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Subtly Worded

3.88  ·  Rating details ·  245 ratings  ·  46 reviews
A selection of the finest stories by this female Chekhov

Teffi's genius with the short form made her a literary star in pre-revolutionary Russia, beloved by Tsar Nicholas II and Vladimir Lenin alike. These stories, taken from the whole of her career, show the full range of her gifts. Extremely funny-a wry, scathing observer of society-she is also capable, as capable even as
Paperback, 301 pages
Published December 2nd 2014 by Pushkin Collection (first published June 19th 2014)
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This was interesting for the contrasting accounts it provided of life among the privileged classes in Russia before the revolution and then the relative poverty of exile in Paris afterwards :

We - les russes - as they call us - live the strangest lives here, nothing like other people’s. We stick together, for example, not like planets, by mutual attraction, but by a force quite contrary to the laws of physics - mutual repulsion. Every lesrusse hates all the others - hates them just as fervently a
Aug 29, 2019 added it
Recommended to Jan-Maat by: Ilse
Looking at the other reviews, they frequently mention Teffi's non-fiction account of her encounters with Rasputin, which is a bit damming with regard to what we think of her as a writer of fictional short- stories.

Unfortunately the Rasputin piece is the strongest of this volume of work selected from her writings. The collection covers her whole writing life up to her death more or less, my fair warning to anyone reading this review is that she is no Female Chekhov, beyond in the most basic sense
Feb 19, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction
A collection of short stories by an author I have only recently stumbled across. Teffi was from the Russian middle/upper class and lived from 1872-1952. An émigré from 1919, the work in this collection comprises stories written before, during and after the Russian revolution.

These stories are from the gentle, whimsical end of humour - but often with a real sting in the tail. It took me a little time to get into the pace and style of the writing but once I did I found most of the stories entertai
Although, I shouldn't reproach the birds for this garrulousness. Nature gives each bird a single motif: "cock-a-doodle-doo" or "chink-chook" or just plain "cuckoo". Do you think you could get your message across with a sound as simple as that? How many times would you have to repeat yourself? Imagine that we human beings were given a single motif according to our breed. Some of us would say, "Isn't the Dnieper wonderful in the fine weather?" Others would ask, "What time is it? What time is it
Apr 11, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: BBC Radio Listeners
Recommended to Bettie by: Laura

Description: Teffi's genius with the short form made her a literary star in pre-revolutionary Russia, beloved by Tsar Nicholas II and Vladimir Lenin alike. These stories, taken from the whole of her career, show the full range of her gifts. Extremely funny-a wry, scathing observer of society-she is also capable, as capable even as Chekhov, of miraculous subtlety and depth of character.

There are stories here from her own life (as a child, going to meet Tols
From BBC Radio 4:
A series of tales by Teffi, a literary star in pre-revolutionary Russia who has been published again:

1. In Marquita, translated by Robert Chandler, the shy chanteuse and single mother puts more passion into her date with a wealthy Tartar. Does her new approach succeed?

2. The Hat and My First Tolstoy
Two tales, translated by Anne Marie Jackson, that deal crisply with the vanities of fashion and literary homage. Cautionary tales both !

3. In Heart of a Valkyrie, translated by Anne M
Dec 04, 2020 rated it really liked it
Like a Russian Saki, the often humorous stories of the upper classes belie a more savage vein running through them.
Highlights for me were ‘A Radiant Easter’, the tale of how disgruntlement and disappointment are assuaged by venting your frustrations on the person the next rung down all the way to the cat and ‘The Hat’ which deals with the perennial youthful preoccupation of insecurity regarding looking the part.
A rediscovered gem of a writer.
Some of these short stories were very short. Some were real stories from Teffi's life. Some were humorous and some were dark. The book traces life for Russians from pre-revolution days to the late 1940s. I thought the earlier stories were more uplifting while the later ones were more about reflections of lives lived. The autobiographic story of Teffi's meetings with Rasputin was fascinating, unique and insightful. ...more
Anna Baillie-Karas
Aug 25, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Short stories by a literary star of pre-revolutionary Russia.  I enjoyed these - deftly written, with more than meets the eye, and a sense of humour.  A window into St Petersburg and Paris literary circles of the time, which is fascinating in itself - not to mention Teffi's (true) stories of meeting Tolstoy and Rasputin ...more
Jul 25, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Last year I bought Subtly Worded, a collection of short stories by Teffi (a pen name for the Russian author, Nadezhda Alexandrovna Lokhvitskaya). I was planning to post this review in August to link up with Biblibio’s Women in Translation event, but I accidentally pressed ‘publish’ while drafting it yesterday! My #WITMonth has started a little early.

Teffi was born in 1872 into an esteemed and cultured St Petersburg family. During her literary career she wrote satirical articles and plays, but by
Jul 27, 2014 rated it really liked it
The Russian writer Teffi's satirical short stories, "funny on the outside but tragic" within, remind me of Saki's, but without his cruel streak. Her opening lines often contain an intriguing hook: "The Christmas party was fun.... There was even one boy who had been flogged that day-"

To some extent tracing her own life from inquisitive child, through vivacious girl to philosophical old woman, her themes are varied, but tales from before the Russian Revolution tend to focus on people's characters
Oct 16, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: short-stories
Never having heard of this author, I started reading this book with no real idea what to expect. But I'm so glad that I took the gamble and bought this book. Teffi is a very talented writer, and these short stories showcase her skills. Such a wide variety of stories - everyone would be able to find at least one that they like - and I enjoyed all of them. I think my favourite would have to be 'The Lifeless Beast', a poignant tale of a small girl neglected by her parents who finds comfort in her t ...more
Marc Gerstein
May 30, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: classics
I'd never heard of Teffi but it turns out that's my bad. Any Russian author whose fans included both Nicholas II and Lenin can't be ignored.

Theres a lot to admire in her work especally if like me, you are into satire. Her work is simple, straightforward and quite sharp; a combination, I'd say, of Juvenal (ancient Rman satirist), with occassional dashes of what Raymond Carver would later do (show-don't-tell minimalism) and O'Henry. For fans of Russian history, the story of Rasputin's aggressive e
May 18, 2017 rated it it was amazing
A brilliant collection. Teffi takes you to a different world - from a child's real-life nightmare, to a dinner party with Rasputin or a witty observation of émigré life in Paris, giving each story real feeling and a true sense of being in that moment/ place / time. An excellent translation, finding parallels in English for Russian wordplay and irony. Expert storytelling and very quotable...

"...Once you made out that there are five doors through which one can escape the terror that is life: reli
Steven Heywood
Apr 16, 2017 rated it really liked it
Mostly a collection of vignettes rather than short stories, with the emphasis on a finely-described examination of people's reactions to the world around them. This collection includes the best pen-portrait of Rasputin that I've ever read. ...more
Dec 04, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Jan 01, 2018 rated it really liked it
I skipped around a lot in this book, which I wanted to love more. What kept me coming back, other than my interest in Russian emigres fleeing the revolution, was the luscious detail. This was especially true of the last story, with prose so gorgeous I nearly copied out the whole thing.
Dec 15, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
4 stars, I really liked it

After reading this, I can understand why I couldn't quite get into Nabokov as many others.
Alice Sather
Jan 16, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Teffi is an incredible story teller. Some, written in the days before and after the Russian Revolution of 1917, strike a sad chord with me in the U.S. now. But my rating of the quality of her writing is not based upon this. She is just very much worth reading! What I wonder - why didn't we read her in college classes? ...more
I definitely would not have picked this up but for my 2015 reading challenge. It is a book of short stories by Teffi, a Russian writer and humorist who was extremely popular in her day. There were definitely some gems in the mix, particularly The Lifeless Beast. I am going to add that to my repertoire of good single short stories to recommend. I also enjoyed her account of meeting Rasputin, the titular story "Subtly Worded," and "My First Tolstoy." Unfortunately my interest flagged by the end of ...more
May 20, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2019
Any time I read things like this, the little things always stand out to me. For instance, her off-hand comment about how upper-class Russian women often had a lisp in Russian, because they so often were taught French or English first. That's a detail that would otherwise be lost.

I do wonder if these would have survived and been re-issued had it not been for her Rasputin encounters. Those are as creepy and intriguing as you'd hope they'd be.
While the many wonderful stories in this collection are in fact subtly worded as advertised, caveat emptor: the numbering in it is anything but subtle. For example, every story ends with a single year. Where's the annual ambiguity? Is a duration not delicate too? Yes, I work with numbers for a living, why do you ask? ...more
Dec 07, 2019 rated it liked it
This collection of stories by Teffi was a fantastic way to get into her work, which I will definitely be reading more of. From what I've gathered Teffi kind of a hidden gem in the world of Russian Literature, which tends to focus on the very masculine 'great novels' by authors like Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky. Teffi is sometimes called 'the female Chekov' by some (which I find problematic), nevertheless they are right in their allusion to her having a place among the masters of the short story.

Guy Salvidge
Mar 30, 2019 rated it liked it
There's some good stuff in here, but this collection has partially been superseded by Rasputin and Other Ironies, also from Pushkin Press. There's some overlap, particularly the excellent piece on Rasputin himself. Teffi's early works and those from the revolutionary period are very interesting, but I found her later stories of emigre life in France rather less compelling. Teffi's most interesting work is Memories: From Moscow to the Black Sea, however - now, that is essential reading. I seem to ...more
Russell James
Apr 12, 2019 rated it it was amazing
A wonderful selection of her stories, many from when she was a Russian emigré. From her earlier years in pre-Revolution Russia there's also a fascinating tale of the day she met Rasputin. Subtle? Yes, but these stories are a great read from one of the world's greatest short-story-tellers. ...more
Oct 26, 2020 rated it really liked it
Really loved the absurdities and pathos of the early stories, I'm a sucker for Cohen Brothers-esque comedic tragedy. Though it was a bit same-y to read them back-to-back. What a lady - - refusing Rasputin - - and what an author. I best liked the weirder stuff later in her career. A gem ...more
Kirk Johnson
Aug 11, 2017 rated it it was amazing
As elegant a writer as Penelope Fitzgerald, Teffi is here published in an edition to match. I immediately fell in love with both Teffi and Pushkin Press.
Catherine  Mustread
Performed by Sean Cullen at Chautauqua for Selected Shorts
Jan 27, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Her stories begin as light and witty but then the revolution comes, she emigrates to Paris; her stories get dark and strange.
Feb 14, 2019 rated it really liked it
Loved it....but then I'm a sucker for short stories from Russian writers. Teffi lives up to her reputation as a master of the form. ...more
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Teffi (Russian author page: Тэффи) was a Russian humorist writer. Teffi is a pseudonym. Her real name was Nadezhda Alexandrovna Lokhvitskaya (Наде́жда Алекса́ндровна Лoхви́цкая); after her marriage Nadezhda Alexandrovna Buchinskaya (Бучи́нская). Together with Arkady Averchenko she was one of the most prominent authors of the Satiricon magazine. ...more

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