Monday, June 03, 2013

Russia 1856: The Literary Titans Of The Time

Russia’s literary establishment in 1856.

Of those in the photograph, only two are known today in the West: Ivan Turgenev and Leo Tolstoy. The others are known only to specialists in 19th-Century Russian literature.

A very old-looking Turgenev, seated at left, turned 38 years of age in 1856.

A much younger-looking Tolstoy, in uniform, turned 28 years of age in 1856.


One will observe a queer feature of Turgenev’s structure. He takes tremendous trouble to introduce his characters properly, endowing them with pedigrees and recognizable traits, but when he has finally assembled them all, lo and behold, the tale is finished and the curtain has gone down whilst a ponderous epilogue takes care of whatever is supposed to happen to his invented creatures beyond the horizon of his novel.

I do not mean there are no events. On the contrary, “Fathers and Sons” is replete with action; there are quarrels and other clashes, there is even a duel—and a good deal of rich drama attends Bazarov’s death. But one will notice that all the time throughout the development of the action, and in the margin of the changing events, the past lives of the characters are being pruned and improved by the author, and all the time he is terribly concerned with bringing out their souls and minds and temperaments by means of functional illustrations.

Vladimir Nabokov

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