Petersburg Sofya Petrovna’s Visitors

The visitor to the hothouse of Sofya Petrovna, Angel Peri (he was obliged, incidentally, to purvey chrysanthemums to the angel), always praised her Japanese landscapes, adding in passing his opinions on painting in general; and knitting her small black eyebrows, Angel Peri would at one point authoritatively blurt out: ‘This landscape belongs to the pen of Hadusai’6 … The angel decidedly confused all proper names and all foreign words. The visitor who was a painter would take exception to this; and after that he would not address Angel Peri with any more lectures on painting in general: even so, with the last of her pocket money this angel went on buying landscapes and would admire them in solitude for hours, days and months.

Sofya Petrovna did not entertain the visitor in any way: if he were a young man of polite society, devoted to amusements, she considered it necessary to laugh loudly at all the joking, not-at-all joking and most serious things he said; she laughed at everything, turning crimson with laughter, and perspiration covered her tiny nose: the young man of polite society would also then turn crimson for some reason; perspiration covered his nose, too: the young man of society would admire her young, but far from politely social laughter; admire it so much that he classed Sofya Petrovna Likhutina as belonging to the demi-monde; meanwhile on the table appeared a collection box with the inscription ‘Charitable Collection’ and Sofya Petrovna Likhutina, Angel Peri, laughing loudly, would exclaim: ‘You’ve told me another “fifi” – now you must pay.’ (Sofya Petrovna Likhutina had recently founded a charitable collection for the benefit of the unemployed, into which payments were to be made for each social ‘fifi’: ‘fifis’ were what she for some reason called any intentionally-uttered stupid remark, deriving this word from ‘fie’ …). And Baron Ommau-Ommergau, one of Her Majesty’s Yellow Cuirassiers, and Count Aven, one of her Blue Cuirassiers, and Leib Hussar Shporyshev, and a clerk of special assignments in Ableukhov’s office, Verhefden (all young men of polite society) uttered ‘fifi’ after ‘fifi’, putting twenty-copeck piece after twenty-copeck piece into the tin box.

But why did so many officers visit her? Oh my goodness, she danced at balls; and while she was not a lady of the demi-monde, she was pretty; lastly, she was an officer’s wife.

If, however, Sofya Petrovna’s visitor turned out either himself to be a musician, or was a music critic, or simply a music lover, Sofya Petrovna explained to him that her idols were ‘Duncan’ and ‘Nikisch’;7 in enthusiastic expressions which were less verbal than gesticulatory, she explained that she herself intended to study meloplastics,8 so as to be able to dance ‘The Ride of the Valkyries’ neither better nor worse than it was danced in Bayreuth; the musician, music critic or simple music lover, shaken by her incorrect pronunciation of the two names (he himself said Duncan and Nikisch, not Duncan and Nikisch), would conclude that Sofya Petrovna Likhutina was quite simply an ‘empty little female’; and become more playful; meanwhile the very pretty maid would bring a gramophone into the little room: and from its red horn the gramophone’s tin throat would belch forth ‘The Ride of the Valkyries’ at the guest. That Sofya Petrovna Likhutina did not miss a single fashionable opera, this circumstance the guest would forget: he became crimson and excessively familiar. Such a guest was always shown the door of Sofya Petrovna Likhutina’s flat; and for this reason musicians who performed for polite society were rare in the little hothouse; while the representatives of polite society, Count Aven, Baron Ommau-Ommergau, Shporyshev and Verhefden, did not permit themselves unseemly escapades in relation to a woman who was, after all, an officer’s wife who bore the name of the old noble family, Likhutin: and so Count Aven, and Baron Ommau-Ommergau, and Shporyshev, and Verhefden, continued to visit. For a time there had also been a student who had quite often moved among their number, Nikolenka Ableukhov. And then suddenly disappeared.

Sofya Petrovna’s visitors somehow fell of their own accord into two categories: the category of guests from polite society and ‘guests so to speak’. These guests-so-to-speak were not really guests at all: they were all welcome visitors … for the unburdening of her soul; these visitors had not made efforts to be received in the little hothouse; not in the slightest! The Angel dragged them to her flat almost by force; and, having dragged them there by force, at once returned their visit: in their presence the Angel Peri sat with compressed lips: did not laugh, did not indulge in caprice, did not flirt at all, displaying an extreme shyness and an extreme muteness, while the guests-so-to-speak stormily argued one with the other and one heard: ‘revolution-evolution.’ And again: ‘revolution-evolution.’ They only argued about one thing, these guests-so-to-speak; they were neither golden nor even silver youth: they were poor, copper youth who had obtained their education on their own workearned farthings; in a word, they were the studying youth of the higher educational establishments, sporting an abundance of foreign words: ‘social revolution’. And then again: ‘social evolution’. Angel Peri unfailingly got those words mixed up.