Malinin & Burenin (Marx & Engels) in An Affair of Honor

Submitted by Alexey Sklyarenko on Mon, 06/06/2022 - 08:06

In VN’s story Podlets (“An Affair of Honor,” 1927) Mityushin (Anton Petrovich’s second) confuses the names of Berg’s seconds and calls them “Malinin and Burenin” (“Marx and Engels” in the English version):

 

А через некоторое время, так около семи, явились Митюшин и Гнушке. Они были мрачны. Гнушке сдержанно поклонился и протянул запечатанный конверт конторского вида. "Я получил твое глупейшее и грубейшее послание...- У Антона Петровича выпал монокль, он вдавил его снова.- Мне тебя очень жаль, но раз уж ты взял такой тон, то я не могу не принять вызова. Секунданты у тебя довольно дрянные. Берг". У Антона Петровича появилась неприятная сухость во рту,- и опять эта дурацкая дрожь в ногах... - Ах, садитесь же,- сказал он, и сам сел первый. Гнушке утонул в кресле, спохватился и сел на кончик. -

Он пренахальный господин,- с чувством проговорил Митюшин.- Представь себе, он все время смеялся, так что я ему чуть не заехал в зубы. Гнушке кашлянул и сказал:

- Одно могу вам посоветовать; цельтесь хорошо, потому что он тоже будет хорошо целиться.

Перед глазами у Антона Петровича мелькнула страничка в записной книжке, исписанная крестиками, а еще кроме этого: картонная фигура, которая вырывает у другой картонной фигуры зуб.

- Он опасная личность,- сказал Гнушке и откинулся в кресле, и опять утонул, и опять сел на кончик.

- Кто будет докладывать, Генрих, ты или я? - спросил Митюшин, жуя папиросу и большим пальцем дергая колесико зажигалки.

- Лучше уж ты,- сказал Гнушке.

- У нас был очень оживленный день,- начал Митюшин, тараща голубые свои глаза на Антона Петровича.- Ровно в половину девятого мы с Генрихом, который был еще вдрызг пьян...

- Я протестую,- сказал Гнушке.

- ...направились к господину Бергу. Он попивал кофе. Мы ему- раз! всучили твое письмецо. Которое он прочел. И что он тут сделал, Генрих?- Да, рассмеялся. Мы подождали, пока он кончит ржать, и Генрих спросил, какие у него планы.

- Нет, не планы, а как он намерен реагировать,- поправил Гнушке.

- ...реагировать. На это господин Берг ответил, что он согласен драться и что выбирает пистолет. Дальнейшие условия такие: двадцать шагов, никакого барьера, и просто стреляют по команде: раз, два, три. Засим... Что еще, Генрих?

- Если нельзя достать дуэльные пистолеты, то стреляют из браунингов,- сказал Гнушке.

- Из браунингов. Выяснив это, мы спросили у господина Берга, как снестись с его секундантами. Он вышел телефонировать. Потом написал вот это письмо. Между прочим, он все время острил. Далее было вот что: мы пошли в кафе встретиться с его господами. Я купил Гнушке гвоздику в петлицу. По гвоздике они и узнали нас. Представились, ну, одним словом, все честь честью. Зовут их Малинин и Буренин.

- Не совсем точно,- вставил Гнушке.- Буренин и полковник Магеровский.

- Это неважно,- сказал Митюшин и продолжал.- Тут начинается эпопея. С этими господами мы поехали за город отыскивать место. Знаешь Вайсдорф - это за Ваннзе. Ну вот. Мы там погуляли по лесу и нашли прогалину, где, оказывается, эти господа со своими дамами устраивали на днях пикничок. Прогалина небольшая, кругом лес да лес. Словом, место идеальное. Видишь, какие у меня сапоги,- совсем белые от пыли.

 

A little later still, at about seven, Mityushin and Gnushke arrived. They looked grim. Gnushke bowed with reserve and handed Anton Petrovich a sealed business envelope. He opened it. It began: “I have received your extremely stupid and extremely rude message.…” Anton Petrovich’s monocle fell out, he reinserted it. “I feel very sorry for you, but since you have adopted this attitude, I have no choice but to accept your challenge. Your seconds are pretty awful. Berg.”
Anton Petrovich’s throat went unpleasantly dry, and there was again that ridiculous quaking in his legs.

“Sit down, sit down,” he said, and himself sat down first. Gnushke sank back into an armchair, caught himself, and sat up on its edge.
“He’s a highly insolent character,” Mityushin said with feeling. “Imagine—he kept laughing all the while, so that I nearly punched him in the teeth.”
Gnushke cleared his throat and said, “There is only one thing I can advise you to do: take careful aim, because he is also going to take careful aim.”
Before Anton Petrovich’s eyes flashed a notebook page covered with Xs: diagram of a cemetery.

“He is a dangerous fellow,” said Gnushke, leaning back in his armchair, sinking again, and again wriggling out.
“Who’s going to make the report, Henry, you or I?” asked Mityushin, chewing on a cigarette as he jerked at his lighter with his thumb.
“You’d better do it,” said Gnushke.
“We’ve had a very busy day,” began Mityushin, goggling his baby-blue eyes at Anton Petrovich. “At exactly eight-thirty Henry, who was still as tight as a drum, and I …”
“I protest,” said Gnushke.
“… went to call on Mr. Berg. He was sipping his coffee. Right off we handed him your little note. Which he read. And what did he do, Henry? Yes, he burst out laughing. We waited for him to finish laughing, and Henry asked what his plans were.”
“No, not his plans, but how he intended to react,” Gnushke corrected.

“… to react. To this, Mr. Berg replied that he agreed to fight and that he chose pistols. We have settled all the conditions: the combatants will be placed facing each other at twenty paces. Firing will be regulated by a word of command. If nobody is dead after the first exchange, the duel may go on. And on. What else was there, Henry?”
“If it is impossible to procure real dueling pistols, then Browning automatics will be used,” said Gnushke.
Browning automatics. Having established this much, we asked Mr. Berg how to get in touch with his seconds. He went out to telephone. Then he wrote the letter you have before you. Incidentally, he kept joking all the time. The next thing we did was to go to a café to meet his two chums. I bought Gnushke a carnation for his buttonhole. It was by this carnation that they recognized us. They introduced themselves, and, well, to put it in a nutshell, everything is in order. Their names are Marx and Engels.”
That’s not quite exact,” interjected Gnushke. “They are Markov and Colonel Arkhangelski.”
“No matter,” said Mityushin and went on. “Here begins the epic part. We went out of town with these chaps to look for a suitable spot. You know Weissdorf, just beyond Wannsee. That’s it. We took a walk through the woods there and found a glade, where, it turned out, these chaps had had a little picnic with their girls the other day. The glade is small, and all around there is nothing but woods. In short, the ideal spot—although, of course, you don’t get the grand mountain decor as in Lermontov’s fatal affair. See the state of my boots—all white with dust.” (Chapter 2)

 

In his essay Andrey Bely (1910) Aleksandr Amfiteatrov says that in his research on Russian prosody Bely wants to turn Pushkin, Lermontov, Fet and other poets (including Bely himself) into theorems from “Malinin and Burenin” (the authors of A Collection of Arithmetic Problems, a textbook used in schools):

 

Тени не токмо Стоюнина, но даже Кошанского икают на том свете, Квинтилиан и сам "Аристотель оный, древний философ", язвительно ухмыляются: "Вот так открыл Америку г. Андрей Белый! однако и прогресс же там у них наверху!" А читатель, потративший долгое время и труд серьезного внимания на то, чтобы под руководством г. Андрея Белого, прийти к выводу, который он сам с детства приемлет как аксиому, жалобно свищет: "Ах, на что ж было огород городить? ах, на что ж было капусту садить?" Нельзя не сознаться, что трагикомические старания г. Андрея Белого превратить Пушкина, Лермонтова, Фета и т.д., до самого себя включительно, в теоремы из "Малинина и Буренина", живо напоминают историю, как в чеховском "Репетиторе" гимназист VII класса Егор Зиберов решал с учеником своим Петей задачу: "Купец купил 138 арш. черного и синего сукна" и т.д., а родитель купец Удодов наблюдал и не одобрял.

"-- Ну, чего думаешь? Задача-то пустяковая! -- говорит Удодов Пете.-- Экий ты дурак, братец! Решите уж вы ему, Егор Алексеевич.

Егор Алексеевич берет в руки грифель и начинает решать. Он заикается, краснеет, бледнеет.

-- Эта задача, собственно говоря, алгебраическая,-- говорит он.-- Ее с иксом и игреком решить можно. Впрочем, можно и так решить. Я вот разделил... понимаете? Теперь вот надо вычесть... понимаете? Или вот что... Решите мне эту задачу сами к завтраму... Подумайте...

-- И без алгебры решить можно,-- говорит Удодов, протягивая руку к счетам.-- Вот, извольте видеть...

Он щелкает на счетах, и у него получается 75 и 63, что и нужно было.

-- Вот-с... по-нашему, по-неученому. Учителю становится нестерпимо жутко". 

 

Amfiteatrov quotes a fragment from Chekhov's story Repetitor ("The Tutor," 1884):

 

"What's the matter with you? That's an easy problem!" cries Udodov to Peter. "What a goose you are, sonny! Do it for him, Mr. Ziberov!"

Gregory takes the pencil and begins figuring. He hiccoughs and flushes and pales.

"The fact is, this is an algebraical problem," he says. "It ought to be solved with x and y. But it can be done in this way, too. Very well, I divide this by this, do you understand? Now then, I subtract it from this, see? Or, no, let me tell you, suppose you do this sum yourself for tomorrow. Think it out alone!"

Peter smiles maliciously. Udodov smiles, too. Both realize the tutor's perplexity. The high-school boy becomes still more violently embarrassed, rises, and begins to walk up and down.

"That sum can be done without the help of algebra," says Udodov, sighing and reaching for the counting board. "Look here!"

He rattles the counting board for a moment, and produces the answer 75 and 63, which is correct.

"That's how we ignorant folks do it."

The tutor falls a prey to the most unbearably painful sensations. He looks at the clock with a sinking heart, and sees that it still lacks an hour and a quarter to the end of the lesson. What an eternity that is!

 

In his afternote to The Affair of Honor VN says that the story renders in a drab expatriate setting a belated variation on the romantic theme whose decline started with Chekhov's magnificent novella Duel' ("The Duel," 1891).

 

Akh, na chto zh bylo kapustu sadit’? (“Ah, what was the use in planting cabbages?”), a question that Amfiteatrov asks in his essay, brings to mind kapustu sadit, kak Goratsiy (plants cabbages like Horace), a line in Chapter Six (VII: 12) of Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin:

 

Иль помириться их заставить,
Дабы позавтракать втроем,
И после тайно обесславить
Веселой шуткою, враньем.
Sed alia tempora! Удалость
(Как сон любви, другая шалость)
Проходит с юностью живой.
Как я сказал, Зарецкий мой,
Под сень черемух и акаций
От бурь укрывшись наконец,
Живет, как истинный мудрец,
Капусту садит, как Гораций,
Разводит уток и гусей
И учит азбуке детей.

 

or have them make it up

so as to lunch all three,

and later secretly defame them

with a gay quip, with prate....

Sed alia tempora! Daredevilry

(like love's dream, yet another caper)

passes with lively youth.

As I've said, my Zarétski,

beneath the racemosas and the pea trees

having at last found shelter

from tempests, lives like a true sage,

plants cabbages like Horace,

breeds ducks and geese,

and teaches [his] children the A B C.

 

Lenski’s second in his duel with Onegin, Zaretski could from a pistol at twelve yards hit an ace:

 

Бывало, льстивый голос света
В нем злую храбрость выхвалял:
Он, правда, в туз из пистолета
В пяти саженях попадал,
И то сказать, что и в сраженье
Раз в настоящем упоенье
Он отличился, смело в грязь
С коня калмыцкого свалясь,
Как зюзя пьяный, и французам
Достался в плен: драгой залог!
Новейший Регул, чести бог,
Готовый вновь предаться узам,
Чтоб каждым утром у Вери[37]
В долг осушать бутылки три.

 

Time was, the monde's obsequious voice

used to extol his wicked pluck:

he, it is true, could from a pistol

at twelve yards hit an ace,

and, furthermore, in battle too

once, in real rapture, he distinguished

himself by toppling from his Kalmuk steed

boldly into the mud,

swine drunk, and to the French

fell prisoner (prized hostage!) —

a modern Regulus, the god of honor,

ready to yield anew to bonds

so as to drain on credit at Véry's37

two or three bottles every morning. (Six: V)

 

37. Parisian restaurateur.  (Pushkin’s note)

 

The English title of VN’s story, “An Affair of Honor,” seems to hint at chesti bog (the god of honor), as Pushkin calls Zaretski in this stanza. Berg (Anton Petrovich’s adversary whose name means in German “mountain”) brings to mind Krasnogorie (“Fairhill,” Lenski’s estate):

 

Вперед, вперед, моя исторья!
Лицо нас новое зовет.
В пяти верстах от Красногорья,
Деревни Ленского, живет
И здравствует еще доныне
В философической пустыне
Зарецкий, некогда буян,
Картежной шайки атаман,
Глава повес, трибун трактирный,
Теперь же добрый и простой
Отец семейства холостой,
Надежный друг, помещик мирный
И даже честный человек:
Так исправляется наш век!

 

Forward, forward, my story!

A new persona claims us.

Five versts from Krasnogórie,

Lenski's estate, there lives

and thrives up to the present time

in philosophical reclusion

Zarétski, formerly a brawler,

the hetman of a gaming gang,

chieftain of rakehells, pothouse tribune,

but now a kind and simple

bachelor paterfamilias,

a steadfast friend, a peaceable landowner,

and even an honorable man:

thus does our age correct itself! (Six: IV)

 

Anton Petrovich’s unfaithful wife Tan’ka is a namesake of Tatiana Larin (who marries Prince N. and tells Onegin that she will be faithful to her husband all her life). During his visit to Mityushin Anton Petrovich calls Berg podlets (a scoundrel) three times. The word podlets is also repeated at the end of the story:

 

В гостиной, у круглого стола, сидят Митюшин, Гнушке... Таня. На столе - бутылки, чашки. Митюшин, весь мокрый и розовый, глаза блестят, пьян, как стелька. Гнушке тоже пьян, улыбается и потирает руки. Таня сидит, положив голые локти на стол, неподвижно на него уставилась...

Митюшин ахнул, подбежал к нему, схватил за руку. "Наконец-то объявился!" И шепотом, лукаво подмигнув: "Ну и фрукт".

Антон Петрович сел, выпил водки. Митюшин и Гнушке все так же лукаво, но добродушно поглядывают на него. Таня говорит: "Ты, вероятно, голоден. Я принесу тебе бутерброд". Да, большой бутерброд с ветчиной, так чтобы торчало сальце. И вот, как только она вышла, Митюшин и Гнушке бросились к нему, заговорили, перебивая друг друга: "Ну и повезло тебе, Антон Петрович! Представь себе,- господин Берг тоже струсил. Нет, не тоже струсил, а просто: струсил. Пока мы ждали тебя в трактире, вошли его секунданты, сообщили, что Берг передумал. Эти широкоплечие нахалы всегда оказываются трусами. Мы просим вас. господа, извинить нас, что мы согласились быть секундантами этого подлеца. Вот как тебе повезло, Антон Петрович! Все, значит, шито-крыто. И ты вышел с честью.

Антон Петрович, широко улыбнувшись, встал, заиграл ленточкой монокля. И медленно исчезла улыбка. Таких вещей в жизни не бывает.

Он посмотрел на плюшевое кресло, на пухлую постель, на умывальник, и этот жалкий номер в этом жалком отеле показался ему той комнатой, где отныне ему придется жить всегда. Присев на постель, он сиял башмаки, облегченно пошевелил пальцами ног, заметил, что натер пятку, и что левый носок порвался. Потом он позвонил, заказал бутерброд с ветчиной. И когда горничная поставила на стол тарелку, он замер, и как только закрылась дверь, обеими руками схватил хлеб, засопел, сразу измазал пальцы и подбородок в сале и стал жадно жевать.

 

In the parlor, around the circular table, sat Mityushin, Gnushke, and Tanya. On the table stood bottles, glasses, and cups. Mityushin beamed—pink-faced, shiny-eyed, drunk as an owl. Gnushke was drunk too, and also beamed, rubbing his hands together. Tanya was sitting with her bare elbows on the table, gazing at him motionlessly.…
“At last!” exclaimed Mityushin, and took him by the arm. “At last you’ve shown up!” He added in a whisper, with a mischievous wink, “You sly-boots, you!”

Anton Petrovich now sits down and has some vodka. Mityushin and Gnushke keep giving him the same mischievous but good-natured looks. Tanya says: “You must be hungry. I’ll get you a sandwich.”
Yes, a big ham sandwich, with the edge of fat overlapping. She goes to make it and then Mityushin and Gnushke rush to him and begin to talk, interrupting each other.
“You lucky fellow! Just imagine—Mr. Berg also lost his nerve. Well, not ‘also,’ but lost his nerve anyhow. While we were waiting for you at the tavern, his seconds came in and announced that Berg had changed his mind. Those broad-shouldered bullies always turn out to be cowards. ‘Gentlemen, we ask you to excuse us for having agreed to act as seconds for this scoundrel.’ That’s how lucky you are, Anton Petrovich! So everything is now just dandy. And you came out of it honorably, while he is disgraced forever. And, most important, your wife, when she heard about it, immediately left Berg and returned to you. And you must forgive her.”

Anton Petrovich smiled broadly, got up, and started fiddling with the ribbon of his monocle. His smile slowly faded away. Such things don’t happen in real life.
He looked at the moth-eaten plush, the plump bed, the washstand, and this wretched room in this wretched hotel seemed to him to be the room in which he would have to live from that day on. He sat down on the bed, took off his shoes, wiggled his toes with relief, and noticed that there was a blister on his heel, and a corresponding hole in his sock. Then he rang the bell and ordered a ham sandwich. When the maid placed the plate on the table, he deliberately looked away, but as soon as the door had shut, he grabbed the sandwich with both hands, immediately soiled his fingers and chin with the hanging margin of fat, and, grunting greedily, began to munch. (Chapter 2)

 

According to Mityushin, Berg’s seconds called Anton Petrovich’s adversary podlets (a scoundrel). In his famous epigram (1824) on Count Vorontsov (the governor of New Russia, Pushkin’s boss in Odessa) Pushkin (who had an affair with Vorontsov’s wife Eliza) calls Vorontsov polu-podlets (“half-scoundrel”):

 

Полу-милорд, полу-купец,
Полу-мудрец, полу-невежда,
Полу-подлец, но есть надежда,
Что будет полным наконец.

 

Half-milord, half-merchant,

Half-sage, half-ignoramus,

Half-scoundrel, but there's a hope

That he will be a full one at last.

 

"Marx and Engels" (as Matyushin calls Berg's seconds in the srory's English version) bring to mind Colonel St Alin, a scoundrel (in VN's novel Ada, 1969, one of the seconds in Demon's sword duel with Baron d'Onsky):

 

Upon being questioned in Demon’s dungeon, Marina, laughing trillingly, wove a picturesque tissue of lies; then broke down, and confessed. She swore that all was over; that the Baron, a physical wreck and a spiritual Samurai, had gone to Japan forever. From a more reliable source Demon learned that the Samurai’s real destination was smart little Vatican, a Roman spa, whence he was to return to Aardvark, Massa, in a week or so. Since prudent Veen preferred killing his man in Europe (decrepit but indestructible Gamaliel was said to be doing his best to forbid duels in the Western Hemisphere — a canard or an idealistic President’s instant-coffee caprice, for nothing was to come of it after all), Demon rented the fastest petroloplane available, overtook the Baron (looking very fit) in Nice, saw him enter Gunter’s Bookshop, went in after him, and in the presence of the imperturbable and rather bored English shopkeeper, back-slapped the astonished Baron across the face with a lavender glove. The challenge was accepted; two native seconds were chosen; the Baron plumped for swords; and after a certain amount of good blood (Polish and Irish — a kind of American ‘Gory Mary’ in barroom parlance) had bespattered two hairy torsoes, the whitewashed terrace, the flight of steps leading backward to the walled garden in an amusing Douglas d’Artagnan arrangement, the apron of a quite accidental milkmaid, and the shirtsleeves of both seconds, charming Monsieur de Pastrouil and Colonel St Alin, a scoundrel, the latter gentlemen separated the panting combatants, and Skonky died, not ‘of his wounds’ (as it was viciously rumored) but of a gangrenous afterthought on the part of the least of them, possibly self-inflicted, a sting in the groin, which caused circulatory trouble, notwithstanding quite a few surgical interventions during two or three years of protracted stays at the Aardvark Hospital in Boston — a city where, incidentally, he married in 1869 our friend the Bohemian lady, now keeper of Glass Biota at the local museum. (1.2)

 

Darkbloom (‘Notes to Ada’): Aardvark: apparently, a university town in New England.

Gamaliel: a much more fortunate statesman than our W.G. Harding.

 

Describing the method of his work, Van Veen (the narrator and main character in Ada) mentions Marx père, the popular author of ‘historical’ plays:

 

Van spent the fall term of 1892 at Kingston University, Mayne, where there was a first-rate madhouse, as well as a famous Department of Terrapy, and where he now went back to one of his old projects, which turned on the Idea of Dimension & Dementia (‘You will "sturb," Van, with an alliteration on your lips,’ jested old Rattner, resident pessimist of genius, for whom life was only a ‘disturbance’ in the rattnerterological order of things — from ‘nertoros,’ not ‘terra’).

Van Veen [as also, in his small way, the editor of Ada] liked to change his abode at the end of a section or chapter or even paragraph, and he had almost finished a difficult bit dealing with the divorce between time and the contents of time (such as action on matter, in space, and the nature of space itself) and was contemplating moving to Manhattan (that kind of switch being a reflection of mental rubrication rather than a concession to some farcical ‘influence of environment’ endorsed by Marx père, the popular author of ‘historical’ plays), when he received an unexpected dorophone call which for a moment affected violently his entire pulmonary and systemic circulation. (2.5)

 

Darkbloom (‘Notes to Ada’): sturb: pun on Germ. sterben, to die.

 

Marx père also seems to hint at Shaxpere (as Shakespeare's name is sometimes spelled), the author of history plays. According to Marina (Van's, Ada's and Lucette's mother), she used to love history:

 

They now had tea in a prettily furnished corner of the otherwise very austere central hall from which rose the grand staircase. They sat on chairs upholstered in silk around a pretty table. Ada’s black jacket and a pink-yellow-blue nosegay she had composed of anemones, celandines and columbines lay on a stool of oak. The dog got more bits of cake than it did ordinarily. Price, the mournful old footman who brought the cream for the strawberries, resembled Van’s teacher of history, ‘Jeejee’ Jones.

‘He resembles my teacher of history,’ said Van when the man had gone.

‘I used to love history,’ said Marina, ‘I loved to identify myself with famous women. There’s a ladybird on your plate, Ivan. Especially with famous beauties — Lincoln’s second wife or Queen Josephine.’

‘Yes, I’ve noticed — it’s beautifully done. We’ve got a similar set at home.’

‘Slivok (some cream)? I hope you speak Russian?’ Marina asked Van, as she poured him a cup of tea.

‘Neohotno no sovershenno svobodno (reluctantly but quite fluently),’ replied Van, slegka ulïbnuvshis’ (with a slight smile). ‘Yes, lots of cream and three lumps of sugar.’

‘Ada and I share your extravagant tastes. Dostoevski liked it with raspberry syrup.’ 

‘Pah,’ uttered Ada.

 

Darkbloom (‘Notes to Ada’): with a slight smile: a pet formula of Tolstoy’s denoting cool superiority, if not smugness, in a character’s manner of speech.

 

The surname Malinin comes from malina (Russian for "raspberry"). In his poem "We live not feeling land beneath us" (1933) Mandelshtam says: Chto ni kazn' u nego, to malina (whatever the execution, it's a raspberry to him [Stalin]).