I can’t help saying: this is reasonable…. The muzhik is fighting directly for what is more important for him.’ . . . Tolstoy argued … as a maximalist. It is fair and moral that land should belong to the toilers, . . . and by what means — was for Tolstoy (a non-resister who even denied the right to physical self-defense!) irrelevant.”

In his “Thou Shalt Not Kill” (1900), Tolstoy explained (if not approved outright) terrorist assassinations as a natural response to the much more cruel and unjust violence by the powers that be. The mistrust of due process, Western style, is evidenced as early as in the ironic portrayal of Speransky and his reforms in War and Peace (and later on in a similar picture of the gentry elections in Anna Karenina).

But the earliest manifestation of this attitude was, of course, the refusal to come to terms with the rules of comme it taut, as reflected in the autobiographical trilogy. Of special interest here is the evolution of the image of ballroom gloves from Childhood (1852, chap. 21) and Youth (1857, chap. 31) to “After the Ball” (1903). In particular, the episode with the torn glove in Childhood has a parallel in the chapter “Was It Worth the Hanging” of Zoshchenko’s Before Sunrise. There the protagonist, a pre-revolutionary student, is “getting ready to go to a dance…. He didn’t feel like washing his hands. He was in a hurry. He stuck his fingers in a box of face powder and whitened the dirt under his nails” — a curious blend of the Pushkin-Rousseau portrait of Grimm (see note 5) with Zoshchenko’s post-revolutionary types who try to keep washing to a minimum, as, for instance, in “The Operation”: the protagonist, coming in for eye surgery, says: “I have changed the shirt, that yes, but the rest I haven’t really touched,” as “the disease is, so to speak, an eye one, a top one,” so that “the socks . . . are really uninteresting, not to say worse.”

And in the aesthetic realm, Tolstoy can be seen as a precursor of the primitively didactic Socialist Realism.

Zoshchenko (along with Bulgakov, Babel, Platonov, and others), having entered literature after the Revolution, had to reap the bitter cultural fruits of the utopia come true. He proceeded to satirize the monstrous realizations of the ideals that go back to Tolstoy among others: the barbarity and primitivism thinly veiled by the well-meaning “sympathy for hurricane [i.e., revolutionary] ideas.” Zoshchenko’s theatergoers were a grotesque caricature of Natasha at the opera, while the writer’s own literary persona offered a travesty of the Tolstoyan aesthetics of populist “natural simplicity.” Ironically, such artistic posturing resulted in Zoshchenko’s assuming the Tolstoyan role as critic of the established — Soviet — culture. This did not pass unnoticed, his tongue-in-cheek style notwithstanding, and like Tolstoy Zoshchenko became a symbol of dissident martyrdom.

The above assessment of Tolstoy’s role, almost indicting Tolstoy as a proto-Bolshevik, is, of course, a rhetorical oversimplification.18In the sphere of ideology, Tolstoy’s position did not boil down to the “anticonventionality complex.” His ethical maximalism was tempered by his Christian message of nonviolence, which so clearly opposed him to Bolshevism (making Lenin expose his “glaring contradictions,’ Tolstoy 1966: 1392). Even his rejection of the dominant culture, which in light of subsequent history proved destructive, was quite understandable, especially given the incurable parasitism of the pre-revolutionary establishment.

In the literary sphere, Tolstoy was part of the complex process of art’s democratization and relativization. Thematically, his anticultural stance was cognate to the general tendency to give the floor to the underdog: the “little man,” serf, horse, dog, insect. In prose, this is evident in the work of Gogol, Turgenev (A Sportsman’s Sketches, “Mumu”), Dostoevsky (see especially Raskol’nikov’s identification with the victimized horse in his dream), Leskov (notably his folks) skaz narrators), Kuprin (“Emerald,” a horse story), Chekhov (in addition to the two cited canine stories, see “Heartburn,” where the little man’s only interlocutor is his horse). In poetry, Nekrasov’s peasant muse was followed by the canine and equine lyrics of Esenin am Mayakovsky and the prominence of entomological motifs in the work: of Mandelstam and the Oberiu.19

A further move away from the traditional anthropocentrism led to the granting to inanimate nature and artifacts of equal artistic rights with man in the poetics of Pasternak (who inherited this principle from, among others, Tolstoy, in particular from his “Three Deaths”). Pasternak’s was, so to speak, a benign version of the man-demoting tendency, whose other variant was the subordination of man to machine in the mythology of Futurism, Constructivism, and eventually Socialist Realism.

In the post-socialist-realist poetic of Aksyonov, a further step was taken: the cast iron of the production novel was both demythologized — demoted into pathetic wooden refuse (“the surplus tare of barrels” of the eponymous 1968 novella)and mock — remythologized into something cozy, close to nature (wood) and the people, something not unlike the Pasternakian boat, whose row locks are confused with lovers’ clavicles (“Oars at Rest”).

This entire surrealist strand in Russian literature, like many others, goes back to Gogol. Gogol managed to combine in a very unsettling way a sympathy for the little man, oppressed by both his superiors and the absurd surrounding trifles, with an aesthetic promotion of those trifles. Ideologically he was, so to speak, “for” Akakii Akakievich and “against” the Important Personage and the overcoat, but stylistically he was “for” the overcoat, the shoe, the nose, and “against” the underdog.

Ideological reforms led to changes in the sphere of discourse: the demise of the authoritative authorial voice and the modernistic rise to power of the characters’ incompetent and uncouth speech. This was especially pronounced in the “strange” prose of Gogol, Dostoevsky, Leskov, Rozanov, Remizov, Babel, Zoshchenko, and Platonov, and in the poetically “low road” taken by Koz’ma Prutkov, Blok (as the author of “The Twelve”), Khlebnikov, Mayakovsky, Pasternak (inasmuch as the pointed “ordinariness” of his diction was concerned), the early Zabolotskii and the Oberiu poets, and finally such contemporary figures as Limonov and Prigov. The Tolstoy-Zoshchenko connection formed an integral part of this stylistic revolution.

Similar processes went on in the other arts as well, notably in the theater, where the presence of conventions was noticed, questioned, and played with. This began with Stanislavsky in the name of greater realism, i.e. naturalistic verisimilitude, but soon gained momentum under the banner of modernist expressionism in the work of Meyerhold, Vakhtangov, and their Western counterparts such as Max Reinhard and Gordon Craig. The parallel with Tolstoy’s insistence on naturalness and truth ushering in avant-gardist “bad writing” suggests itself, and a coincidental but telling detail provides an additional link: according to Stanislavsky’s famous motto, the overhauled theater was to begin emblematically at the coat check, and that was where it ironically began and ended for Zoshchenko’s heroes.

On a more serious note, Stanislavsky abolished the conventional frontal staging (where the actors faced the audience most of the time), introducing instead the concept of the “fourth wall.” This transparent wall was to be imagined as coinciding with the boundary of the stage, and the characters could well turn their backs on it and the audience, as in “real life.” In fact, however, the invisible zero-signifier fourth wall was a powerful new modernistic convention. It was very much in the minimalist spirit of the time that was to see a subversion of all temporal, spatial, and other theatrical oppositions (stage acting versus putting on of costumes and make-up, change of sets, intermission; actor versus role; sets versus vacant stage).

Thus Tolstoy’s Natasha, like Lion Feuchtwanger’s “wise fool,” Jean-Jacques Rousseau,20 proved to be an unwitting prophet of the revolution in the arts. And Zoshchenko’s actor, robbed “for real” in the course of the play, became a comic forerunner of the speaker of Pasternak’s “Hamlet,” who combines quite explicitly the personalities of the actor, the role (Hamlet), the imitated model (Christ), and implicitly those of the fictional poet (Yurii Zhivago) and the actual author (Boris Pasternak).

Tolstoy’s “anticultural” stance secured him a privileged position in this process by channeling his negative energy into the interrogation of the very foundations of signification and verbal art. It is at such fundamental levels that great artistic discoveries are possible, so that in a sense we owe the entire set of Tolstoyan literary techniques involving defamiliarization and incompetent discourse to the writer’s utopian search for an ideally direct and honest expression of the Truth — the search that eventually led him to abandon belles lettres.

The paradox of ideological pathos bearing purely aesthetic fruits is neither spurious nor superficial. In fact, it is one of the general laws of the evolution of sign systems — for instance, languages — where full-meaning lexemes routinely become grammaticalized over long enough time spans. In Tolstoy’s case, it is remarkable that his defamiliarizing strategies should have been done explicit justice by none other than a founder of the Formalist school, which concentrated on studying the literariness of literature, inaugurating a new round of art-for-art’s-sake sensibility.

Yet the Formalist movement was flesh of the flesh of that same cultural upheaval that resulted from the advent on the historical scene of a new, “plebeian” generation of thinkers, scholars, and writers. For them, the obsolescence, and thus relativity, of traditional values and conventions was obvious, and it enabled them to notice the deconstructive tendencies in the authors of the past as well as in their own contemporaries. In fact, the entire Formalist view of the literary process was patterned on the dialectical model of class struggle, thus offering a curious amalgam of revolutionary drive with a a zealous defense of art’s autonomy. In a broader sense, the paradigm of new — plebeian — influx into the world of culture included also the Formalists’ opponent Mikhail Bakhtin, whose valorization of “the alien word” has been read (Gasparov 1984b) as a strategy for mastering the traditional culture.

Zoshchenko was one of those who came to claim Tolstoy’s negative legacy, its “minimalist” wealth and aesthetic of ugliness. Belonging to an advanced stage of the twentieth-century artistic revolution as well as to the post-October period of Russian history, his work represented an ambiguously conservative reaction to the social-cultural upheaval that had just taken place. This attitude determined his “alienness” to mainstream Soviet culture and sealed his fate. But as with Tolstoy, the matter was not that simple.

Zoshchenko’s view of the new culture and that imaginary proletarian writer whom he “replaced” was not defined by irony pure and simple. Zoshchenko had gone through an early infatuation with Nietzscheanism and had been impressed by Blok’s attempts at infusing high literature with elements of barbarity, but at the same time he was wary of such relativistic experimentation.

Zoshchenko’s ambivalence vis-a-vis Blok was already evident in his early paper on “The Scythians” and “The Twelve,” given at Chukovskii’s workshop (in 1919). The paper was written, according to Chukovskii, from the point of view and in “the style of the [fictitious] vulgarian Vovka Chuchelov.” Commenting on this episode, Chudakova (1979: 17-33) also quotes Zoshchenko’s notes on various writers partial to the word-motif narochno, “deliberately, as make-believe, for fun”; for example, on Mayakovsky: “Is he a Futurist or is it make-believe [narochno]?” (21). This underscores Zoshchenko’s keen interest in the problematic of disguising one’s own identity, so central to art in general and to Zoshchenko’s skaz in particular.

In a remarkable parallel, Shcheglov (1986b: 79-80) identifies the narochno gesture as a recurrent motif in Zoshchenko’s prose; for instance: “The way he’s walking! Just watch, folks, how he is deliberately [narochno] placing his feet!” (about the quick-change artist in the “Incident in the Provinces,” discussed above). Shcheglov concludes that “the examples with ‘narochno’ demonstrate that Zoshchenko’s character, looking at art with the fresh eyes of a savage …. displays a sharpened sensitivity to any kind of artistic phenomena in surrounding life,” as well as in art. Taking this observation a little further, we could say that the ‘narochno’ response is nothing but a special kind of defamiliarization, namely, enthusiastic instead of denunciatory.

Trying to thread his way between Soviet primitivism and the “highbrow” tradition, Zoshchenko cut a controversial and suspicious figure. His attempts (especially in the 1930s) to carve out a niche in the official Soviet literature were not purely opportunistic: there was in his voice a note of genuinely primitivist renunciation of the “cursed pre-revolutionary past” in favor of new “simple values.” But it was not the only or even dominant one. Even in his dyed-in-the-wool Soviet texts one could always discern an unorthodox playfulness that prevented his voice from merging harmoniously with the official chorus. The inseparable fusion of these two opposite attitudes in his literary mask (and even in his nonfiction and letters) is probably what makes his artistic contribution so valuable.

In historical reality, however, the cultural projects of the two writers were less fruitful than in the literary sphere. Both Tolstoy’s “cavalry raid” 21 on the laws of culture and signification and Zoshchenko’s ambivalent masquerading as a “red Tolstoy” were to suffer ironic defeats. It may be said that as Bulgakov’s “perfectly delightful dog” turned into “such filthy scum that your hair stands on end to think of it” (Bulgakov 1968: 102-3), he started imposing his tastes on art. Then the “truth-seeking” incompetence of Tolstoyan discourse became ossified into Stalin’s authoritative tautologies; Strider’s theorizing found its reification in Commander Budennyi’s criticism of Babel’s Red Cavalry “from the level of the horse” (Gorky); and Zoshchenko’s house super (upravdom) — the author of illiterate mock-Dostoevskian “Pushkin Speeches” (Zoshchenko 1963: 273-78, spoofing the official cult of Pushkin in the 1930s, especially in connection with his 1937 centennial) — appointed himself the arbiter of Soviet arts and took upon himself the reeducation of Zoshchenko, Akhmatova, Shostakovich, and others. In a word, the “proletarian writer who did not exist” was to emerge from Zoshchenko’s parodistic test tube, gain control of the literary process, and start leaning on his creator. 22

But the irony did not stop there. When the new art seemed to have actualized the primitive-didactic Tolstoyan precepts, it was to discover that it could not, and would not, dispose once and for all of formal conventions. The essential impossibility of transcending culture came to haunt the projects for its abolition as Socialist Realism was born from the ashes of previous schools resplendent with a neoclassicist ritualism (Siniavsky-Terts 1982 [1959]; Clark 1981). One of the more conservative and rigidly formalized of Soviet arts has been that of the Bolshoi Opera and Ballet, an ironically conservative symbol of Soviet “progressiveness.” Another was the martial art of revolutionary (and therefore always just) war, where utmost cruelty is combined with the imperial pageantry of military parades in the style of Paul I, oppressive hierarchy of ranks, Prussian goose step, and, last but not least, the obligatory gloves, which had been repeatedly disparaged by Tolstoy. 23

* * *

Two sets of conclusions are in order: metatheoretical and metacultural.

The Tolstoy-Zoshchenko connection instantiates intertextual relations between oeuvres rather than between specific motifs or texts. Hence a survey of Zoshchenkovian parallels to both Natasha and Strider as well as to Tolstoy’s aesthetic views and stylistic preferences. The link between the two anticultural strategies, although not claimed here to have been a direct relay or a conscious response, was mediated by a critic, Shklovsky, whose own theoretical discovery of defamiliarization may have been influenced by the atmosphere of cultural upheaval at the time of his and Zoshchenko’s work. The surrounding cultural context involved, at a closer or more distant range, such diverse figures as Rousseau, Pisarev, Lenin, M. Bulgakov, S. Frank, Stanislavsky, Meyerhold, Zhdanov. Also, Tolstoy’s relevance to what can be called the “cacographic” strand in Russian literature, to skaz, polyphony, and other important aspects of the literary tradition, has been invoked. 24 Another such counterpart that should be mentioned is minimalism: the apophatic, as well as suprematist, aesthetic of ‘nothingness’ (see Bowlt 1988), which in a sense completed the round of cleaning the cultural slate begun by Tolstoy. Finally, if there is one general principle behind the entire picture, it is the ironic interplay of Tolstoy’s very Russian, realistic, religious-ideological intentions with the rather universal aesthetic, modernist-formalist results they were to bring about.

With all due reservations, one would have to agree that Tolstoy-style anticultural fundamentalism has not been constructive, at least not in the Russian context so far. To paraphrase Lenin, Russia suffers not so much from culture as from its underdevelopment.25 In this connection, Pushkin’s view of the “senseless and ruthless Russian rebellion” (1983: 347) and his defense of the beauty of polished nails seem preferable to Tolstoy’s worship of the “cudgel of the people’s war” and denunciation of a war waged according to the rules of fencing, gloves, and other “fruits of enlightenment.” Granted, in other times and places such a radical deconstruction of culture may prove more productive.

Art, by definition, is one of those “other” chronotopes. There (and only there, as seems to be the Russian way with innovation) the experiments of the two cultural abolitionists have been vindicated. As a result, from our safe distance we can now delight in the subtle interplay of the two mirrors: Tolstoy’s, which reflected the oncoming revolution and was in turn to be refracted in Zoshchenko’s, whose warpedness strove to reflect adequately the fun-house wonderland behind the October looking glass.


1. To be sure, the official command did not go unfulfilled. Appropriately baggy Soviet epics were indeed supplied, one even by a Tolstoy, the “red Count” Alexei Nikolaevich.

2. In fact, Zoshchenko had his own scores to settle with Turgenev, beginning with high school, where he “got One [i.e., an F] in Russian composition … on a Turgenev subject-‘Liza Kalitina,’” ” and tried to kill himself as a result. “Beside the One, there was a remark written in red ink … ‘Drivel’ [Chepukha].” The trauma inflicted by the belles lettres would not heal for decades, so that when Mikhail Kuzmin, in his capacity of the editor of The Contemporary, was to reject “five of my best little stories” as unfit for the “thick journal,” “in my brain there flare[d] up the remark at the bottom of my gimnaziia composition: ‘Drivel”‘ (Zoshchenko 1974: 30, 82).

3. This is a recurrent moral situation in Tolstoy; see Pierre’s “conviction that all this had to be” in the episode of the inlaid portfolio (1966: 80) and similar thoughts of the protagonist of “After the Ball” (cf. Chapter 3).

4. Krupskaia remembers that at the end of 1915 in Berne “there was a performance of L. Tolstoy’s ‘A Living Corpse.’ … Il’ich, who with all his heart hated all sorts of meshchanstvo [petty bourgeois mentality] and conventions, was agitated by the play” (Lenin 1969: 90). Lenin’s disapprobation of the opera, in particular the Bolshoi theater (“Anyhow, it’s a piece of the purely gentry culture”), led to his attempt to close it down altogether. In the polemic that ensued in November 1921, Lunacharsky prevailed, and the Bolshoi was saved (Chudakova 1988: 133-34). On the other hand, for Mikhail Bulgakov, “that same ‘pompous’ type of opera was an intimate part of the culture he had imbibed from childhood” (ibid. 134), which helps explain the treatment of opera in his Heart of a Dog (see below and Chapter 7).

5. The latter, according to Pushkin (and his own Les Confessions), “was unable to understand how the dignified Grimm / dared clean his nails in front of him,” powder and rouge himself, thus in many ways falsifying his nature. Pushkin held that “the advocate of liberty and rights/ was in the present case not right at all. / One can be an efficient man — / and mind the beauty of one’s nails: / why vainly argue with the age? / Custom is despot among men” (Eugene Onegin, 1: 24-25; see Pushkin 1964, 1: 107). The anxiety of “laboring on the nails” is prominent in the programmatic chap. 31, “Comme Il Faut,” of Tolstoy’s Youth. Cf. also Anna Karenina, 1: 5, 10.

6. Checking-in coats has been obligatory in Russian theaters (except for movie houses) — both a formal convention and a convenience, given the climate.

7. Zoshchenko quotes, without attribution, Nikolai Gumilev’s poem “Dom” from his cycle of Chinese poems Farforovyi pavil’on (1918).

8. On Chekhov’s narrative techniques in these two stories, see Chudakov 1983: 64-66; see also Ziolkowski 1983 on the genre of canine narrative in European and Russian literature.

9. Compare these tricks with the provocative visit of Koroviev and Begemoth to the hard-currency store in Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita (chap. 28).

10. The official Soviet view of the “old culture” was not always dim. Thus, Mikhail Lifshits (1934) discussed Kant’s reflections on the inevitable “vices of culture” (“The more man develops, the more he becomes an actor” p. 43), Engels’s critique of the “plebeian asceticism” (p. 47), and Lenin’s polemic against Klara Zetkin’s praise of the proletarian illiteracy.

11. Zoshchenko “had the mischievous habit of giving his texts titles that already existed in literature. From Goethe he took the title ‘Sufferings of the Young Werther,’ from Dumas, ‘Twenty Years Later,’ from Rozanov, ‘The Fallen Leaves,’ from Blok, ‘The Retribution’, from Chekhov, ‘Nervous People,’ from Maupassant, ‘Stronger Than Death’” ” (Chukovskii 1981: 66).

12. For a view to the contrary, see Skaftymov 1972: 401-2.

13. “Zoshchenko … told me in the middle of the 30s, that he was fascinated with the folk stories of Leo Tolstoy . . . their precise form and .. . linguistic perfection. But I believe that their didacticism was also relevant for him” (Dymshits 1981: 234). Incidentally, Zoshchenko’s monkey may be a distant cousin of Tolstoy’s ape in “The Leap” (on Tolstoy’s children’s stories, see Shcheglov and Zholkovsky 1987: 155-253).

14. Several chapters of Before Sunrise are reminiscent in various ways of Tolstoy’s autobiographical trilogy and his children’s stories. Moreover, Zoshchenko’s search for his childhood traumas has a parallel in Tolstoy’s “First Memories” (1878-92). Even some of the specific details are similar; cf. the negative images of water, hand, breast, and roar/ thunderclap in Before Sunrise with the negative sensation of being bound up (in diapers) and the positive reactions to water (in a tub) and the hand (of the nanny) in Tolstoy. Finally, as noted by Kern (1974: 355), Zoshchenko “created in Before Sunrise a modern parallel to Tolstoy’s Confession” (1882), which “begins by describing the author’s youth, his quest for self-perfection and his inexplicable despair at the pinnacle of his fame…. But beyond this, the paths diverge…. Tolstoy uses reason to extinguish itself and ignite faith, whereas Zoshchenko .. remains steadfastly with reason.”

15. Note a similar rhetorical technique in the passing off of the narrator’s perceptions as Natasha’s in the Mile. George episode, above.

16. See, for instance, the following by P. P[ilskii]:

Leo Tolstoy

The Kingdom of God Is Not in the Constitution

And that it was the constitution, i.e. that which nine tenths of the people that live on earth consider to be the only important and the only honorable thing, rather than the kingdom of God, i.e. that which is in reality the only important and the only useful thing, because only the divine, and not the human, or that which only appears to people to be human, is important and useful, — and that had been done by people, who, having gathered, several hundred thousand of them, on a small space of land, started killing one another, i.e. doing that which is called the constitution, because that which is called the constitution is what people consider to be the constitution. (Begak et al. 1980: 166)

17. Cf. Shklovsky’s 1928 title “On Zoshchenko and Major Literature” (1976 [1928]). On Zoshchenko’s “impossible form” as a sign of his “refusal to join … a compromised stylistic series,” which “gave birth to some new, as yet unknown literary discourse,” see Chudakova 1979: 88.

18. On Tolstoy as an “allegory of the Soviet power,” especially in contrast to Dostoevsky the Bakhtinian “pluralist,” fashionable in the Aesopian discourse of the Soviet dissident intelligentsia of the 1960s and 1970s, see M. Kaganskaia 1984: 152.

19. Cf. in this connection the Mayakovsky version of the cultural revolution, the Mayakovsky = Sharikov equation in Bulgakov’s tale (see Chapter 7, first section), and Zoshchenko’s interest in Mayakovsky the stylist (see below); on the ‘equine’ topos in Soviet literature of the 1920s, see also Chapter 7 and Zholkovsky 1992b.

20. See the novel Narrenweisheit (translated as ‘Tis Folly to Be Wise), where Jean-Jacques, after a lifetime of humiliation at the hands of his wife, is vindicated posthumously by the coming of the revolution he had foreseen.

21. The implied reference is to Lenin’s phrase about the failure of War Communism (“a cavalry raid on capitalism”) and to Tolstoy’s “The Raid.”

22. The equation “the Zoshchenko character = Sharikov = Zhdanov” has been formulated and emplotted by Aksyonov in The Burn, in the chapter appropriately entitled “The Evolution of the Type Discovered by Zoshchenko.”

23. The grand imperial style (in particular, the system of military ranks) was restored by Stalin in the 1930s as part of his Bonapartist hijacking of the Revolution.

24. For an unexpectedly polyphonic rereading of Tolstoy, see Morson 1989; on “bad writing,” see Chapters 1, 2, and Zholkovsky 1986f.

25. Lenin’s statement, in his early work The Development of Capitalism in Russia, was about the lack of such a development. Zoshchenko’s phrasing is strikingly similar: “The tragedy of human reason does not come from the high level of consciousness, but from its insufficiency” (1974: 173).