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The Tale of Karp Sutulov


This tale is known from one manuscript only which has unfortunately been lost (the collection in which the tale was included consisted of several quires some of which have not survived). As he sets off on a trading voyage, the Russian merchant Karp Sutulov tells his wife Tatiana that if she needs money she should ask his friend Afanasy Berdov, also a merchant. When Tatiana does so, her husband’s unworthy friend makes importunate advances to her. Tatiana seeks advice from the priest, who turns out to be no better than Afanasy Berdov, and then from the bishop. But this prelate, sworn to celibacy, also becomes inflamed with sinful passion. Tatiana pretends to agree and makes an assignation with all three at her house. The first to appear is Afanasy Berdov. When the priest knocks at the gate, Tatiana tells Afanasy that her husband has come home, and hides her first visitor in a trunk. She gets rid of the priest and the bishop in similar fashion—in the case of the latter it is her servant-maid who by prior arrangement arrives in the nick of time. The story ends with the three disgraced visitors being pulled out of the trunks in the governor’s court.

This is a typical folk-tale novella with delayed action, constant repetition, the triple construction characteristic of folklore, and the unexpected, amusing ending: after the three importunates are disgraced the “strict” governor and the “chaste” Tatiana divide up their money. The Russian detail in the novella is merely a superficial veneer. The Sutulovs and Berdovs really were famous Russian families in pre-Petrine Russia. Tatiana’s husband goes off “to do trade in the land of Lithuania”, along the trade route to Vilna often used in seventeenth-century Russia. The action takes place in the governor’s court—also a Russian touch. All these details do not affect the construction of the plot, however. The Russian names and details are the backcloth of the action. They can easily be removed or replaced, and we get a “universal” itinerant plot, not connected directly with Russian urban life of the seventeenth century. In terms of its plot The Tale of Karp Sutulov is a typical picaresque novella similar in mood to Boccacio.