Cover image for The boarding-school girl
The boarding-school girl
Krestovskīĭ, V., 1824-1889.
Uniform Title:
Pansīonerka. English
Publication Information:
Evanston, Ill. : Northwestern University Press, 2000.
Physical Description:
xxx, 154 pages ; 20 cm
Added Author:
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X Adult Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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This tale of a young woman's not-so-sentimental education is the story of fifteen-year-old Lolenka, who encounters an exiled radical named Veretitsyn and begins to question her education and life. Under his influence, Lolenka breaks with tradition and embarks upon a new life as a translator and an artist, but a chance meeting with Veretitsyn years later leads to a sobering reappraisal of her mentor's convictions.

Author Notes

Nadezhda Khvoshchinskaya (1824-1889), who wrote under the pseudonym V. Krestovsky, was born in the Russian province of Ryazan. During the course of a career that spanned more than forty years, her wide-ranging literary work included poetry, prose, drama, children's literature, translations, and critical articles.

Karen Rosneck is an independent researcher who works in the Area Studies Department at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Memorial Library.

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

The first English translation of this little-known novella, originally published in 1861, tells the tale of Lolenka, a provincial schoolgirl, and her interactions with exiled poet Veretitsyn in the Russian countryside. Moreover, the story chronicles the education of young women in Russia during that period, and Khvoshchinskaya indicts those methods for being reactionary and insipid. The more that Lolenka is exposed to Veretitsyn, the more she begins to despise the petty bourgeois lifestyle she has known throughout her life. Veretitsyn offers reading suggestions, beginning with Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. Lolenka is moved, not with the love story, but with the freedom and willful abandon of the characters. Lolenka becomes engrossed in her extracurricular books and begins to fail at school, "forgetting all she has known." Her exasperated parents are concerned only with keeping up appearances and have her betrothed to a young man with a prosperous future. We meet both Veretitsyn and Lolenka for the last time eight years later; nothing has turned out as expected, but all has ended well. --Michael Spinella

Publisher's Weekly Review

This slender, realistic and powerfully dramatic tale was first published in Russia in 1861 by a writer well known in her day who has since fallen into obscurity. The title character is Lolenka, a dutiful 15-year-old schoolgirl living in the provincial city of N, who is dangerously swayed by the bitterly irreverent speeches of her neighbor, a handsome, exiled poet consigned to a numbing job as a copyist. Veretitsyn, who has been censored by the authorities as an example of a "harmful trend" in society, is throwing his life away in self-pity and derision. He is in love with a paragon of kindness and beauty, Sofya Khmelevskaya, but she won't have him. When he sees Lolenka across the fence, reciting her lessons, Veretitsyn decides to make her as miserable as he is. He cynically interrogates her about her schoolwork, pointing out how mechanically she is being taught. Susceptible Lolenka experiences doubt for the first time in her life, and, taken with Veretitsyn, she intentionally flunks her exams and refuses to marry the odious suitor chosen for her. A break in the narration brings the reader to St. Petersburg eight years later, where Lolenka, now a painter and feminist espousing the modern ways, reencounters her nemesis, whose unrequited love for Sofya has tempered his driving anger. Clearly grappling with social and cultural currents such as the supplanting of traditional values and the quality of education for women, Khvoshchinskaya (1824-1889), who published under the masculine pseudonym V. Kretovsky, fits squarely among her contemporaries Turgenev and Dostoyevski. Despite the sometimes stilted language, her characters are fallible and thus completely believable: Veretitsyn leaps off the page and his passion for Sofya is palpable. Khvoshchinskaya's brief and vivid story is like a sharply composed snapshot. Here is a writer to learn more about. (Jan.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved



Chapter One At about six o'clock in the evening, in the beginning of May, two young men were strolling through the garden surrounding one of the homes in the city of N. It was a very lovely evening. The garden, though not large, was overgrown. The friends followed a single path for a long time, often brushing their heads on the overhanging branches of a lilac bush. One of them was a guest; refined and elegant, his suit bore the stamp of Petersburg and seemed strange amid the unkempt wasteland, which might otherwise be called a provincial garden. The young man was not bad-looking, carried himself decorously upright; fine black sideburns gave him an even more earnest appearance. He wore a hat and did not remove his gloves. His host was shorter, blond; he wore an old gray coat without a cap. Although he was the younger of the two, he appeared to be the same age as his guest. His features were very handsome but seemed somehow crumpled; his complexion wasn't pale; but his sickly, imbalanced, impatient step completed the impression of dissimilarity to his guest. The guest's name was Ibrayev; he had just recently arrived in the city of N. to assume a very distinguished position. His host was named Veretitsyn; he had held a position in N. for more than a year, though a very undistinguished one. They both had been well educated, though not together, had met a long time ago, and this evening they were meeting each other for the first time in three years.     Ibrayev explained how he had obtained his position, recounted the details, and, it seemed, multiplied them to prolong a conversation that suggested no other topic for him besides this. Veretitsyn listened, attentively, it seemed, but without participating. Each fulfilled his responsibility scrupulously, celebrating their meeting after a long separation with questions and stories.     "Are you tired of walking?" asked Veretitsyn when the other had fallen silent.     Ibrayev had been tired for a long time but hadn't said so, either out of courtesy or because he had lost all hope of finding a place to sit down in this garden.     "No ... yes.... But then, it's hot in the house," he said, thinking about the cramped room in which, only half an hour ago, he had found his friend.     Veretitsyn guessed his thought.     "Sit down over here," he said, leading him out from under the lilacs into a small clearing where a simple wooden bench stood. Hops had been planted around it and rose high on poles; goosefoot and bindweed sprawled in profusion along the ground.     "Sit closer to the center," Veretitsyn added, "the legs bend outward."     "Would you like one?" asked Ibrayev, reaching for his cigars.     "I don't smoke."     "Since when? You used to like smoking."     "I gave it up."     Ibrayev lit a cigar; Veretitsyn whipped the grass with a thin branch broken off one of the lilac bushes; both were silent. This was one of those moments when everything just heard or seen is vividly remembered and contemplated. The distant past is recalled and compared with the present; the tension and coldness of the first meeting pass. It becomes possible to recognize the person from the past in the stranger with whom, it seemed, there was now nothing to discuss; asking questions seemed awkward.... Ibrayev looked at the bent head of his friend; he remembered the blue cap band over this hair; those last empty, brief words had stirred something distant in his soul. It seemed somehow shameful to be conducting a casual conversation....     "Well, what about you, Sasha?" asked Ibrayev, no longer in the soft, even voice with which he had recounted his successes in society and his career.     "What about me? Oh, nothing," answered Veretitsyn, looking around, under the influence of the same pensive mood. "I'll be living here another year. You were fortunate.... Well, at first it wasn't bad even for me. Of course, it hasn't been the same for you, the fortunate ones. As soon as you graduated, you were able to get established, something we, the ordinary people, never even dreamed about."     "What did you graduate with? A master's degree?"     "With honors, my friend. I was a teacher in Moscow for two years and then was sent here."     "Also as a teacher?"     "As a copyist for the provincial administration," Veretitsyn replied. "I'm under police surveillance," he added, noticing his friend's slight embarrassment and beginning to laugh.     "I didn't know," Ibrayev said.     "It's too bad that you didn't make inquiries. My friendship isn't very flattering, especially for an important person like yourself. Don't take offense. I know you're a nice fellow, but my reputation is ruined and there's nothing connecting you and me. You've already been here a whole month--I've known this and haven't visited you. If we hadn't met by accident, you hadn't come yourself ..."     "Aren't you ashamed?"     "There's nothing for me to be ashamed about," rejoined Veretitsyn seriously. "Why would you need me? You're a member of high society. By now mothers are trying to snare you for their daughters; girls are pining for you. You're a reputable man; our `authorities' treat you with respect. What do you have in common with an insignificant mite useful to the world merely for copying documents and nothing more? You write letters of protest, while I dare not strike out even a comma. You're the czar's all-seeing eye, but I'm a certified example of a `harmful trend!' Where would my conscience be if I began to impose myself on you? We've gone in such different directions, we'll never meet.... Well, then, good-bye!"     "You're bitter," said Ibrayev, and fell silent.     They were both silent for a few minutes. Veretitsyn began whipping the goosefoot again, smiling derisively and as though in anticipation.     "Why don't you ask how this happened to me?" he asked finally.     "Oh, yes! Really, how did it?" asked Ibrayev.     Veretitsyn burst out in loud laughter.     "Oh, I don't even know myself," he answered, throwing away the stick he had been playing with. "Have you rented the apartment for the year? ... It's too bad: that house is cold."     "Really? That's annoying.... And do you live with your sister?" asked Ibrayev.     "Yes, at my brother-in-law's."     "Are they good people?"     "Yes.... There are no bad people. Evil is only an abstract concept; it doesn't exist in reality. People only talk that way about it to have something to say. Everything in the world is fine; people are all good.... Sometimes they're naughty.... Well, there's the courts for them. Now, important gentlemen like you, for example--"     "Listen, Sasha," interrupted Ibrayev, who had begun to feel a little ashamed, "I'm still not such an important man that you can't talk to me. Do me a favor, be frank."     "Well then, I'll be frank.... I'm bored," Veretitsyn said suddenly, no longer restraining himself, perhaps because he was unable to do so or because his old friend's voice had moved him to speak his mind. "My brother-in-law's a clerk; he was poor, but he's got a fortune now. My sister was a poor girl; she never cooked a dinner only because she was considered a `lady,' now a great lady in velvet and feathers--with a horde of children. Look, they're flying a kite in the yard."     Ibrayev had heard the shouts and even a scuffle in the yard a long time ago; he grimaced.     "Of course, I could go over and intervene, quiet them down," continued Veretitsyn, "but I'm no authority. My brother-in-law, their father, practiced this skill up to his seventeenth year of life, and now he's a provincial treasurer; I passed the university entrance exams when I was seventeen, and what am I?"     "What exactly are you doing? Are you studying, reading?"     "There's never any time, nowhere to go, nothing to do. I'm obliged to be at my job every day; you've seen my home: I have no books."     "But, the day is long, what about after work?"     "I sleep. I loaf around here...."     "But, how can that be?"     "Oh, you public figures!" interrupted Veretitsyn. "Well, find me some pursuit, tell me what I could do. But then, isn't it reasonable to presume that such a thing doesn't exist; it's only what's called `spinning your wheels'? Write articles, you say, since I've taught history and statistics? You still need free time for that, and the means.... Well, all right, suppose I found those somehow, if you will. What's there to research? You won't find monuments, historical sites, or documents around here. Peresvet's walking stick was in one of the monasteries, a huge staff, two and a half yards long, and the monks whacked it in half with an ax: it didn't fit into the niche in the new church.... There you have it, and it's always the same. Statistics.... That subject's been officially treated tens of thousands of times, but try touching on something unofficial, some vital and afflicted aspect.... I humbly thank you? They'd send me farther away, but it's bad enough for me here!"     "These are all excuses. Listen, this is just a lack of willpower...."     "Say also a lack of selflessness! What else? Really, I like you, you fortunate ones! You have no concept of real work, although you command others to work. Don't worry, we'll work as long as our strength permits, without your command. We'll work more than you, although it looks like we're only sleeping and wandering among the brambles. We think, we preserve sorrow and the bitter taste of ideas--from which good comes--while for you it's only the job, whatever that job might be, without even giving it a thought, as long as it's a job? If something obstructs your path, if some little thing doesn't go your way, you start shouting about lofty aspirations and human injustice. You smash it, strike it down--and you're right. But if one of us, the little people, can't break down walls with his head, well then, in your opinion, he's an idler, lacking both willpower and selflessness.... Everything, you say, is possible. What exactly is possible? You won't find a job for me, and even if you did, I couldn't do whatever it was since no one here wants to help someone like me. You're used to judging difficulties from the height of your grandeur. Do me a favor, look a little lower! ... From your point of view, for example, there's society here. From my point of view, it doesn't exist. I don't visit my fellow copyists, and your circle won't accept me."     Ibrayev did not respond to this, but after a brief silence he suddenly asked: "But don't you at least have friends?"     "Yes, I meet people; we exchange greetings."     "Why don't you visit anyone? I've been here for a month and haven't met you anywhere."     "I don't visit the homes of those I can't receive in my own home," Veretitsyn rejoined. "However, I know everyone here, both old and young, even the ladies. Last fall and winter I was overcome by boredom. I joined the Nobles' Assembly, went there to read journals, sometimes even to look in on the dances."     "Did you dance?"     "With whom? I don't approach my sister's friends. I'm not introduced to others. Your czarina, Madame la Princesse, took an interest in me. You see, she's constantly thinking of all those formal social occasions with their changes of clothing and the charity performances. She saw me--a new face. She ordered my immediate supervisor to introduce me to her and enquired whether I had any talents--did I sing, did I at least play the gudok , did I have any recitation abilities? I had none of these, but even if I were illiterate, I would always be suitable in roles without speaking parts; fortunately, inviting me would be `embarrassing.' I limited the conversation to an exchange of greetings since, anyway, I'd been introduced to this lady. Then, I was told that she didn't have anything more to talk about; everything had been discussed. She delivers monologues about me to her little circle and has named me le, jeune malheureux . I became incensed. This was impossibly stupid. I stopped going to the dances. Besides, they were beyond my means: gloves are expensive."     "Listen," Ibrayev said hesitantly, "and your means, how are they?"     "I'm penniless, of course. What remained of the savings from a teacher's salary, and what my deceased uncle gave me when I graduated, I contributed to the `household' to avoid living on charity! Well, even here I get a salary--as much as six rubles a month. They say this is very good.... And what more do I need! I'd consider myself God knows what kind of fortunate fellow if I had the chance to rent some attic and live by myself. Apparently, I really don't need anything more. I've grown accustomed to limiting myself, never becoming used to anything, being unaccustomed to everything, putting up with anything.... You know, in order to join and frequent the Assembly last winter I gave lessons."     "Well now," said Ibrayev, "splendid! I would think that occupation must be profitable."     "Yes. I taught reading and writing French for ten kopecks an hour, ten hours a week. It was very interesting and very profitable. I would have continued, but I became ill early in the spring, was in bed for six weeks, and still haven't completely recovered.... In short, I'm really enjoying myself!" concluded Veretitsyn, hugging his knees and rocking back and forth without looking at his friend.     "But, is there really nothing, absolutely nothing gratifying in your life?" asked Ibrayev.     "So what exactly is gratifying? Falling in love? I have, my friend, lordly ways. If I love something, it's the best. The best is very rare, and even if it's encountered, it isn't meant for us. However, I don't deny myself the pleasure ... maybe, of playing the fool."     "Ah, Sasha, that's not good!" said Ibrayev, looking at him, and finding nothing more genuine to say.     "What is good?" rejoined Veretitsyn.     "There's a lot of good in the world, but either it's elusive, people don't see it, or they spoil it themselves...."     "In which category should I be included--the unfortunate, the fools, or the scoundrels?" Veretitsyn asked calmly after listening diligently.     "You're too harsh, you're bitter," continued Ibrayev without replying. "Your own failures prevent you from looking at things impartially. You must agree.... Don't take offense! You must agree that there's a lot of egotism in your feelings; and for people who don't know you well, this egotism might even seem like, well, simply ... small-minded envy...."     Ibrayev prudently stopped.     "Go on, go on!" Veretitsyn said calmly. "You see, I'm not offended."     "Not offended? Just this one response ..."     "All right. What should my response be? Are you really the first to preach this to me? You speak politely, others have spoken impolitely. You try to reason with me, others have simply driven me away. You offer condolences, others despise me. I'm accustomed to everything and can listen to anything without even being surprised. I know I'm ridiculous, a lost soul living off the bread of his dear brother-in-law, the provincial treasurer; but I see nowhere, in no one, in nothing, a well-being I would envy.... Unfortunately for me, I've apparently talked about it in too much detail, but then, I wouldn't want to lecture anyone like that for any kind of well-being, as if people are egotists when they're insulted, as if they're blind and don't see their own happiness when it's just that life has been too much for them.... If there's something I could never tolerate, it's the various sickly-sweet or wise and ready maxims that people so easily build their lives upon...."     "But easily, and they build--" rejoined Ibrayev.     "You're certainly not an egotist in the slightest!" interrupted Veretitsyn, starting to laugh. "Yes, it's easy, yes, they build; but the sickly-sweet or wise maxim which one person uses to build, always crushes or injures another person somewhere else.... But do you know, if you start thinking about this, you won't sleep very well?" Of course peace is a prime blessing ... well, to hell with it!"     Ibrayev finished smoking, threw away his cigar, and, taking advantage of the fact that his friend had turned away, glanced at his watch. Veretitsyn noticed this.     "What time is it?" he asked indifferently.     "Seven."     "Do you have to hurry off somewhere?"     "No, it's still early," answered Ibrayev, embarrassed. "A glorious evening!" he added, looking around.     Veretitsyn looked also, but higher, into a gap where a young maple stood, concealing the sun. Its broad leaves fell heavily and turned dark, while clusters of yellow green blossoms shone as though lacquered. Veretitsyn nodded his head and softly tapped the fingers of one hand with the other, as though in time to a song running through his mind. Suddenly he clapped his hands loudly and, with this sudden unexpected sound, raised a cloud of sparrows that were about to perch in the maple tree and hops, and they now circled about the garden, not finding a place to settle down.     "What did you do that for?" asked Ibrayev, laughing.     "No reason! What's wrong with them! It's too early to be sleeping."     "Who are your neighbors?" continued Ibrayev, his eyes following the sparrows as they flew across the wattled fence into the neighboring garden.     "I don't know. There's a lot of children there. I often hear a buzzing sound when they're studying their lessons."     "Somebody is studying over there right now; do you hear? Buzzing."     Veretitsyn looked around. The hops concealed him, and over the fence he could see the entire path in the neighboring garden, which was equally overgrown. A young girl with a book in her hands was strolling there; after looking into the book, she would close it and in a low voice recite by heart what she had read. The names of historical figures and dates, which the girl constantly confused, and passages about valor, victories, and virtues, which she recited briskly, drifted toward the listeners. She had a good memory. She wore a dark woolen dress, evidently a school uniform; but instead of the uniform's white pelerine, she had thrown something dark and sheer around her throat; from underneath the tulle her slender shoulders shone white. She seemed to be about fifteen. She was somewhat short, not very shapely, just a little plump. As she returned along the path, her face was turned toward the young men observing her. Her complexion was fresh and somewhat pale, but a lovely mother-of-pearl pale. The color of her eyes, which she raised as she whispered her lesson, was exquisite: dark brown with bluish whites, nicely shaped. Her gaze was unusually clear and direct.     "Pretty," said Ibrayev.     "And so happy!" added Veretitsyn, looking at her. "She's reciting nonsense--`Louis the Great,' `All-benevolent Louis'--and thinks she's accomplishing something!"     "What's it to you?" asked Ibrayev, laughing.     "It's annoying, stupid! She's satisfied with herself, satisfied with everyone; she believes that nonsense...."     "Pedant! What's she supposed to do when they still teach from the old textbooks? Perhaps there's no one to explain it to her...."     "What do I care if she knows nothing? It might even be better that way! But this satisfaction; look, it's written all over her face. She struggles, toils; it's unnatural. On an evening like this--she should just breathe, run, play with dolls; but she's got her nose in a book and she's happy!"     "How do you know? Perhaps she's not happy at all."     "But if she's not happy, she's been forced, so how's that for stupid obedience? Where's the life in her?"     "Perhaps she has no idea what life is."     "Then I'll explain it to her right now," said Veretitsyn, standing up, "so she won't think that reciting `All-benevolent Louis' is an exalted, useful thing. She enjoys his company; well, let her get bored."     "Enough! What kind of prank is this?" asked Ibrayev, restraining him.     "Find me, please, something besides this prank," rejoined Veretitsyn. "There's absolutely nothing for me to do. However, calm down, ethical man: I won't trouble her imagination, `improve' her.... That's as old as her `Louises.'"     "But what exactly do you want?" asked Ibrayev, following him.     "I don't want her to be happy!" Veretitsyn said sharply. "Here you are sitting beside me; you're utterly miserable, while this little chit ..."     They were already at the fence. Ibrayev moved off a bit to the side, like an earnest man, objecting but curious. Veretitsyn rested his elbows on the fence, placed his chin on his hands, and waited. The girl approached, reading, without seeing him.     "Well, is it boring to study?" he asked when she was near him.     The girl raised her eyes, started, and blushed slightly. However, she didn't run away; on the contrary, she stopped, clutched the open book tightly, and looked directly at Veretitsyn.     "On the contrary, it's fun," she answered.     Her voice was as self-assured as her gaze, her movements. Not only wasn't she flustered or embarrassed, she wasn't even surprised. After coloring lightly from the unexpected event of a strange voice suddenly sounding nearby, the girl didn't blush again but stood and waited to see what else he would say to her. This wasn't flirtatiousness. Her calm gaze didn't challenge or invite conversation; she didn't close her book.     "You're very diligent; you enjoy your studies," continued Veretitsyn, forgetting the goal of his conversation as he observed her.     "Very much."     "That's highly commendable. Even on a Sunday, on such a nice evening, you've got your nose in a book."     "I have to review my lessons."     "Are you studying at a private boarding school?"     "Yes, at Shabicheva's."     "Are they strict there?"     "No," she answered, again glancing at him calmly, "but exams are coming up."     "Do you want to distinguish yourself?."     "Certainly."     "And do you hope to succeed?"     "Of course, I will succeed."     This game of question and answer and his own role seemed foolish to Veretitsyn. He bowed and, uttering the words "Excuse me," moved away from the fence. The girl glanced after him and started off along the path, returning again to her book. Ibrayev was laughing.     "So?" he said. "You were ready to introduce a young soul to misery and you didn't succeed? `Away the enemies flee without having finished their pillaging....' A schoolgirl is like every other schoolgirl--it's `yes, no' ... she doesn't know how to be miserable!"     "She'll learn," answered Veretitsyn, who had become annoyed ... at what, he didn't know.     One of his nieces, a girl of ten, who had evidently just been bathed and dressed in a very well-starched and very short little dress, appeared on behalf of her mother to invite the guest to tea. Ibrayev took fright. Calling on his old friend, he'd quite unexpectedly found him in trouble and intended even less, as a consequence of such a compromising friendship, to enter into intimacy with the family of the honorable treasurer. He searched for a pretext to refuse. Veretitsyn saw this and helped him.     "It's already eight o'clock," he said. "You'd intended to go somewhere. Don't be late. My rule is: Don't detain anyone."     "Oh, really, it's eight! Thanks for reminding me," Ibrayev said.     "Thank your mother, dear child.... When will we see each other again, Sasha?"     "When it occurs to you to visit. I won't come to see you."     "You're incorrigible!" said Ibrayev, shaking his hand with feeling, because they were parting.     Veretitsyn, laughing, opened the gate for him, gave him a nod, and returned to the garden. Copyright © 1984 Moskovskii rabochii.