The Grace of Teffi

Robert Chandler at The Paris Review:

Born in 1872, Teffi was a contemporary of Alexander Blok and other leading Russian Symbolists. Her own poetry is derivative, but in her prose she shows a remarkable gift for grounding Symbolist themes and imagery in the everyday world. “The Heart” is entirely realistic and at times even gossipy—yet the story is permeated throughout with Christian symbolism relating to fish. In “A Quiet Backwater,” she achieves a still more successful synthesis of the heavenly and the earthly. Toward the end of this seven-page story a laundress gives a long disquisition on the name days of various birds, insects, and animals. The mare, the bee, the glowworm—she tells a young visitor—all have their name days. And so does the earth herself: “And the Feast of the Holy Ghost is the name day of the earth herself. On this day, no one dairnst disturb the earth. No diggin, or sowin—not even flower pickin, or owt. No buryin t’ dead. Great sin it is, to upset the earth on ’er name day. Aye, even beasts understand. On that day, they dairnst lay a claw, nor a hoof, nor a paw on the earth. Great sin, yer see.” In a key poem—almost a manifesto—of French Symbolism, Charles Baudelaire interprets the whole world as a web of mystical “correspondences.” In a less grandiose way, Teffi conveys a similar vision. She was, I imagine, delighted by the paradox of the earth’s name day being the Feast of the Holy Spirit—not, as one might expect, the feast of a saint associated with some activity like plowing.

more here.