March 01, 2013

Masha Tattered Rags

Masha Tattered Rags

As noted in the Mar/Apr 2013 issue of our magazine, in March of 1863, the poison pen of Mikhail Yevgrafovich Saltykov-Shchedrin sketched a critique of the state of contemporary literature, which was dominated by voices proclaiming the importance of content over form. As part of his critique, Shchedrin offered several paradigmatic dreadful stories of his own contrivance, including the story below, which we did not have space to publish in the magazine, but present here for your reading "pleasure."

By Mikhail Saltykov-Shchedrin

Vanya White Gloves fell in love with Masha Tattered Rags. They meet on a steep river bank. Vanya was hunting snipe; Masha was gathering mushrooms. Sun; a breeze blows from the river; the sound of a shepherd’s horn in the distance...

“What do you have there? Mushrooms?” Vanya White Gloves asks.

“What’s it to you?” Masha Tattered Rags replies, covering her face with her sleeve.

Nevertheless, they fell in love. Stars, a light wind blows from the river, celestial beings sing overhead.

Chapter 2 finds us on the riverbank. Vanya White Gloves is hunting snipe; Masha Tattered Rags is looking for mushrooms, but at the same time she can already feel a token of her love growing in her belly.

“Vanya!” says Masha. “After all, I...”

But Vanya does not allow her to finish. He passionately kisses her, preventing her lips from speaking. He obviously prefers sweet action to sweet inaction. Sun; a wind blows from the river, but in the distance, thunder is already rumbling.

Chapter 3 finds us on the riverbank. It is autumn; rain lashes, wind groans from the river; the beckoning call of the shepherd’s horn sounds no more. Vanya White Gloves turns out to be a scoundrel. He is still hunting snipe, which are particularly plump this year, and at the same time assures Masha that he cannot, that he must go away, that a society for gradual progress is being inaugurated in St. Petersburg, and he must attend (oh, that liar!).

“Vanya!” Masha says through her tears. “After all, I...”

But Vanya again prevents her from finishing; he again prefers sweet action to sweet inaction and thrusts a twenty-five ruble note into the hand of the poor beguiled girl. And the wind groans and whines. “My poor, poor child!” groans the wind. And the rain pours down in buckets. “My poor, poor child!” the rain showers down.

“You scoundrel! How could you decide (decide=deprive: couleur locale) me of my innocence for a mere twenty-five rubles!” exclaims Masha, indignant. 

The epilogue finds us at a post station. The author is traveling by post-chaise on government business (these authors are always hurrying somewhere on government business and always by cart; that is their ideal). Naturally, the horses are being harnessed. Sun, a wind wafts from the river; and the mournful sound of a shepherd’s horn sounds in the distance. The drivers are swearing (couleur locale).

“‘Lyosha !” a red-headed fellow with a kindly and cheerful face calls out. “Where in blazes did ya put the hame strap?” (Hame strap! What knowledge of rural realia!)

“Werewolf!” replies a handsome brown-haired lad. “D’ya think I signed up to keep track of yer hame strap?”

Suddenly, an elegant Viennese carriage pulls up to the main entrance and from within a vision alights, an exquisite being, and from the coach box alights a nimble servant. The author, it goes without saying, goes straight to the servant (that’s what authors do): Who is she? Where’s she coming from? Where’s she going? Why? What are they carrying?

“That’s Countess Maria Sidorovna traveling,” the servant replies.

“Who is this Countess Maria Sidorovna?” the author inquires.

“Who is Maria Sidorovna? You don’t know?” And so on.

“Oh, kind sir, that is a story unto itself!” the servant informs him.

It turned out that Masha Tattered Rags is not Masha Tattered Rags at all, but Countess Maria Sidorovna, daughter of Countess Claudia Alexeyevna, who, wishing to accustom her daughter to hard work, gave her to be brought up by poor villagers; that all this eventually came to be known; and that upon learning of it, Vanya White Gloves rushed to her with a proposal, but was shown the door, after which he descended into drink, gave his superior a beating, and was taken to court.

It also turned out that one week later, Countess Maria Sidorovna was already at another post station (how you do get around, Your Excellency!), where she encountered a beggar standing by the entrance asking for a kopek. Maria Sidorovna took a closer look... oh! Before her was a drunken Vanya White Gloves, who, as a result of his base behavior, had been transformed into Vanya Tattered Rags!

Translation: Nora Favorov.

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