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  Philologica 7 (2001/2002)  


(At the Crossroads of One Anthroponym)




Aleksandr Grin’s characters are exactly, sometimes even minutely described in terms of their financial position. Thomas Harvey, a protagonist of Riding on the Waves (1928), finds himself in Lisse because of sudden illness. He posts a letter to “his agent Lerch” asking for money; Lerch sends him one hundred pounds, and, later, one thousand pounds, giving Harvey an opportunity to mention the total amount of his capital: “about four thousand”.

The question is: what has Pushkin got to do with it? But let us wait for a moment and have a look at the characters’ proper names. In Grin, most toponyms and anthroponyms are fictitious, while those which sound more real (Harvey, Soult or Cook) remind us of adventure stories: Harvey was a pirate in Jules Verne and a skipper in Grin’s Windstorm Strait (1909); Soult was one of Napoleon’s generals; James Cook was a great sea captain. The name of Lerch fits perfectly in this onomastic panopticon.

This very name and the same amount of money are found in Pushkin’s letters to Mixail Iosifovich Sudienko. In one of these letters (dated 22 January 1830) Pushkin apologizes for an unsettled debt and accounts for this delay by his agent’s sluggishness and the fact that he could not remember the name of Sudienko’s agent. By 12 February 1830 Pushkin’s debt had been paid, and the agent’s name had been revealed: “Les 4000 r. en question vous attendaient tout cachetés depuis le mois de juillet <...> Il y a un mois que Mr Lerch est venu revendiquer la somme et qu’il l’a touchée tout de suite” (“The 4000 r<oubles> in question had been waiting for you in an envelope since the month of July <...> It was a month ago when Mr Lerch came to recall this sum and got it immediately”).

One should not be surprised that Grin knew about these letters (they were published several times between 1898 and 1925); neither is it surprising that he liked the name of Lerch and organized a secret game in his novel around an unremarkable episode from Pushkin’s life. What is more surprising is the fate of Pushkin: even the most insignificant line of his, including the sum of his debt in business correspondence, sooner or later turns into another vivid touch in Russian literature.



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