Life in an anecdote. Vasily Ivanovich Chapaev
Life in an anecdote. Vasily Ivanovich Chapaev

But Chapaev is alive. One might even say - more alive than all the living. After all, if a person is remembered, then it means that they are not indifferent to him; and those who are forgotten, about whom they do not remember - as if they never existed.

Vasily Ivanovich Chapaev was born on February 9, 1887. His father, Ivan Stepanovich, was an Erzya Mordvin by nationality; mother, Ekaterina Semyonovna, is half Russian, half Chuvash. It was thanks to this mixing of blood that Vasily Ivanovich Chapaev was a real Russian person.

Vasily Ivanovich died on September 5, 1919 under dark and unclear circumstances, not very similar to those reflected in the famous film. The place of his burial is still unknown.

But Chapaev is alive. One might even say - more alive than all the living. National memory has preserved his name and image to a much greater extent than the names and images of other military leaders of the Civil War, about whom only historians now remember. Such memory is a good sign. After all, if a person is remembered, then it means that they are not indifferent to him; and those who are forgotten, about whom they do not remember - as if they never existed.

Such a long life to Vasily Ivanovich Chapaev was ensured, of course, by a not very weak novel about him, written by Dmitry Furmanov. Chapaev was glorified by the movie of the same name - a rather poster-like and straightforward, but at one time very popular.

And here's what is interesting: the film "Chapaev" lasted in the box office until the very end of the Stalinist era only because the repertoire of Soviet cinema of those times was rather meager. When in the mid-1950s the so-called "period of small films" ended and a lot of films began to be shot, "Chapaev" left the screens of cinemas.

From time to time it was shown on television - and nothing more. And at the very beginning of the 1960s, something completely unprecedented and previously unthinkable - Chapaev's anecdotes - replaced the film that had lain on the shelf at the very beginning of the 1960s.

There have been no special scholars of research on this topic. Having looked for the answer on my own, I came to the conclusion: anecdotes about Chapaev appeared and became widespread in the early 1960s, and for some reason first in the children's and adolescent audiences. Why? I will try to answer this question as well.

Vasily Ivanovich Chapaev
Vasily Ivanovich Chapaev
Vasily Ivanovich Chapaev.

The revolutionary era needed its own mythology - heroic, epic, epic. However, this mythology did not lie on the folk-folklore basis. The folk storyteller Martha Kryukova at one time tried to put together "novelties", that is, epics on the contrary, with the latest revolutionary content, including about Chapaev. But nothing came of this venture, the artificial genre did not take root.

On the other hand, the revolutionary era quickly developed a sacred history with hagiography (the history of the Bolshevik Party plus the lives of the holy martyrs of the revolution), solemn hymn poetry (“The harsh years pass the struggle for the country's freedom …”), simple song folklore (“What a shame, what a shame what an outrage, now all the bourgeoisie has come to us … "), a revolutionary rogue novel (the story of the adventures of the famous terrorist adventurer Kamo), classicist drama (Vishnevsky, Lavrenev, Pogodin), a romantic story (Nikolai Ostrovsky) and a realistic novel (A. N. Tolstoy, K. Fedin).

The only thing missing was a fairy tale. Literature about Lenin, created for children, did not pull on a fairy tale. It took a lot of time - more than forty years - for the first fabulous revolutionary hero, Vasily Ivanovich Chapaev, to finally emerge from the depths of folk word-creation.

Anecdotal Chapaev embodied some of the features of the beloved heroes of Russian mythology - Ivanushka the Fool, a simple parvenu, whose simplicity is largely feigned, and an epic hero like Alyosha Popovich, in whose image heroically elevated and reduced everyday qualities are combined. In Chapaev's collection of anecdotes, the image of the hero is also processed by the relic form of myth, that is, in a fairy-tale plan, and purely humorous, that is, in an anecdotal plan free from mythological thinking.

Chapaev's jokes are strikingly close to the so-called "cherished fairy tales", and not only because many of them are crudely erotic or downright obscene. A degenerated form of myth - a fairy tale - allows you to play up what was sacred and inviolable until recently. The cherished fairy tale is not published in books and is not officially approved, but they are allowed to live in oral transmission, they willingly listen in a narrow circle, rolling with laughter.

Jokes about Chapaev never belonged to the category of "political jokes", that is, anti-Soviet propaganda. They were told without any backsliding or embarrassment even at the very top. The then Soviet leaders turned out to be shrewd enough to understand: Chapaev's jokes work for their image, divert the people's wit from themselves.

Let us recall the main motives of Chapaev's jokes. On the one hand - the character's uncleanliness, inability to handle simple things, stupidity, illiteracy, fanfare, arrogance, a tendency to drunkenness, cynicism, lust. And on the other hand - wit, resourcefulness, dexterity, resourcefulness, cunning, ingenuity …

In short, the character's traits and the motivation for his actions are purely folkloric. In the anecdotal images of Chapaev and Petka, we see either inert idiots (the so-called chthonic, "earthy" image of a large, but clumsy destructive force, like the hero Svyatogor, who "rode up to his knees in the ground"), then the so-called tricksters (rogues-rogues) then heroic warriors.

Actor Boris Babochkin as Chapaev in the film "Chapaev"
Actor Boris Babochkin as Chapaev in the film "Chapaev"
Actor Boris Babochkin as Chapaev in the film "Chapaev".

Chapaev and Petka roam all over the world, even travel in time, communicate with characters from different eras and modern politicians - and all of them are invariably ridiculed, furnished and cheated. But they themselves do not forget to find themselves in a funny situation every now and then.

… Chapaev and Petka to this day continue to live in jokes, the popularity of which does not decrease over time, and many of which are real masterpieces of humor. And not just any, but Russian national humor, which is very different from the national humor of other peoples. And since the anecdote is a folklore and anonymous genre, we can confidently say: Vasily Ivanovich Chapaev remains a truly national hero.

Here is an example of the speed with which the Red Divisional Commander and his loyal orderly reacted to the culturally significant events of their time. This is a little-known Chapaevsky anecdote from 1968.

“Fantômas is sitting in the dungeon of his castle. The journalist Fandor is brought into the dungeon. Fantômas looks at him grimly:

- That's it, Fandor, you got caught. I won't let you go anymore. You are going to die now. Say your last wish!

- Well, if I die now, then you have nothing to fear. Take off your mask, Fantômas, show me your face!

Fantômas slowly pulls off his mask. Fandor looks in amazement:

- Well, you have grown old, Vasily Ivanitch!

- And I recognized you, Petka, at once, although you, too, did not look younger …"

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