Jadzia, the jealous wolf-girl in Teffi’s story ‘Leshachikha’ (the name of a female forest spirit), causes a gigantic tree to fell her prettier sister and offers a warning of a similar fate to her widowed nobleman father when he fails to reciprocate her passion. Two young sisters – clearly modelled on Teffi and her sibling – meet the idolised count and are spellbound by his weirdly long and yellow fingernail, while their nyanya (nanny) comments on his unnatural height: ‘You could hang a cow on him to be butchered.’ Later, following a night of sinister intimacy, the strange father and daughter drive away, leaving their house to go to ruin, a chain of fur coats strung between the imposing entrance columns. No explanation is ever offered. Haunting and fantastic, Teffi’s artfully anecdotal tales derive from the feudal, superstitious world of pre-revolutionary Russia, one that would have unhesitatingly ascribed our current woes to the same baleful spirits who tyrannise the characters of Other Worlds.
Born in 1872, the Russian writer Nadezhda Alexandrovna Lokhvitskaya, best known by her pen name Teffi, grew up between a comfortable home in St Petersburg and the remote rural estate from which came the données (Henry James’s useful term) for many of her mischievous, disturbing and psychologically profound