It was the eight of clubs this week for story 22 of my fourth annual short story reading project. This year, my clubs are dedicated to Russian writers, and the story I had assigned to this particular card was Alexander Kuprin’s “The Outrage – A True Story.” This story was my first experience reading him.
So, is there truly “honor among thieves?” This story would seem to suggest that there is – at least among the more “artistic” ones. The setting is a committee meeting of local barristers – a meeting that is about to break up when they reluctantly agree to stay a little longer to hear from a small deputation which claims itself to be “from the United Rostov-Kharkov-and-Odessa-Nikolaev Association of Thieves.” It seems they are upset because newspaper reports of the recent pogroms (there’s your vocabulary word for the day! 🙂 ) indicated that “thieves” were among the instigators.
The leader of the deputation patiently and convincingly explains to the council members how unfair this categorization is. He says that their profession “very closely approaches the idea of that which is called art,” and further that thievery, skilled thievery, should be rightfully considered a vocation. This spokesman of theirs is quite eloquent and persuasive. One favorite passage of mine was this:
“You are armed with the protection of the law, by locks, revolvers, telephones, police, and soldiery; but we only by our dexterity, cunning and fearlessness. We are the foxes – and society is a chicken-run guarded by dogs. Are you aware that the most artistic and gifted natures in our villages become horse-thieves and poachers? What would you have? Life is so meager, so insipid, so intolerably dull to eager and high spirited souls!”
Will this “Association” be able to influence the council? Read the story for yourself and find out. It’s available for free online at http://www.online-literature.com/kuprin/1764/
Have you read anything by this author? I also got caught up this morning reading the fascinating biographical info on him at russiapedia: http://russiapedia.rt.com/prominent-russians/literature/aleksandr-kuprin/ I found it interesting – and topical – that Kuprin was once “head accountant” for the railroad works in the city of Donetsk, currently undergoing turmoil in the Russia/Ukraine unrest.
Kuprin (1870-1938) was referred to as “The Russian Kipling” by none other than Vladimir Nabokov. Why have I never read any of his work before? Below: Alexsander Kuprin in his military years.