“One Evening in 2217” (novelette) by Nikolai Fyodorov
English Publication History: Red Star Tales (Russian Life Books, 2015)
Original: Russian (Вечер в 2217 году), 1906
Translated by Anindita Bannerjee, 2015
Synopsis: Aglaya isn’t a young girl with her mind set on beginning a family. This has never been her prerogative until repeated remarks urge her to seek a path toward marriage and reproduction. Inexperienced in these matters, she registers to “visit” the famous Karpov for one evening. Immediately struck with shame, the memories haunt her and compels her to visit a friend. There, the two are interrupted by Pavel Vitinsky, who, it turns out, holds many of the same ideas as Aglaya—they see eye to eye in both figurative and literal senses.
Pre-analysis: Initial love, like dawn at the first light, is superficial when the participants are at their dimmest: the spectator sluggish in the morning, the spectacle only breaching the horizon. At first sight, touch, and conversation, the mind and body are saturated with hormones that encourage courtship, much like the dusty heavens spellbind the eye toward its painted skies. Linger the eye upon that same spectacle for a while longer and that same eye will be blinded—set the heart’s expectations upon the same target for ever after that love-at-first-sight and that same heart will be blinded; therein, the sun has no care for the spectator, only the latter is hurt.
Analysis: Aglaya is a loner. She shares her emotions with no one and no one shares her ideas; thus, she is left as an island amongst humanity. Just as the continents drift, so too does Aglaya as she realizes that, as an island, she cannot thrive and develop alone. She bows down to the lowest common denominator, thus lowering herself and her standards, before reaching heights she never before knew possible—those same heights are propelled by the shared ideological interests of a mere boy. From this spring of ideology, Aglaya finally feels a sense of bonding that she had never known. As the trio of conversation becomes a duo of dialogue, she firstly quietly reflects on her choices in life before openly confiding in her escort, from which a Shakespearian comedy ensues.
Review: I prefer not to read any introduction to a story prior to reading the story itself so that it doesn’t contaminate my opinion or perspective of the same story. After reading “One Evening in 2217” and forming a palpable view of it, I finally read the introduction and was pleasantly surprised to see my opinion confirmed: “It is remarkable to find most of the essential themes of Evgeny Zamyatin’s brilliant dystopian novel WE (1924) already present in this under-acknowledged harbinger” (11). Perhaps it’s a tad too keen on highlighting the emotional proneness of proud individuals, but it does foreshadow the coming ideological intolerance of the Stalin years. Not only this, but it also plays on the role of females in early twentieth-century Russian society with a surprising take on sexuality, reproductive rights, and purity (be it body or mind, which is where the twist is turned in this story).