A House of Gentlefolk, by Ivan Turgenev

Chapter X

Ivan Petrovitch returned to Russia an Anglomaniac. His short-cropped hair, his starched shirt-front, his long-skirted pea-green overcoat with its multitude of capes, the sour expression of his face, something abrupt and at the same time indifferent in his behaviour, his way of speaking through his teeth, his sudden wooden laugh, the absence of smiles, his exclusively political or politic-economical conversation, his passion for roast beef and port wine — everything about him breathed, so to speak, of Great Britain. But, marvelous to relate, while he had been transformed into an Anglomaniac, Ivan Petrovitch had at the same time become a patriot, at least he called himself a patriot, though he knew Russia little, had not retained a single Russian habit, and expressed himself in Russian rather queerly; in ordinary conversation, his language was spiritless and inanimate and constantly interspersed with Gallicisms.

Ivan Petrovitch brought with him a few schemes in manuscript, relating to the administration and reform of the government; he was much displeased with everything he saw; the lack of system especially aroused his spleen. On his meeting with his sister, at the first word he announced to her that he was determined to introduce radical reforms, that henceforth everything to do with him would be on a different system. Glafira Petrovna made no reply to Ivan Petrovitch; she only ground her teeth and thought: “Where am I to take refuge?” After she was back in the country, however, with her brother and nephew, her fears were soon set at rest. In the house, certainly, some changes were made; idlers and dependants met with summary dismissal; among them two old women were made to suffer, one blind, another broken down by paralysis; and also a decrepit major of the days of Catherine, who, on account of his really abnormal appetite, was fed on nothing but black bread and lentils. The order went forth not to admit the guests of former days; they were replaced by a distant neighbour, a certain fair-haired, scrofulous baron, a very well educated and very stupid man. New furniture was brought from Moscow; spittoons were introduced, and bells and washing-stands; and breakfast began to be served in a different way; foreign wines replaced vodka and syrups; the servants were put into new livery; a motto was added to the family arms: in recto virtus . . . In reality, Glafira’s power suffered no diminution; the giving out and buying of stores still depended on her. The Alsatian steward, brought from abroad, tried to fight it out with her and lost his place, in spite of the master’s protection. As for the management of the house, and the administration of the estate, Glafira Petrovna had undertaken these duties also; in spite of Ivan Petrovitch’s intention — more than once expressed — to breathe new life into this chaos, everything remained as before; only the rent was in some places raised, the mistress was more strict, and the peasants were forbidden to apply direct to Ivan Petrovitch. The patriot had already a great contempt for his fellow-countrymen. Ivan Petrovitch’s system was applied in its full force only to Fedya; his education really underwent a “radical reformation;” his father devoted himself exclusively to it.

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Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 20:05