Day 181: Terrific Teffi

I’ve just finished Tolstoy, Rasputin, Others, and Me: The Best of Teffi. Nadezhda Lokhvitskaya was born in St. Petersburg in 1872 and became a writer of note in pre-revolution Russia, writing as Teffi. She was a satirist who fled for Paris when the Russian Revolution turned bad for writers of barbed, skeptical commentary. Along the way she met Rasputin and Tolstoy and Lenin and a fascinating array of intellectuals and writers and artists. New York Review Books has issued two collections of her work; the other is titled Memories: From Moscow to the Black Sea.

Her acute intelligence, sly rejection of bullshit whatever the source, and dexterity with language make her one of those writers I want to read regardless of her subject. On the Bolsheviks:

Those Bolsheviks in the Smolny are a crafty lot. They’ve decreed that every woman under forty must report for snow-shoveling duty. What woman is fool enough to tell the whole world she’s over forty? So far, not a single one has owned up. Instead, they’ve all been throwing themselves into the fray.

Bits of conversation:

And I was reminded of a sweet lady from Petersburg who said of a friend, “There’s nothing this woman won’t stoop to if she thinks she’ll gain by it. You can take my word for it—I’m her best friend.

This utterly superb description:

The end of a Petersburg winter. Neurasthenia.

Rather than starting a new day, morning merely continues the grey, long-draw-out evening of the day before.

Through the plate glass of the large bay window I can see out onto the street, where a warrant officer is teaching new recruits to poke bayonets into a scarecrow. The recruits have grey, damp-chilled faces. A despondent-looking woman with a sck stops and stares at them.

No improving that.