“Dethroned” by I.N. Potapenko – selection 38 of #DealMeIn2018

Yes, I’m actually posting about a short story from Deal Me In 2018!  Can you believe it? 🙂

The Card: ♣2♣ Two of Clubs – a wild card.  I stayed with the Russian theme, but looked to another volume for my wild card selection, finding one in Best Russian Short Stories that I hadn’t read before.

The Suit: For #DealMeIn2018, ♣♣♣Clubs♣♣♣ is my Suit for (mostly) stories from the anthology Russian Emigre Short Stories from Bunin to Yanovsky, BUT deuces are WILD in #DealMeIn2018, and I strayed from this volume (see above)

The Author: I.N. Potapenko, who I’ve never read – nor even heard of – before. He wrote in what is now Ukraine. I don’t know if he’s related to the former NBA Player, Vitaly Potapenko. 🙂

The Selection: “Dethroned” published in 1917.

What is Deal Me In? I’m glad you asked!  Full details may be found here  but generally speaking it’s a reading challenge where participants try to read one short story a week for the year, the reading order being determined by the luck of the draw. See here for the list of stories I’ll be reading in 2018. Check the sidebar for links to other book bloggers who are participating in this year’s challenge.


“They were two types of beauty very likely to divide the gentlemen of the regiment into two camps of admirers. But women are never content with halves.”

I didn’t know anything about this story before selecting it so, as is often the case, I only had the title as a hint about its subject matter. Would it be about some great political coup? A Tsar who has met his hostile successor? No, thrones in the ordinary world were seemingly not of interest to Potapenko – this is the story of two women who are in competition to be the proverbial “belle of the ball.”

On the one hand, we have Mrs. Zarubkin, the Captain’s wife, a schemer and the “defending champion,” and on the other we have her main challenger, Mrs. Shaldin. The former was rather plump and with “rather light” hair, while the latter was “a brunette with a pale complexion and large dark eyes.”

We see most of the story’s action through Mrs. Zarubkin’s eyes, for Mrs. Shaldin is away on some kind of “rest cure”-like vacation. Mrs. Z fears that Mrs. S will return with the latest fashions from “abroad” and that, left with her own seasoned wardrobe, she won’t be able to retain her status. She engages many others on her errands to seek intelligence on what Mrs. S’s gown might look like, and makes the only dressmaker in town swear to give her preferred customer status and to spend the last few days before an upcoming “annual ball’ working only on her gown.  She also enlists one of her household servants to spy on the the Shaldin’s house to gain information regarding Mrs. S’s return.

“…the lady’s manner toward the servant was far friendlier than toward her husband. Semyonov had it in his power to perform important services for her, while the captain had not come up to her expectations.”

In the end, it is the pretender to the throne who emerges victorious, as she has returned to town with a new “Empire”-style gown, one that the town’s dressmaker cannot or will not duplicate.  At the ball, it soon becomes clear that Mrs. Z had been dethroned:

“For in comparison with the make and style of Mrs. Shaldin’s dress, which had been bought abroad, hers was liked the botched imitation of an amateur. That was evident to everybody, though the captain’s wife had her little group of partisans, who maintained with exaggerated eagerness that she looked extraordinarily fascinating in her dress and Mrs. Shaldin still could not rival her. But there was no mistaking it, there was little justice in the contention. Everybody knew better; what was worst of all, Mrs. Zarubkin herself knew better…

I enjoyed the story a lot and also reading of “the furious resentment of a dethroned goddess” that Mrs. Z displayed. Reading it was a pleasant return to and reminder of all the great Russian Short Stories I’ve read as part of Deal Me In over the years.

“One Autumn Night” by Maxim Gorky

This morning I completed my 2013 Short Story Reading Project, “Deal Me In.” I read one short story a week choosing the order at random from having assigned each of the stories to a playing card in a standard deck, then drawing one card per week (well, more or less; I’m not saying I never fell behind). I’ll be doing it again in 2014. Would you like to join me?

Anyway, the last story in my deck was Maxim Gorky’s “One Autumn Night,” which I own in a couple of places. It’s part of my “Great Short Stories of the World” anthology and also my “Best Russian Stories” anthology. I was also amused to discover that, when I made my list of stories of 2014, I included this Maxim Gorky story as well (it didn’t sound familiar because, after all, I hadn’t read it as of then!). So I had to maintain my 2014 list a bit, replacing it with another Russian story, Andreyev’s “Lazarus.”

(Below: Maxim Gorky – on the right – with titan, Leo Tolstoy)


Anyway, back to this week’s story. It’s a touching tale of a young man who finds himself without shelter or food on a cold “Autumn Night” in Moscow. The strong opening lines of the narrator set the stage nicely: “Once in the autumn I happened to be in a very unpleasant and inconvenient position. In the town where I had just arrived and where I knew not a soul, I found myself without a farthing in my pocket and without a night’s lodging.”

Scavenging for something to eat around the “steamship wharves,” he encounters another poor wretch, the young woman, Natasha, in similar circumstance if for different reasons. Together they scrounge a loaf of bread and take refuge from the elements (a bitterly cold, freezing rain) under an upside down skiff. Here he learns a little of her circumstances, including how her face came to be marked up, although he could probably already guess that. Her abusive husband has thrown her out, leaving her with a somewhat low opinion of the male of the species: “What wretches all you men are! I’d burn you all in an oven; I’d cut you in pieces. If any one of you was dying I’d spit in his mouth, and not pity him a bit. Mean skunks! You wheedle and wheedle, you wag your tails like cringing dogs, and we fools give ourselves up to you, and it’s all up with us! Immediately you trample us underfoot… Miserable loafers.”

In spite of this relentless invective, Natasha doesn’t seem to hold the narrator personally responsible, and indeed comforts him with tenderness when she realizes he is also miserable. They survive the night and venture out into the dawn of the following day, “taking friendly leave” of each other. They never meet again, though the narrator admits that “for half a year I searched in every hole and corner for that kind Natasha, with whom I spent that Autumn Night just described…”

Have you read any Gorky? He was a favorite of the Soviet State, which named a huge park in Moscow after him. You might be familiar with it from the Martin Cruz Smith novel, “Gorky Park.” You also may have heard of it in the Lyrics of the Scorpions song, “Wind of Change.”

You may read the story for free online at http://www.readbookonline.net/readOnLine/13203/

Prefer a audio recording? Try here: http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=A0cg8-_y_ug&desktop_uri=%2Fwatch%3Fv%3DA0cg8-_y_ug

(Below: Moscow’s Gorky Park in winter, or perhaps the morning after a late Autumn Night)