September 01, 2019

A Double Life

A Double Life
Borisoglebsky Church, Tsaritsa Nikolai Maslennikov (cc)

This is an excerpt from the new translation of a novel by Karolina Pavlova (1807-1893), translated by Barbara Heldt. Pavlova was an exceptional poet and translator whose work was overlooked and scorned in her lifetime because of her gender. A Double Life was her only novel. It combines a mixture of prose and poetry and focuses on the duality of women in high society.

The day was drawing near that Vera Vladimirovna always celebrated – Cecily’s birthday. This time, too, she had made various preparations to spend the day as gaily as possible: a dinner, a concert, a bal champêtre, a supper – every possible thing that could be done was done, with great effort and at great expense. The festivity of people of the highest circles is wondrously expensive. When Cecily woke up that day, she found her mother’s gifts lying on her sofa: two charming dresses – one a dinner dress, the other an evening dress – and the most marvelous lace scarf, ordered from Paris. In the course of the morning, she received approximately two dozen bouquets and three dozen notes from friends – all saying precisely the same thing, to which it was necessary to respond with precisely the same variations. Society women have achieved the wondrous art of contriving thirty variations on a phrase that means nothing even the first time. Then Madame Valitskaia arrived with her daughter (on that morning, no other people were received). Cecily went into the garden with Olga to rest from her correspondence a bit. They settled into a far corner, where there was a bit of shade, and began to chatter away; they talked of twenty different subjects, and then Olga’s voice grew lower and more mysterious.

 “Listen,” she said, “you’re killing Ivachinsky. He was so upset by your coolness yesterday that out of desperation, he lost all night at cards at Ilichev’s and almost went out of his mind.”

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