According to Nina Lecerf (a character in VNs novel The Real Life of Sebastian Knight, 1941), the woman who attracted Sebastian is good as good bread:


We were silent for quite a long time. Alas, I had no more doubts, though the picture of Sebastian was atrocious but then, too, I had got it second-hand.

'Yes,' I said, 'I shall see her at all costs. And this for two reasons. Firstly, because I want to ask her a certain question one question only. And secondly '

'Yes?' said Madame Lecerf sipping her cold tea. 'Secondly?'

'Secondly, I am at a loss to imagine how such a woman could attract my brother; so I want to see her with my own eyes.'

'Do you mean to say,' asked Madame Lecerf, 'that you think she is a dreadful, dangerous woman? Une femme fatale? Because, you know, that's not so. She's good as good bread.' (chapter 16)


In the first stanza of his poem Shestoe chuvstvo (The Sixth Sense, 1920) Gumilyov mentions dobryi khleb (the good bread) and zhenshchina, kotoroyu dano, sperva izmuchivshis, nam nasladitsya (the woman who at first tortures and then delights us):


, ,
, ,
, .

Fine is the wine enamored of us,

and the good bread baked for our sake,

and the woman who delights us

when she's finished her tweaking games.

(transl. Burton Raffel)


Eventually V. (the narrator in TRLSK, Sebastians half-brother) finds out that the woman who played a fatal role in Sebastians life was Nina Lecerf (alias Mme de Rechnoy) herself. Her name hints at Nina Zarechnyi, a character in Chekhovs play Chayka (The Seagull, 1896). In his essay on Chekhov, Tvorchestvo iz nichego (Creation from Nothing, 1905), Lev Shestov says that one of Chekhovs most remarkable works is his play The Seagull:


, . . (VIII)


According to Shestov, in The Seagull the artists real attitude to life was expressed most fully. In his essay Shestov points out that in Chekhovs story Palata 6 (Ward No. 6, 1892) the doctor dies beautifully, in his last minutes he sees a herd of deer, etc.:


, , 6 . , : . . (VI)


The name Lecerf has cerf (Fr., deer) in it.


In a letter of Nov. 25, 1892, to Suvorin Chekhov compares his story Ward No. 6 to a sweet lemonade that lacks alcohol:


, , , , , . , , .


You are a hard drinker, and I have regaled you with sweet lemonade, and you, after giving the lemonade its due, justly observe that there is no spirit in it. That is just what is lacking in our productionsthe alcohol which could intoxicate and subjugate, and you state that very well.


In the opening line of Gumilyovs poem The Sixth Sense vino (the wine) is mentioned.


Shestov is the author of Dobro v uchenii gr. Tolstogo i Nitsshe (The Good in the Teaching of Count Tolstoy and Nietzsche, 1889) and Dostoevskiy i Nitsshe (Doestoevski and Nietzsche, 1902). The latter work is subtitled filosofiya tragedii (the Philosophy of Tragedy). The characters of TRLSK include Mr Goodman, the author of The Tragedy of Sebastian Knight. According to V., this books title should have been The Farce of Mr Goodman:


Mr Goodman has never been a regular literary agent. He has only bet on books. He does not rightfully belong to that intelligent, honest and hard-working profession. We will leave it at that; but I have not yet done with The Tragedy of Sebastian Knight or rather The Farce of Mr Goodman. (chapter 7)


In a letter of Sept. 15, 1903, to Maria Alekseev-Lilin (Stanislavskis wife) Chekhov says that his new play (The Cherry Orchard, 1904) is not a drama, but a comedy that sometimes even looks like a farce:


, , , , .


Chekhov died on July 15, 1904, in Badenweiler (a German spa). His last words were davno ya ne pil shampanskogo (its a long time since I drank champagne). Btw., July is the sixth month of the year.


Incidentally, in VNs play Izobretenie Valsa (The Waltz Invention, 1938) the Minister of War mentions prostoy khleb dobrykh sovetov (the simple bread of good advices):


. , .

. . , . , ... (Act One)


The action in The Waltz Invention (a play that sometimes looks like a farce) seems to take place in a dream that Lyubov (a character in VNs play The Event, 1938, the wife of the portrait painter Troshcheykin) dreams in the sleep of death after committing suicide on her dead sons fifth birthday (two days after her mothers fiftieth birthday). The name and patronymic of Lyubovs mother, Antonina Pavlovna, hints at Chekhov, and the name and patronymic of her husband, Aleksey Maksimovich, hints at Gorky. In a letter of Nov. 25, 1892, to Suvorin Chekhov calls his correspondent and editor gorkiy pyanitsa (a hard drinker).

Alexey Sklyarenko

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