B. Sh. Okudzhava
Travel of amateurs
The novel, which takes place in 1845-1855, begins with the return of Prince Sergei Myatlev and narrator Amiran Amilahvari after a duel (which ended in nothing) in the spacious St. Petersburg house of the prince, filled with copies of antique masterpieces. The living room was turned into a fencing room, card tables were demolished in one room, and the living quarters were boarded, except for the third floor, where the prince was located. The son of the adjutant general, he belongs to the elite of his time, but, in spite of this, he is disliked by the tsar. Entering the cavalry regiment after the guard corps, he was sent soon for an innocent prank in the Life Guards Grodno Hussar Regiment, and then, after distinction in the Caucasus and the death of the old prince, returned to St. Petersburg, where, after retiring, he keeps a portrait of a state criminal Muravyova, leads an idle life, in conversations with Amilahvari and “lame” – a descriptor of genealogical trees by Andrei Vladimirovich Priimkov, expelled from the capital for his antipatriotic work, exposing the immorality of Russian history. It seems to Meatlev that he is in love with the cold-blooded Aneta, the wife of Baron Fredericks, but their romance is not long: she leaves the prince for the sake of the emperor. But the baron will soon become a Muscovite commander. At the same time, Myatlev met in his park with an eight-year-old child, who called himself Mr. van Schoenhoven. He will always appear in the park in the meyatev, and then in the house, where he will drink tea and talk with his master. In reality, this is disguised Lavinia Tuchkova (Bravura – that’s the name of her father, but the girl who adopted the girl gave her his name), who falls in love with the prince for life. But their novel is destined to come true not soon. The prince is still young, and on Nevsky, during the rain, he meets twenty-two-year-old Alexandrina Zhiltsova, the daughter of the Decembrist (who became such “by imprudence”), who came to St. Petersburg to pray for her father’s languishing in the mines. Her petition is refused, and despite her free life in the house of Myatlev, the consumption finally undermines her strength, and Alexandrina rushes (seemingly) to the Neva. (Later, during her trip, Myatlev will stop at the garrison where she seems to have fled to the in fact Alexandrin, – but to understand it precisely to it and it will not be possible). Myatlev remains in the house with the faithful servant Afanasy. The prince, however, quite quickly gets an affair with the Countess Natalie Rumyantseva. She seduces the prince, becomes pregnant with him, and then raises across the whole of Petersburg a wave of rumors – the prince even calls himself the chief of the corps of the gendarmes, Count Orlov. Meanwhile, the mother gives Lavinia, who lives in Moscow (she is sixteen), for the landlord’s house, Mr. Ladimirovsky.
Myatlev rushes to the capital, but the meeting with Lavinia and the acquaintance with her mother end in nothing. But on his return to the northern capital, the prince is forced to appoint a wedding with a pregnant (like it from him) Natalie at the end of October. The bride is embarking on a decisive alteration of her beloved prince’s house. The prince is even forced to join the department of Count Nesselrode. Returning from the latter, Mjatlev goes into the shop of Mr. Sverbeev, where he meets a certain Mr. Kolesnikov, who preaches notoriously rather seditious ideas – a revolution in Europe, etc. After that his life acquires an almost mystical character: Mr. Timofei Katakazi, pulling out information about Messrs. Priimkov and Kolesnikov. The Emperor personally connects the hands of Natalie and the prince – there is nowhere to go, Myatlev marries, but the influenza takes the life of a young wife and baby. Recovering from the shock, Myatlev sits down for his memoirs about his lost companion-poet, Mr. Lermontov. “Rereading what he had written, he suddenly realized that he was writing not so much about the murdered comrade as he was taking personal scores with the tsar.”...
There is a decisive explanation, during which Lavinia asks the prince to just keep patience, and then happiness will overtake them on their own. Here, the former Mr. van Schoenhoven admits that two verse lines (long ago already become the leitmotif of the whole novel): “Do you remember the trumpet mournful sounds, Rain spray, half light, half darkness? ..” – taken from Nekrasov.
But the attempt of lovers to talk at the October ball in Anichkov Palace ends in failure: the husband does not lag behind Lavinia, the increased (but unsuccessful) interest in the young beauty is shown by the emperor himself, some horse-guard unflatteringly responds to her (here’s the reason for the duel with which the novel) … Only a meeting with Aneta brings joy: she undertakes to arrange their visits at home. But Lavinia admits for some reason in her connection to her husband, and he takes her to the village. Returning to St. Petersburg in the spring, Mr Ladimirovsky nevertheless loses his wife: on May 5 she escapes with the prince, after which the family house of Myatlev collapses by itself. Nicholas orders to grab the fugitives, for which they are equipped with a chase in all possible directions. The lovers fled to Moscow. On the way, they get acquainted with the lovely landowner Ivan Evdokimovich, who is delayed for a long time and who was also somehow connected with the events of December 14. Only on the day of departure it turns out that this is Avrosimov (see the novel “Poor Avrosimov”).
Through Moscow and Tula, the fugitives are sent to Pyatigorsk, but an unexpected meeting with the friendly Colonel von Mueffling (who is actually charged with detaining the lovers, but who the lovers sincerely like) forces them to turn to Tiflis, to Amiran’s relatives. Following, driven by intuition, the colonel is also traveling, but hospitable Georgians convince him not to do anything against the happy couple. Von Mufling makes a promise – but then, in trouble, appears Timothy Katakazi, who detains Lavinia and the prince. They are escorted to St. Petersburg: the prince to the fortress, Lavinia to the legal spouse. The latter hopes to restore family relations, but it is useless. Although the prince is deprived of the title, the fortunes are sent to the perpetual by the rank and file of the Caucasus, Lavinia still loves him. The torments of the soldier are amplified because, that they must be tolerated in the very garrison where the lovers recovered their strength during their journey and where, apparently, Alexandrin ended his days. After the wounding of the prince, Lavinia again throws her husband and, under a false name, goes to the nurses of mercy – to be near to her beloved, but she is returned to the capital under escort. After a while, Amiran (already married to Margot, Lavinia’s friend) receives a letter from her, where she reports her desire to reconcile with her husband and go with him to Italy. Soon Nikolai dies, and the despairing prince has already received a full pardon. He settles in his estate in the Kostroma province, where Lavinia, exhausted by this life, appears under the guise of the housekeeper. Their happiness is not long: trying to open a hospital for the peasants, and then school, the prince dies. Published in the epilogue letters shed light on some of the details of this story. So, Lavinia’s sudden departure to Italy was caused by a letter from Elizaveta, Myatlev’s sister, where she declared the unhappy cause of all the troubles of the prince.