Yu. K. Olesha
“He sings in the morning in a closet.” You can imagine what a cheerful, healthy person he is. ” Without this textbook, which has become a volatile phrase, with which Olesha’s novel begins, it is indispensable. And it is about a former revolutionary, a member of the Politkotorzhan Society, now a large Soviet economic executive, director of the food industry trust, Andrei Babichev. He sees him as such – a mighty giant, master of life – the main character, a man lost in life, Nikolai Kavalerov.
Andrei Babichev picked up a drunk Kavalerov, who was lying around the pub, from which he was kicked out after a quarrel. He pitied him and gave shelter in his apartment for a while, while his pupil and friend, a representative of the “new generation”, an eight-year-old student and football player Volodya Makarov, are absent. Two weeks he lives with Babichev Kavalerov, but instead of gratitude he feels envious envy to his benefactor. He despises him, thinks below himself and calls him a sausage maker. After all, he, Kavalerov, has a figurative vision, almost a poetic gift, which uses for composing variety monologues and verses about the financial inspector, sovbaryshnyah, Nepman and alimony. He envies the success of Babichev, his health and energy, celebrity and scope. Kavalerov wants to catch him on something, to find the weak side, to find a gap in this monolith. He is painfully self-centered, he feels
Kavalerov is twenty-seven years old. He dreams of his own glory. He wants more attention, whereas, in his words, “in our country the roads of glory are blocked by barriers”. He would like to be born in a small French town, put before himself some high goal, one day leave the town and in the capital, fanatically working to achieve it. In a country where a sober realistic approach is required, he is tempted to suddenly take and create something ridiculous, commit some ingenious mischief, and then say: “Yes, there you are, and I’m like that.” Kavalerov feels that his life has broken, that he will no longer be either beautiful or famous. Even the extraordinary love, about which he dreamed all his life, will not be either. With longing and horror he remembers about the room of the forty-five-year-old widow Anechka Prokopovich, oily and loose. He sees the widow as a symbol of his male humiliation. He hears her female call, but it only wakes him up in anger (“I’m not a couple to you, snake!”).
Kavalerov, so delicate and gentle, is forced to be a “buffoon” under Babichev. He wears at these addresses the sausage made according to Babichev’s technology, “which does not fail in one day,” and everyone congratulates its creator. Cavaliers proudly refuses from her solemn eating. He is treated with anger, because in that new world that the communist Babichev is building, the glory “flashes up because a sausage of a new sort has come out of the hands of a sausage-maker.” He feels that this new, under construction world is the main, triumphant. And he, Kavalerov, unlike Babichev, a stranger in this celebration of life. He is constantly reminded of this, then not letting the airfield on the airfield, where the Soviet airplane of a new design should fly off, then another Babichev’s brainchild – Chetvertak, the giant house,
Exhausted by envy, Kavalerov wrote a letter to Babichev, where he confesses his hatred of him and calls him a dumb dignitary with boorish inclinations. He claims that he is on the side of Babichev’s brother Ivan, whom he once saw in the yard of the house, when he threatened Andrei with the help of his car “Ophelia”. Andrei Babichev then said that his brother Ivan – “lazy, harmful, contagious person”, which “must be shot.” A little later Kavalerov accidentally turns out to be a witness of how this fat man in a kettle and with a pillow in his hands asks a girl named Valya to return to him. Valya, the daughter of Ivan Babichev, becomes the object of his romantic aspirations. Kavalerov announces to Babichev a war – “… for tenderness, for pathos, for personality, for names that excite, like the name of” Ophelia, “for everything,
Just at the moment when Kavalerov, intent on finally leaving the house of Babichev, gathers his belongings, the student and football player Volodya Makarov returns. Confused and jealous Kavalerov tries to slander Babichev before him, but Makarov does not react, but quietly takes his place on the so-loved Kavalerov sofa. The Cavaliers do not dare to leave the letter, but then suddenly discovers that they mistakenly seized someone else’s, but it still remained on the table. He is desperate. Again he returns to Babichev, he wants to fall at the feet of the benefactor and, repenting, pleading for forgiveness. But instead he just sarcasts, and when he sees Valya appearing from the bedroom, and at all falls into a trance – again begins to slander and eventually turns out to be thrown out the door. “It’s over,” he says, “now I’ll kill you, Comrade Babichev.”
From this moment the Knights in alliance with the “modern wizard” Ivan Babichev, a teacher and a comforter. He listens to his confession, from which he learns about Ivan’s extraordinary inventive abilities, who, from childhood, surprised the surrounding people and got the nickname of the Mechanic. After the Polytechnic Institute, he worked as an engineer for some time, but this stage in the past, now he is staggering over beer, for a fee he paints portraits of those who wish, composes impromptu, etc. But the main thing is he preaches. He proposes to organize a “conspiracy of feelings” in opposition to the soulless era of socialism, which denies the values of the past century: pity, tenderness, pride, jealousy, honor, duty, love… He calls those who have not yet freed themselves from human feelings, even if not the most exalted, who did not become a machine. He wants to arrange the “last parade of these feelings.” He burns with hatred for Volodya Makarov and brother Andrei, who took his daughter Valya from him. Ivan tells his brother that he loves Volodya not because Volodya is a new person, but because Andrei himself, as a simple philistine, needs a family and a son, in the fatherly feelings. In the person of Kavalerov Ivan finds his follower.
“Wizard” intends to show Kavalerov his pride – a machine called “Ophelia”, a universal apparatus in which hundreds of different functions are concentrated. According to him, she can blast mountains, fly, lift weights, replace a wheelchair, serve as a long-range gun. She knows how to do everything, but Ivan forbade her. Deciding to avenge his era, he corrupted the car. He, he said, endowed her with vulgar human feelings and thereby disgraced her. Therefore, he gave her the name of Ophelia, a girl who had gone mad with love and despair. His car, which could make a happy new century, – “a dazzling cuckoose, which the dying century will show to the one who is born.” Kavalerov fancies Ivan really talking to someone through a crack in the fence, and then hears with horror a piercing whistle. With a gasping whisper: “I’m afraid of her!” – Ivan rushes away from the fence, and together they flee.
Kavalerov is ashamed of his cowardice, he saw only a boy who whistled in two fingers. He doubts the existence of the machine and reproaches Ivan. Between them there is a quarrel, but then the Knights give in. Ivan tells him a fairy tale about the meeting of the two brothers: he, Ivan, sends his menacing machine to the “Quarterback” under construction, and she destroys it, and the defeated brother creeps up to him. Soon Kavalerov is present at the football match, in which Volodya takes part. He jealously watches Volodya, for Valya, for Andrei Babichev, surrounded, as it seems to him, by universal attention. He is hurt that they do not notice him, they do not recognize him, and the charm of Vali torments him with his inaccessibility.
At night Kavalerov returns home drunk and finds himself in the bed of his mistress Anechka Prokopovich. Happy Anechka compares him with her late husband, which leads Kavalerov into a rage. He beats Anechka, but this only admires her. He gets sick, the widow looks after him. Kavalerov dreamed of a dream in which he sees “Chetvertak”, the happy Valya with Volodya and immediately with horror sees Ophelia, who overtakes Ivan Babichev and pins a wall with a needle, and then pursues Kavalerov himself.
After recovering, Kavalerov runs away from the widow. A lovely morning fills him with hope that now he will be able to break with his former ugly life. He understands that he lived too easily and presumptuously, his opinions were too high. He sleeps on the boulevard, but then returns again, determined to put the widow “in place.” At home, he finds Anechka sitting on the bed and Ivan’s wine in a masterly way. In response to Kavalerov’s astonished question: “What does this mean?” – he offers him a drink for indifference as “the best of the states of the human mind” and says “pleasant”: “… today, Kavalerov, it’s your turn to sleep with Anechka.” Hurray! “