The Twelve Chairs
Publication Year: 2011
Published by: Northwestern University Press
Series: Northwestern World Classics
Title Page, Copyright Page
In 1928, in Soviet Russia, a novel by Ilya Ilf and Evgeny Petrov came out under the none-too-appealing title The Twelve Chairs (Dvenadtsat’ stul’ev). This was way back when, more than eighty years ago. First the novel was serialized in seven issues of the Moscow monthly magazine 30 Days (30 dnei), then it came out in a book edition that same...
There are several reasons for a new translation of Ilf and Petrov’s 1928 novel The Twelve Chairs. First of all, neither of the two extant English translations (from 1930 and 1961) capture the humor of the original, nor are they true enough to the text. Second, there...
Part One: The Lion of Stargorod
1. Bezenchuk and the Nymphs
In the provincial town of N. there were so many barbershops and funeral parlors that it seemed as though the town’s inhabitants were born solely to get a shave and a haircut, freshen up with some Vegetal, and then promptly expire. But in actuality, people were born, shaved, and...
2. The Demise of Madame Petukhova
Claudia Ivanovna lay on her back with one arm tucked underneath her head. Her head was in a bonnet of an intense apricot color, the kind that was fashionable some year back when women wore Chanticler dresses and had only begun dancing an Argentinian...
3. The Sinner’s Mirror
After hearing the dying Claudia Ivanovna’s confession, Father Fyodor Vostrikov, priest of the Frol and Lavr Church, left Vorobyaninov’s home in a very excited state. The whole way back to his apartment he looked around absently, with a shy smile. By the end of his trip his...
4. The Muse of Distant Travel
An hour before the arrival of the evening mail train, Father Fyodor, holding a reed basket and wearing a short overcoat that barely covered his knees, stood in line at the ticket window looking timidly at the entrance doors. He was afraid that his dear little mother would...
5. The Registrar’s Past
During MASLENITSA of the year 1913, an event took place in Stargorod that outraged the community’s progressive circles. That Thursday evening, a grandiose program was in progress in the luxuriously fi nished halls of the café chantant Salve...
6. The Smooth Operator
At half past twelve, a young man of about twenty-eight walked into Stargorod from the direction of a village called Chma rovka to the northwest. A little homeless boy ran after him. “Uncle!” he shouted cheerfully. “Give me ten kopeks!” The young man pulled a warm apple out of his pocket and handed it to the homeless...
7. Diamond Smoke
Ippolit Matveevich took off his stained beaver hat, combed his mustache (which, at the comb’s touch, released a friendly little fl ock of electric sparks), cleared his throat decisively, and told Ostap Bender, the fi rst rascal he’d happened across, everything he’d learned from...
8. Traces of the Titanic
Ippolit Matveevich woke up from habit at seven thirty, murmured “Gut Morgen,” and went over to the washstand. He washed with great pleasure, spit, keened, and shook his head to get rid of the water that had run into his ears. It was pleasant to wipe the water off....
9. The Little Sky-Blue Thief
The manager of the Second Stargorod Social Security Home was a shy little thief. His entire being protested against theft, but he couldn’t not steal. He stole, and was ashamed. He stole continually, and was continually ashamed; therefore, his well-shaven little cheeks always...
10. Where Are Your Curls?
While Ostap was examining the Second Social Security Home, Ippolit Matveevich, who felt the cold on his shaved head as soon as he left the dvornik’s basement, was walking the streets of his hometown. Bright springtime water ran down the pavement. There was a continual crackling and pattering from the diamond-like drops falling from the roofs. The...
11. The Parakeet, the Repairman, and the Fortune-Teller
Building no. 7 on pereleshinsky lane was not among the best buildings in Stargorod. Its two fl oors, built in Second Empire style, were decorated with chipped lion’s heads bearing an unusual resemblance to the face of the once-famous writer Artsy bashev. There were exactly...
12. The Alphabet, the Mirror of Life
By the second day the companions had ascertained that living in the dvornik’s basement wasn’t really comfortable anymore. Tikhon kept mumbling, completely dumbfounded after seeing his master first with a black mustache, then with a green one, and finally without any mustache at all. There was nothing to sleep on. The smell of...
13. A Passionate Woman, a Poet’s Dream
That night, the cold was devoured without a trace. It got so warm that early pedestrians’ legs ached. Sparrows were carrying on about a lot of nonsense. Even a chicken that had come out of the kitchen into the hotel courtyard felt a surge of strength and tried to take flight. The sky was full of tiny cloud dumplings. Trash bins exuded...
14. Breathe Deeper, You’re Excited!
On may day morning Viktor Mikhailovich Polesov, consumed by his usual thirst for action, leaped out of the house and raced off downtown. At first his multifaceted talents couldn’t be put to the necessary use because there weren’t many people around yet and the festive stage, guarded by mounted police, was empty. But by nine, orchestras...
15. The Union of the Sword and the Plowshare
Many unpleasant things can happen to a woman when she gets older. Her teeth can fall out, or her hair go thin and gray, or she can develop shortness of breath; she can be struck with corpulence, or be overcome by extreme thinness. But her voice will not change. It will...
Part Two: In Moscow
16. Amid an Ocean of Chairs
Statistics knows everything. Exact stock has been taken of the amount of arable land in the USSR, divided by subcategories into black earth, loam, and forest. All citizens of both sexes have been written down in the neat, fat books, the Office of Vital Statistics books, so well known to Ippolit...
17. The Brother Berthold Schwartz Dormitory
The dim Moscow sky was stuccoed in clouds along the horizon. Streetcars turning corners squealed so naturally that it seemed as if it weren’t the streetcar squealing but the conductor himself, squashed up by crowds of government workers against the sign smoking...
18. Respect Your Mattresses, Citizens!
“Liza, let’s go eat!” “I don’t feel like it. I already ate yesterday.” “I don’t understand you.” “I’m not going to go eat fake hare.” “Well, that’s stupid!” “I can’t live on vegetarian sausages.” “Today you’ll have charlotte.” “Somehow I just don’t feel like it.” “Talk quieter. Everyone can hear.” So the young couple...
19. The Furniture Museum
Liza wiped her mouth with a hanky and brushed the crumbs off her blouse. She started to feel happier. She was standing in front of a sign reading: the museum of furniture craftsmanship. Going home would be too awkward. There were twenty kopeks in her pocket. So Liza decided to begin her independent life with a visit to the museum. Liza double-checked her money and went into the...
20. European-Style Voting
While the friends were leading a cultured, educated way of life visiting museums and making advances on young ladies, the twice-widowed Gritsatsueva, a fat, weak woman, was conferring and conspiring with the neighbor ladies on Plekhanov Street in Stargorod. The whole crowd of them was examining the note Bender had left,...
21. From Seville to Granada
But wait just a minute—where is Father Fyodor? Where is the trim-shaven priest of the Frol and Lavr Church? It seems he’d been about to go see citizen Bruns in building No. 34 on Vinogradnaya Street? Where is this treasure-seeker in an angel’s image, this sworn enemy of Ippolit Matveevich Vorobyaninov (who is currently keeping...
22. Corporal Punishment
The auction began at five o’clock. Citizens were allowed to view items starting at four. The friends showed up at three and spent a whole hour perusing the exhibition of the machinebuilding plant right next to the auction. Ostap said, “Looks like we’ll be able to buy that little steam engine tomorrow, if we should so desire. Too bad there’s no price on it. It’s always pleasant to...
23. Ellochka the Cannibal
According to researchers’ calculations, William Shakespeare’s lexicon comprises twelve thousand words. The lexicon of a Negro from the cannibalistic tribe Mumbo-Jumbo comprises three hundred words. Ellochka Shchukina got by easily and freely with thirty. Here are the words, phrases, and interjections she judiciously chose out of the...
24. Absalom Vladimirovich Iznurenkov
The busy season began for the concessionaires. Ostap insisted that they needed to strike while the chairs were hot. Ippolit Matveevich was amnestied, although Ostap still interrogated him from time to time: “Why the hell did I get involved with you? When you get down to it, what do I need you for? You should go back home to...
25. The Motorists’ Club
Asokin, the gracious sir, read Agafon Shakhov’s new book three nights in a row. The cashier’s heart fi lled with inspiration every time he turned a page. He, the cashier, was the novel’s protagonist. There was no doubt about it. Asokin recognized himself in everything. The protagonist of the novel had his habits, slavishly copied all...
26. Conversation with a Naked Engineer
Ostap’s appearance in the editorial offi ce was preceded by a series of events of no small importance. Since he hadn’t found Ernest Pavlovich at home during the day (the apartment was locked, and the inhabitant was probably at work), the smooth operator decided to stop by later. Meanwhile he walked up and down...
27. Two Visits
Like a bare-bottomed tot waiting for a new diaper who opens and closes his little waxy fi sts, waves his tiny legs, turns his frilly-capped head (the size of a large Antonov apple) in circles, and blows bubbles from his mouth, all without ceasing for a single second, Absalom Iznurenkov was in a state of eternal agitation. He waved his fat...
28. The Excellent Jailhouse Basket
The stargorod division of the ephemeral “Sword and Plowshare,” along with the fi ne young men from Quickpack, had formed quite a long line outside the Grainproduct flour and meal shop. Passersby stopped. “What’s the line for?” citizens asked. In a boring line...
29. The Little Hen and the Pacifi c Rooster
Persitsky, the reporter, was busily preparing for the bicentennial celebration of the great mathematician Isaac Newton. “I’ll take Newton myself. Just give me the space,” he announced. “Now you look here, Persitsky,” the editor in chief warned. “Do him up right, treat him like a human being.” “Don’t worry. Everything will be fi ne.” “Don’t let the same thing...
30. The Author of “The Gavriliad”
By the time madame gritsatsueva left the business offi ce’s inhospitable camp, the lowest level of offi ce workers was already trickling into the House of Nations: couriers, the young ladies from incoming and outgoing, the next shift of telephone operators, accountants’ young assistants, and quota teenagers. Among them circulated Nikifor Lapis, a young man with an immodest gaze whose fl eecy hair was cut like a sheep’s. The only people who went...
31. The Mighty Handful, or the Gold-Seekers
As one might have known, the story about Clotilde called forth not a single emotion in Lapis’s sheeplike soul. Styopa ran into the room shouting, “The victim speaks out,” “The robbers got away,” and “Secrets of the editor’s office.” He said, “Persitsky, run over to the scene of the crime and write something for ‘A Day in the City.’ It’s a sensation worth five lines of brevier!” It turned...
32. In the Columbus Theater
Ippolit Matveevich was gradually turning into a sycophant. Whenever he looked at Ostap, his eyes assumed a gendarmeblue tint. It was so hot in Ivanopulo’s room that Vorobyaninov’s driedout chairs popped like wood in a fi replace. The smooth operator was reclining, head pillowed on his sky-blue vest. Ippolit Matveevich was looking out the window. A carriage bearing a coat of arms on the side rushed...
Part Three: Madame Petukhova’s Treasure
33. A Magical Night on the Volga
The smooth operator and his friend and closest assistant, Kisa Vorobyaninov, stood to the left of the State Volga Riverboat Line’s landing stages, under a sign reading tie up to rings, watch out for fence, don’t touch walls. The suffering cries of steamships frightened the marshal. Lately he’d gotten as jumpy...
34. A Pair of Unclean Animals
The first person to appear on deck the next morning was Persitsky, the reporter. He’d already managed to take a shower and devote ten minutes to calisthenics. People were still asleep, but the river was as alive as during the day. Enormous rafts, like fi elds of boards with huts on top, fl oated by. An angry little tugboat with its name,...
35. Expulsion from the Garden of Eden
While some of our novel’s characters assumed they had plenty of time and others were convinced time was a-wastin’, time passed in its usual fashion. The dusty Moscow May was followed by dusty June. In the provincial town of N., the car Gov’t No. 1 had been damaged going over a pothole and had been sitting at the corner of Staropanskaya...
36. The Interplanetary Chess Congress
A tall, thin old man wearing a gold pince-nez and short, filthy, paint-spattered boots had been walking around Vasyuki all day. He was gluing handwritten handbills on walls. They...
37. And Others
Morning found the concessionaires in view of Cheboksary. Ostap dozed at the rudder. The sleepy Ippolit Matveevich skimmed the water with the oars. Both were worn out with shivering through the cold night. The east was putting out rosy buds. Ippolit Matveevich’s pince-nez grew brighter and brighter. Its oval lenses started refl ecting...
38. A View of a Malachite Puddle
It was a Sunday night. Everything was washed clean. Even the Mashuk, overgrown with bushes and copses, looked as though it had been carefully combed. The scent of mountain Vegetal streamed down from it. White pants of every conceivable type gleamed on the tiny platform, pants made of hopsack, moleskin, calamanco, sailcloth, and soft fl annel. People...
39. Cape Green
Engineer bruns was sitting on the stone veranda of his dacha on Cape Green under a large palm tree whose starched leaves threw sharp, narrow shadows on the shaved back of the engineer’s head, his white shirt, and the Gambs chair from General Popov’s widow’s set on which the engineer languished as he awaited dinner. Bruns pursed his thick, juicy lips...
40. Under the Clouds
Three days after the concessionaires’ deal with Mechnikov the fitter, the Columbus Theater left for Tbilisi by rail, via Makhachkala and Baku. The concessionaires, dissatisfied with the contents of the two chairs they’d opened up on Mount Mashuk, had waited all three days for Mechnikov to bring them the third and final Columbian...
“What do you think, marshal? How can we make some money in this puny locale two versts above sea level?” Ostap asked as the concessionaires approached the village of Sioni. Ippolit Matveevich was silent. The single activity by which he could win a means of living was begging, but there was no one to beg from here, among...
One rainy day at the end of October, Ippolit Matveevich, wearing his lunar vest sprinkled with little silver stars, was working busily in Ivanopulo’s room. Ippolit Matveevich worked at the windowsill, since there was still no table in the room. The smooth operator had received a large order for a handcrafted artisanal product: address plaques...