Turgenev trivia

Going back to Erik McDonald’s latest post with this quote from Dmitry Bykov,

But except for the Sochi Olympics, Russia hasn’t made any powerful contributions to international culture recently,

I’m not sure the Sochi Olympics was a contribution to anything but the building contractors’ secret bank accounts. But what about Turgenev’s character, Mr. Potugin? What was his view on Russia’s “contribution”?

This last spring, I visited the Crystal Palace near London. As is known to you, that palace houses, as it were, an exhibition of every fruit of human inventiveness — we should call it an encyclopedia of humanity. Well, I kept walking past all those machines and tools and statues of great people, and it occurred to me: if it were ordered that, together with a nation’s disappearance from the face of the earth, everything invented by that nation would also disappear from the Crystal Palace, – our dear mother, Russia the Orthodox, might crash down into Tartarus, and not a single nail, not the tiniest pin would be disturbed: everything would safely stay in its own place, for even the samovar, the bast shoes, the shaft bow, and the knout [he had the good taste to leave out vodka and the balalaika] – these famous products of ours – were not invented by us.

I doubt that gentleman expected to be taken seriously with this line of argument. Curiously, Turgenev’s The Smoke appeared months after Crime and Punishment, less than a year before The Idiot, two years before War and Peace and six years before the first installments of Anna Karenina.


  1. not the tiniest pin would be disturbed [in the whole world]

    Did I misread this? I thought this was an extension of если бы такой вышел приказ, что вместе с исчезновением какого-либо народа с лица земли немедленно должно было бы исчезнуть из Хрустального дворца все то, что тот народ выдумал: if Russia crashed down into Tartarus, all the exhibits in the Crystal Palace would remain intact.

    Have you seen Leskov’s defense of Russia as the inventor of not only the samovar, but also the rukomoinik? Victoria Thorstensson showed that to me, I forget in what connection, but something other than Turgenev and Smoke.

    • Thanks for pointing it out – it was I who had misread the extract. I also hacked off the start of Potugin’s speech and started in mid-sentence, a bad idea. I’ve fixed it now. I should read the whole of Smoke – Potugin is a much more interesting character than one would think from this Crystal Palace monologue.

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