Сказ о тульском косом Левше и о

  • Paperback
  • 64 pages
  • Сказ о тульском косом Левше и о стальной блохе
  • Nikolai Leskov
  • English
  • 10 December 2015
  • 9780141397399

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Сказ о тульском косом Левше и о стальной блохеWhat a bizarre little novella Its bizzarity is summed up well by the full title The Tale of the Cross Eyed Left Handed Gunsmith from Tula and the Steel Flea That title is not just bizarre it might even be one of the most unbelievable titles ever I mean what kind of skill could a gunsmith have if he's both cross eyed AND left handed And should we care where he comes from? He sounds about as ridiculous as the notion of a flea made from steel A flea is far too minuscule to replicate in something as solid as steel Not to mention the fact that this steel flea is supposed to have a clockwork mechanism in its belly that makes it danse Yes if we are to believe Nicolai Leskov this flea fairly hops As people often say if you believe that you'll believe anything There's an Emperor in this story too believe it or not No not that Emperor This one is Emperor Aleksandr the First of Russia Here he is in a new suit of clothesHowever according to Nicolai Leskov Alexandr was a teenie tiny bit impressionable Well actually Leskov implies he was inclined to believe just about anything And history tells us that people were ready to believe just about anything about Aleksandr For instance that he didn't die of typhoid while travelling in the Crimean region in 1825 but went off to live in a cave as a hermit But back to the story of the steel flea and Lefty the cross eyed gunsmith Yes Nicolai Leskov tells us his gunsmith from Tula was called Lefty And although he was cross eyed he was very good at sharpening things which reminded me immediately of a character called Ilya whom I met recently in Between Dog and Wolf who was one eyed and one legged and could sharpen things pretty well though not nearly as well as our Lefty and Ilya's story is told in the same kind of skaz lingo as Lefty's which I find just superblous—at least in translation So Lefty could sharpen things down to the most minuscule sharpness a bit like another unbelievable character in another unbelievable story I'm thinking now about the second policeman in The Third Policeman who could file things down so small the point of them couldn't be seen with the naked eye The steel flea couldn't be seen with the naked eye either believe it or not No in order to see the flea even if you were the Emperor himself you needed a nitroscope Yes a nitroscope because you see the flea was a nymphusorial flea and you can only see nymphusoria with a nitroscope I hope you're still following all this because believe it or not there will be a point at the end though you may need a nitroscopeSo Lefty didn't actually make the steel flea in case you are presuming he did No he was far too busy sharpening bigger things out of steel to have time to make a dancing flea as the English gunsmiths whom the Emperor visited in the 1820s found time to do But when it was reuired our Lefty proved he could do better than the English though his workshop in Tula wasn't nearly as well furnished or bright or modern as the English ones The odds should have been stacked against Lefty just as they would be stacked against the Russians when fighting the English in the Crimean war a few decades later Howandsoever Lefty succeeded in bettering the workmanship of the steelflea smiths and in the process he found something tiny but important where no one was looking for it Yes sometimes a tiny detail can change the way big things work—if only sharp people like Lefty would be put in charge of important things than minuscule steel fleasAnd there lies the point of this story I hope you won't be needing a nitroscope Skaz is an oral form of narrative particular to Russia containing a lot of slang and humour He gave orders that they were not to get any hot glum pudding in flames for fear the spirits in their innards might catch fireThe Steel Flea is an uproarious and alcohol soaked shaggy dog story from one of Russia's great comic masters It's true said Lefty that everybody's got the same Gospel but our books are thicker than yours and our faith is fuller Nikolai Leskov The Steel Flea I adored The Steel Flea 1881 aka The Tale of Cross eyed Lefty from Tula and the Steel Flea aka Tale of the suint eyed left handed man from Tula and the steel flea aka Levsha or The Lefthander or Lefty or The Left handed Craftsman The type of story is known as a Skaz in Russia Gogol and Leskov were both masters of Skaz an oral form of narrative that uses humor dialect and slang to develop a story and character I would tell you exactly how funny and clever the story is but for two things 1 I don't want to ruin the story by giving away any details you need to examine this flea with your own literary microscope and 2 you might already know the story I've heard various forms of this story in the last several years It feels like a fairy tale that you read and although you weren't aware of knowing it everything about it feels familiar It has contains archetypes of the WestRussia relationship and Russia's relationship with its artisans craftsmen and people An entertaining short story about a Russian craftsman on a mission to outdo the British by creating a better version of their finest invention a metal flea First published in 1881 this gives an insight into the relationship Russia has with the West stylized as an amusing folk tale Nikolai Leskov's arguably finest piece of writing certainly doesn't have an easy publication history as it was attacked from both Leftists for being to aggressively nationalist and Right Movements for making common people's lives seem gloomy Reading it a century and a half later allows us to see the cunning writing for what it was a brilliant masterful interplay of neologisms and humor and two grand nations fighting over something as unimportant as a steel fleaIn 2015 Penguin introduced the Little Black Classics series to celebrate Penguin's 80th birthday Including little stories from around the world and across many centuries as the publisher describes I have been intrigued to read those for a long time before finally having started I hope to sooner or later read and review all of them 19th century was an extraordinarily rich period for Russian literature Among the numerous gifted and productive authors of that period is at least one that according to my impression is not valued and read outside Russia as much as he would deserve it Nikolay LeskovHis probably best work The Steel Flea full title The Tale of the Cross Eyed Left Handed Gunsmith from Tula and the Steel Flea contains on about 50 pages everything that makes this author so interesting in a nutshell such as a folk like story about an unsung Russian everyday life hero of the past; a narrative spiced with mild irony; a playful voice that uses many neologisms that are so up to the point that many of them achieved proverbial status and found their way into everyday communication of many Russians; a not condescending sympathy of the authornarrator with the ordinary peopleWhat is it about Czar Alexander I we are in the 1820s than half a century before Leskov wrote the story is visiting England then the technically most developed country; he is accompanied by Platov a Cossack ataman who represents the ordinary Russian that is proud and less easy to impress than the Czar by the display of technical superiority with which the English hosts shower their Royal guest While the Czar views everything he sees as a sign of the hopeless inferiority and backwardness of his country Platov makes it clear to the Czar that he thinks otherwise ironically his opinion is confirmed in one instance much to the embarrassment of the hostsAs a gift the Czar receives a tiny steel flea that can even perform a dance when properly wound up How this complicated and perfectly crafted mechanism that can be seen properly under a strong microscope only is constructed is not revealed and leaves the Czar wondering how such a miracle of engineering was possibleAfter the coronation of Alexander's brother Nikolay a few years later the steel flea becomes a political issue Platov in the meantime retired is re activated to service in order to investigate if somewhere in Russia craftsmen can do something that even tops the English feat of the dancing steel insect Platov finds in Tula a left handed and cross eyed craftsman who together with several of his colleagues indeed improves the English invention You have to read by yourself howIn the end the Russians have a field day to see the impressed English who cannot believe their eyes when a Russian delegation with Lefty is visiting the island So impressed are they this time that they try to lure the nameless Lefty to stay in England; but to no avail the man from Tula is homesick and returns to Russia where he dies soon after his arrival as a conseuence of a drinking contest with a sailor The last important message he has and that could have change the fate of Russia is not deliveredIn the end Leskov tells his readersLefty's real name like the names of many of the greatest geniuses has been lost to posterity forever; but he is interesting as the embodiment of a myth in the popular imagination and his adventures can serve to remind us of an epoch whose general spirit has been portrayed here clearly and accuratelyIt goes without saying that Tula no longer has such master craftsmen as the legendary Lefty machines have evened up the ineualities in gifts and talents and genius no longer strains itself in a struggle against diligence and exactness Even though they encourage the raising of salaries machines do not encourage artistic daring which sometimes went so far beyond ordinary bounds as to inspire the folk imagination to create unbelievable legends like this one One of the things I like particularly are Leskov's neologisms that are translated uite ingeniously in the edition I had at hand For example the steel flea and its dance can be seen properly only when viewed under a strong microscope or nitroscope as the narrator says it seems Leskov was the Godfather of nanotechnology; and when the steel flea is dancing he is doing it in various fairiationsAnother thing I found amusing was the fact that the steel flea a childish toy after all becomes a state affair and the main object of national pride of two European leaders and their nations they represent; on a serious note how much better seem these old times to be where a Russian leader paid attention to the shoe strings of a tiny steel flea especially considering most of the Russian leaders that came later Leskov had a difficult time as a writer in his days The progressives viewed him as a conservative the conservatives suspected him to be a leftist; the Slavophiles considered him as a propagandist of Western modernism and the Westerners saw in him a romantic that was spreading nostalghia for Russia's backwardness A writer whose work is still so fresh and who was caught between so many stools is definitely worth it to be read againMy edition was the one from Penguin's Little Black Classics This series contains many re discoveries; the small format and limited number of pages make it together with the very attractive price the perfect companion for the daily commuting routine or on other occasions When you carry like me always at least one book with you to use every opportunity for reading this is an excellent series for you A humorous classic of Russian literature that covers the period early to mid 1800s Russia has defeated Napoleon but still suffers from an inferiority complex that everything in the West is better Alexander I was Tsar but suffered from increasing mental problems which saw him slide from reforms and brilliance to paranoia and inconsistency After his death his brother Nicholas I became Tsar who was an engineer and a great supporter of industrialisationIn this short story Alexander I visits England and is given a steel flea that can only be seen under a powerful microscope When wound up the flea can do a little dance Impressed by the English inventiveness he asks his Russian tradesmen to come up with something that would surpass the English The story features Lefty the tradesman and how talented nobodies are ignored by Russian society invented words that make sense a warning of Russian ignorance about modern arms and the never ending mistrust that exists between Russia and the West and vice versa It's sort of astonishing that fables this simplistic were getting readers at the same time as Dostoyevsky PS The amazing update to the steel flea only makes it lameAmong the many things this Penguin edition may have mangled aside from the hyperbolic description is publishing a book some 40 pages shorter than another translationI bought this cheap edition thinking it would be better for my eyes than reading an e book For some reason my best guess being saturation of brightening dyes in the new paper this was like reading a backlit screen in bright daylight at least compared to The Doctors printed in the 80s An amusing short story a tale of English craftsmanship which impresses the Russian Czar with their very small mechanical dancing steel flea Russian craftsmen are called on to 'improve' the flea which is then returned to England A good little story with detailWhat I am not enamoured with are the repetitive mistranslations I can't figure out if they are purposeful of not??? Eg grasp port passport thirst mate first mate nitroscope microscopefariations variations etc A strange little tale amusing but sometimes hard to follow maybe something is lost in translation I am interested to try Leskov's The Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk since Shostakovich was inspired to write an opera based on it I found a translation of it by Pevear and Volokhonsky here See of my book reviews on my blog Literary FlitsI picked up this little Penguin Classics short story at a campsite book exchange and read over an hour or so whilst lazing on a beach It's a fun tale of national oneupmanship in which Russian craftsmen are set the task of bettering an English invention a tiny lifesized steel flea automaton which jumps about when wound by a key It's all uite silly and the narrative freuently wanders off at odd tangents as all good shaggy dog stories do Especially worth noting is William Edgerton's idiosyncratic translation which I imagine echoes the original Russian text in that wrong words are substituted to humorous effect throughout the story An entertaining short story and one which I think would benefit from being read aloud performance style to an audience

About the Author: Nikolai Leskov

Николай ЛесковNikolaj S LeskowNikolai LeskovNikolai LesskowNikolaj Semënovič LeskovNikolaĭ Semenovich LeskovNikolai LjeskowН С Лѣсков СтебницкийМикола ЛєсковNikolai Semyonovich Leskov Russian Николай Семёнович Лесков; 16 February 1831 — 5 March 1895 was a Russian novelist short story writer playwright and journalist who also wrote under the pseudonym M Stebnitsky Praised for his uniue writing style and innovative experiments in form and held in high esteem by Leo Tolstoy Anton Chekhov and Maxim Gorky among others Leskov is credited with creating a comprehensive picture of contemporary Russian society using mostly short literary forms His major works include Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk 1865 which was later made into an opera by Shostakovich The Cathedral Clergy 1872 The Enchanted Wanderer 1873 and The Tale of Cross eyed Lefty from Tula and the Steel Flea 1881Leskov was born at his parent's estate in Oryol Gubernia in 1831 He received his formal education at the Oryol Lyceum In 1847 Leskov joined the Oryol criminal court office later transferring to Kiev where he worked as a clerk attended university lectures mixed with local people and took part in various student circles In 1857 Leskov uit his job as a clerk and went to work for the private trading company Scott Wilkins owned by Alexander Scott his aunt's English husband He spent several years traveling throughout Russia on company business It was in these early years that Leskov learned local dialects and became keenly interested in the customs and ways of the different ethnic and regional groups of Russian peoples His experiences during these travels provided him with material and inspiration for his future as a writer of fictionLeskov's literary career began in the early 1860s with the publication of his short story The Extinguished Flame 1862 and his novellas Musk Ox May 1863 and The Life of a Peasant Woman September 1863 His first novel No Way Out was published under the pseudonym M Stebnitsky in 1864 From the mid 1860s to the mid 1880s Leskov published a wide range of works including journalism sketches short stories and novels Leskov's major works many of which continue to be published in modern versions were written during this time A number of his later works were banned because of their satirical treatment of the Russian Orthodox Church and its functionaries In his last years Leskov suffered from angina pectoris and asthma He died on 5 March 1895 He was interred in the Volkovo Cemetery in Saint Petersburg in the section reserved for literary figures