The Twelve Chairs

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This article is about the novel. For its film adaptations, see The Twelve Chairs (film).
The Twelve Chairs
The Twelve Chairs monument.jpg
A monument in Odessa
Author Ilf and Petrov
Original title Двенадцать стульев
Country Soviet Union
Language Russian
Publication date

The Twelve Chairs (Russian: Двенадцать стульев, Dvenadtsat stulyev) is a classic satirical novel by the Odessan Soviet authors Ilf and Petrov, released in 1928. Its main character Ostap Bender reappears in the book's sequel The Little Golden Calf.


General view of the Twelve Chairs monument, in Odessa.

In the Soviet Union in 1927, a former member of the nobility, Ippolit Matveyevich Vorobyaninov, works as a desk clerk. His mother-in-law reveals on her deathbed that her family jewelry had been hidden from the Bolsheviks in one of the twelve chairs from the family’s dining room set. Those chairs, along with all other personal property, had been expropriated by the government after the Russian Revolution. He becomes a treasure hunter, and after the “smooth operator” and con-man Ostap Bender forces Kisa ("Pussycat", Vorobyaninov’s funny childhood nickname, which Bender prefers) to partner with him, they set off to track down the chairs. This ultimately helps Kisa, who doesn’t possess Bender’s charm and is not as street-smart.

The two "comrades" find the chair set which is put up for auction, but fail to buy it and afterwards find out that the set has been split up and sold individually. They are not alone in their quest. Father Fyodor took advantage of the deathbed confession, and has also set off to recover the fortune. In this search for Mme Petukhova’s treasure, he becomes Vorobyaninov’s main rival. While in this enterprise Ostap is in his element, Vorobyaninov is not as happy, and is steadily abandoning his principles and losing self-esteem.

Through the process of elimination, the two finally discover the location of the 12th and last chair, the one hopefully containing the treasure. To avoid splitting the loot, Vorobyaninov murders Ostap. He then discovers that the jewels have already been found and that they have been spent on erecting a new public building, and as a result goes insane.

The Twelve Chairs satirizes not only its central characters, but also the people and institutions they encounter: the operations of a Moscow newspaper, student housing, a provincial chess club, and so on. Bender represents values of the old order, egoism and individualism. He knows “four hundred comparatively honest ways of taking money away from the population” (Russian: "Четыреста сравнительно честных способов отъёма денег у населения"), and he has no future in the post revolutionary Soviet Union. Ilf and Petrov’s observations on aspects of everyday life are comic, but shrewd.


The first cinema adaptation of the novel was the joint Polish-Czech film "Dvanáct křesel" (1933). The original plot was considerably altered yet many following adaptations were primarily based on this film rather than on the novel itself (e.g., the former marshal of nobility from the novel was replaced in the Polish-Czech film by a barber who then appeared in several later adaptations).

In Nazi Germany Dreizehn Stühle (13 Chairs)[1] was based on this novel in 1938. However, the authors of the novel remained uncredited (probably due to Ilf's Jewish origins).

The book also inspired the 1936 film Keep Your Seats, Please, directed by Monty Banks at Ealing Studios and starring George Formby. The action takes place in Britain and involves seven chairs, not twelve. The comedy It's in the Bag! (1945) starring Fred Allen and Jack Benny was very loosely based on the novel, using just five chairs. In 1957, a Brazilian version called "Thirteen Chairs" was made, starring the comedians Oscarito, Renata Fronzi and Zé Trindade. In this version, the main character, played by Oscarito, inherits his aunt's mansion, which is soon confiscated, leaving him with only 13 chairs. After selling them, he finds out that his aunt had hidden her fortune in the chairs. He then goes on a quest to have the chairs back. In 1962 Tomas Gutierrez Alea made a Cuban version titled "Las Doce Sillas" in a tropical context starkly similar to the Soviet one of the novel. Mel Brooks later made a film, more closely based on the novel, titled The Twelve Chairs (1970), but with a sanitized "happier" ending; the story also served as the basis for the film The Thirteen Chairs (1969) starring Sharon Tate. Shortly after, two adaptations were made in the USSR: a film in 1971 by Leonid Gaidai and a miniseries in 1976 by Mark Zakharov, featuring Andrei Mironov as Bender. In total, the novel inspired as many as twenty adaptations in Russia and abroad. See The Twelve Chairs (film) for more details on adaptations.

External links[edit]


  1. ^ IMDb .