“In May 1914, much against the advice of my parents, I took up the post of governess to the Robelev family of No 7 Gagarinsky Lane, Moscow”
THERE is an endearing description on page two of this provocative, colourful entertaining, even visionary novel.
“Miss Clegg was born and bred in Truro, a solid leathery woman as dependably stuffed with good Chapel values as a pasty is with potato…” Part of the charm here are the people…
I picked up my copy at the RA exhibition of Soviet futurism which might be a cute place to read this, surrounded by powerful propaganda for a new utopia. There is an essay at the back, entitled Alchemy of Art, which you could equally mug up on before.
Gerty is an English governess to an old family as revolution sweeps the streets of Moscow. When the family leaves, a new idealistic commune forms around her and two older ladies who have decided to stay in the house. The scientist Slavkin is trying to build a madcap contraption that will communize people in 20 minutes. Gerty’s hopes of love are met with a response that sex is now too bourgeois.
“We the comrades declare war on the private – from now on there shall be no I, only we.” They move into shared rooms and shared baths.
It is enough to put you off being young and idealist although the picture Hobson paints is not too different to squats and hippy communes of the ‘60 and ‘70s with the overbearing difference that they do not have any money. There is a sub text, almost an exchange of visions, a swapping of zeal for pragmatic survival, burning down the wooden windows to make a fire in the old mansion, so hungry they drink carrot tea. As Gerty’s husband tells her later: “Truth is the surgeon. It sets the bones. Otherwise time will heal them crooked”. You know the story, but probably not from this perspective.