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n introduction to the Russian modes of prose writing from the Middle Ages Students wishing to receive Russian (as opposed to Literature). His series of novels representing the leading types of Russian society. .. to omit both the South-Russian or Ukraïnian literature and the White or West-Russian. Irwin Weil is professor of Russian and Russian Literature at Northwestern with special attention to the classics of 19th -century Russian literature and.

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ists.,. Slavophils and Westernizers. Later poets and the great novelists. Grigorovich and other novelists. Russian Literature from Leo Tolstoy to t he present date. Views 3MB Size Report. DOWNLOAD PDF. Vladimir Nabokov: Lectures on Russian literature Vladimir Nabokov LECTURES ON RUSSIAN. This page intentionally left blank The Cambridge Introduction toRussian Literature Russian literature arrived late.

Alexander reigned for sixteen years, fending off the attacks of Swedes, Lithuanians, and Teutonic knights from the west while buying off the Mongol overlords with tribute to the south and east. Steeds, steeds—what steeds! I gave in, and the work came out horribly mutilated. Sergei Kaledin b. In a novella published in —which won the Booker Prize for the best Russian novel that year—Makanin appears finally to have tracked down his prey. The reader notes the action and dialogue, notes also this or that hint, and tries to discover who among them is sincere, and who has a dark secret to hide. While accomplishing the task, he encounters various helpers, whose gifts or services are all palpably material.

It required you not to go in a straight line but to take a more interesting artistic approach. The picture was certainly much clearer before. The first task, for everyone, was somehow or other to fight dictatorship. Dictatorship presented a kind of wall which every honest writer was duty bound to hack away at with any instrument he possessed.

And at the same time the deeper you plunged into this work, the better you carved yourself out a sort of peaceful, har- monious niche within the wall. When the wall collapsed, everything turned out to be much more complicated. Because on the one hand there was freedom, but on the other the wall had some- how collapsed on top of us.

And the country had no strength left to clear up all the resulting mess. The truth in those days seemed so much more obvious. What were your relations with him personally? But after The Goatibex was published I was invited to go and see him, and eventually I was taken up to his office on the first floor at Novy mir and for the first time I met him face to face.

I remember how he sat there looking at me with his very small, piercing blue eyes. See Introduction, p.

Literature pdf russian

And Tvardovsky had picked out this point— when the story was already in proof—and asked me to remove it. Which I did, feeling slightly ashamed of myself. I realized that Tvardovsky was in a very delicate position, constantly under attack from the Party. Anyway the point of all this is that I realized that Tvardovsky really did read everything very carefully.

And he was prepared to take risks for something he thought important, but not just for the sake of having a laugh. Essentially it was a story about what a totalitarian regime does to a person, and all my friends were sure that it would never be published in our lifetime. The poet David Samoilov said to me: But I believed that no one would dare to say to me: I tried to get it published in Russia at the very worst time, in the early s, when Tvardovsky, as you say, had been removed from Novy mir and there were completely different people in charge.

They tried to pretend that it was still the same journal, but in fact only a bare skeleton remained. However, there was nowhere else to go, and I decided to take Sandro to them.

The truth was that when I started writing Sandro I thought at first that it was just a humorous thing, a kind of parody of a picaresque novel. Fazil Iskander 15 on the one hand, and on the other looking satirically at everything that was hap- pening to the country, at what had become of our little mountain village in Abk- hazia, and to Abkhazia in general.

Gradually a certain image of the book became clear to me. I realized that here I would write, in a sense, about everything—that I would relate through the prism of this small world all the main events of our country. And at the same time I gradually perceived the structure of the novel—that it would all be in the form of stories, novellas. I felt that maybe I had a certain nat- ural gift as a story-teller and that this structure would work best.

I very much doubted that the whole thing could be published in my lifetime, but I thought that at least, this way, certain stories could be published, even if others got chucked out.

So I took it along to Novy mir. The whole process was sheer torture for me, and at the end of it I wrote to the editors and said I wanted to take the work back. I gave in, and the work came out horribly mutilated. The experience for me was like handing over my beloved child and watching it being hacked to pieces. It was at that time that Carl Proffer, who ran Ardis publishers in America, started coming here, and a friend of mine gave him Sandro to read.

The novel had been circulating quite widely in manuscript, especially the chapter about Stalin—it was easy to retype that one chapter, and I was amazed to realize later how many people had read it. Anyway, Proffer offered to publish it. For a long time I kept prevaricating, and he kept repeating his offer. But in the end I felt that I had to rehabilitate myself, and I agreed to let him go ahead.

So the novel was published in unabridged form by Ardis in I had foreseen all sorts of unpleasant consequences, but then a strange thing happened which in a way points to the absurdity of our whole situation at that time.

The point was not to publish outspoken political works but just to refuse to let the censors touch our texts. So I gave him a couple of stories for the journal. In comparison with Sandro, which really did contain some reflections on the realities of our life, Metropol' was really a rather harmless, toothless thing, there was nothing too terrible in it.

So it happened that these two events occurred more or less simultaneously: Metropol' came out, and Sandro was published in America. Since glasnost Aksyonov has again become a respected literary figure in Russia and a regular visitor to his former homeland. The whole affair was discussed at the highest level, more or less in the Politburo. In general an absurd amount of attention was devoted to this almanac.

It was as if their entire, repressed, evil energy had been unleashed on it. But the result was that when Sandro came out in America they had no psycho- logical energy left for it. Short of arresting me there was nothing much more they could do about me anyway. These blacklists were circulated internally—editorial boards were told that such-and-such writers were not to be published—and editors adhered to these rules. Obviously they decided it would have caused a further scandal to do that in the case of the better-known writers.

But in any case they appeared to be politically exhausted. They simply asked me how Sandro had come to be published, and I pretended to be ignorant of the whole affair—the novel had been circulating in manuscript, I said, and it was out of my control. So that was how the first major text of Sandro appeared.

I gave Proffer everything I had written up to that time. But later I added more chapters. The complete two-volume text has been published only this year [] by Soviet Writer—although earlier, from onwards, various journals had started publishing the previously banned chapters. What effect has it had on you, as a writer, and on the way in which your work has been received later?

The Goatibex Constellation was the only one of my obviously controversial works to appear on time, and it was very lucky that it did. Fazil Iskander 17 plots, and he notices that it looks different from the maize on the collective farm.

They simply revealed their own stupidity. But this was the only change they made, so the social impact of the work was quite strong. In order to move on to new things a writer needs to publish his work, to separate himself from it, not feel bound to it any more. So publication is psychologically very important to a writer. Art in general is a very capricious process, elusive, difficult, and absolute sincerity is essential to it. He said: Everyone knows that poets are mad.

But in Russia a certain tradition and mythology have grown up around literature. But on the other hand it may have weakened litera- ture, deprived it of that sense of pure artistry which I think is much stronger, for example, in English literature.

Of course one thinks endlessly about the fate of writers earlier in the century who fell under the wheel—one imagines what might have been.

Literature pdf russian

For all that he in some sense poeticized the Revolution, gave it a certain pathos, as a genuine artist he saw within this poeti- cization the emerging face of death.

He knew what was completely unacceptable. The whole thing is incomprehensible to him. Babel romanticized that madness, but he said a great deal of truth about it too. But later fiction painted a completely false picture, with only the Whites portrayed as cruel. The truth is that any murderous war leads to bes- tiality on both sides. And Olesha in his enchanting novel Envy saw and understood a great deal too, though when I read it now I feel how it already contains the seeds of his future defeat—or partial defeat.

Although he worked as a journalist during the war, his name as a writer was banned from mention until , when some of his works were reprinted. An autobiographical work, Not a Day without a Line, appeared posthumously in Subsequently he pub- lished two plays and a further collection of stories, Odessa Tales All his manuscripts were confiscated, and under torture Babel denounced his own writing.

Fazil Iskander 19 him his place in the world. He somehow created a picture in which right is on the side of this unpleasant sausage-maker; the future and the truth belong to him, and only good taste is on the side of the degenerate narrator.

Of course this was untrue at root, because in fact there was no rightness and justice in the whole adventure of Bolshevism at all; there was only coercion, maybe attended by some element of genuine illusion that this violence would bear fruit. You have the feeling with Bulgakov that he never doubted the correctness of his own vision, his intuition that these people were just barbar- ians who had nothing good to offer at all, now or in the future.

But there were extremely talented people who gave in to this illusion: I think younger critics have looked at it on a more aesthetic level, enjoying the cartoon comedy of the work. It was attacked very acidly in the [conservative] journal Our Contemporary: During the s he published a series of short stories, including the satirical Diabo- liad , but much of his work, including the novella The Heart of a Dog written in and his masterpiece The Master and Margarita written —40 remained unpublished during his lifetime.

The Heart of a Dog Sobach'e serdtse was first published in Russia in He established his reputation with four wartime narrative poems, including A Cloud in Trousers , and after the Revolution devoted himself to propaganda pieces such as ,, and Vladimir Il'ich Lenin Gradually, however, he became disillusioned with the devel- opment of the new regime, a scepticism expressed in satirical plays such as The Bedbug Despair at the Stalinist clamp-down on literary experiment, compounded by personal difficulties, led to his suicide at the age of Ironically, Mayakovsky was canonized after his death by the Soviet regime, earning great praise from Stalin himself.

This is the kind of mad thinking you get among these patriots. You might just as well have accused Krylov of attacking the Russian people in his fables.

I was trying to analyse the way that power works in general, and the way that those subject to it—whatever nation they belong to—connive in their powerlessness. But, of course, I feel that they have to bear a great part of the blame themselves. Part of the bribery was delusive—the era of communism or cauliflower was always just over the horizon—but part of it was real: And the old political fear has been replaced by something different.

But listen to them down in the street! There are scuffles and fights in these queues now every morning, and you can sense the panic behind their anger. What do people live in hope of? In actual fact life was pretty hard, there were endless queues then as well, but it was predictable, and in retrospect it looks quite decent. What we see in this coun- try is a completely illusory view of what the past was.

Fazil Iskander 21 The point is that the old order created elements of comfort and harmony, how- ever false. It certainly gave the man in the street a miserly but stable minimum. It was difficult in those days to throw a man out of work, so long as there was no political element involved.

So long as you kept your mouth shut politically, you could be an extremely bad worker, indeed salaried professional, and feel quite secure in your job. There was very little unemployment in the old days. Recently I was visited by a writer and we got talking about the upheavals of the last year, and I could see that in certain ways he regretted what had happened—he regretted that the dream was finished. You see, communism was a kind of religious, drunk illusion produced by a sober atheistic head.

Among many good people there was always this distorted religious feeling about the Revolution. But there was this illusion among good people that you could accomplish a heavenly mission by earthly means. So there is something negative about seeing this dream destroyed, however necessary the whole process may be. People now are very disorientated and afraid. They watch the crude market process of accumulation that the West went through long ago—and which Russia herself had embarked on before the Revo- lution, but was then forced to forget—and the whole thing is incomprehensible and makes them feel helpless.

We will need more time. I had a plan, by the way, to make Sandro meet finally with this false Lenin— Sandro who saw the real Trotsky and the real Stalin. Whereas the story of Chik is still going on in my head. Other recent works include the novella Sofichka, the tragic story of its eponymous heroine, a great- niece of Old Khabug.

After leaving school in Petrushevskaya studied journalism at Moscow Uni- versity, and in the s worked as a reporter and reviewer in radio and television and on the magazine Krugozor. Married and widowed in her twenties, she spent several years struggling to fend for herself and her first child.

Later she remarried, and in the early s became a full-time writer, earning her living with reviews, screenplays, and translations from Polish. She now lives with her family in Moscow. Over the next fifteen years, a handful of other stories appeared, at long intervals, in Avrora, Druzhba narodov, and the Estonian- based journal Raduga Rainbow.

But it soon became clear that few editors would risk publishing her prose. In she had taken her first stories to the then editor of Novy mir, Aleksandr Tvardovsky, who decreed: In the mids, however, Petrushevskaya turned instead to writing plays, encouraged by the playwright Aleksei Arbuzov whose workshop she attended. Today many of those who sat or stood in those cramped rooms recall the extraordinary emotional impact of the plays: Several individual collections have since followed, as well as her Collected Works in five volumes, and Petrushevskaya has recently become a prolific contributor to journals such as Znamya and Oktyabr'.

Her novel The Time: Night was short-listed for the first Russian Booker Prize. But no—her genius consists in her ability to seize on the disparate details of everyday life and render them as a finished, perfect whole, in which even the most unpalatable reality is made beautiful by the perfection of her art.

Poverty, sickness, old age, abortion, broken families, alcoholism, prostitu- tion—all are countenanced in her work. She finds her stories in the discarded out-takes of life, the bits that will never make the news.

Her settings are cramped offices, shared flats, shabby hospitals, places where gossip swarms, quarrels flare, and people rub together in a forced, chafing intimacy. Money, food, time, and living space are all in short supply. So, too, catastrophically, is love. Almost all of them are women: Few find direct expression for their needs and longings. Their lives are muddled and anxious, their minds colonized by detail.

Rather than ask what became of their hopes and ambitions, they rail at the person who ate the last eggs from the fridge or pocketed the roubles stashed behind the skirting board. The girls, for the most part, seem lacking in even the rudiments of pride or strategy.

Elsewhere we see the inevitable consequences of girlish ardour in a string of single mothers or mothers- to-be: Night, spawning a second generation of fatherless children while clinging, against the odds, to some original vision of love.

The evident truth—that men are not to be trusted—appears to escape most of these young women. Nor does age necessarily bring wisdom. Family life, meanwhile, offers little by way of relief.

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Here, the outward expression of need is checked, at least, by a kind of stifling courtesy. Elsewhere, more typically, such niceties are dispensed with. In The Time: All manner of emotional horrors precede these ends: Even by Russian standards of emotional straightforwardness, they quarrel at an astonishing pitch of anger and abuse. The outward picture, in short, is bleak: Yet it is a rule with Petrushevskaya that things are not what they seem.

For a start, her work is often very funny. Uroki muzyki, in P'esy For the most part her humour is unsentimentally robust. Her plays are full of comic grotesquerie. Even The Time: Night, which tells a tale of apparently unremitting misery, can be read as black comedy almost to the end. Curses turn into blessings; the weak prove resilient; the strong unexpectedly helpless. Nowhere more so, perhaps, than in The Time: Night, where our sympathies are torn between the heroine-narrator and the ramshackle family whom she loves, vilifies, and seeks to control.

The narrator is Anna Andrianovna, an ageing, unsuccessful poetess who struggles, on her meagre income, to support a son just out of prison, an unmarried daughter, three acciden- tal grandchildren and her own senile mother, now confined to a mental hospital.

Casting herself by turns as martyr and warrior, skilled strategist, ironist, and victim of fate, Anna alternately arouses our admiration and deflects our sympathy. It is only at the end, when Anna is forced to acknowledge herself as redundant and bereft, that she achieves a final grace and commands our full pity. The Time: But it belongs in form with several earlier works, telling a complex story through the voice of a single narrator.

Night, these stories typically embark in media res, fastening on a few, initially baffling details before spiralling outwards to reveal, by degrees, their real meaning and motive. In each case the nar- rator tells her story in passionate detail, with every show of candour.

Yet certain cru- cial secrets are withheld or obscured. Her gossipy tone and clownish behav- iour obscure the central preoccupation of her life: All narratives, she shows, are in some sense fiction—attempts, on the part of the narrator, to make arrangements of chaos, to find a meaning, to reassert control.

Such assertions frequently backfire: But their shifting stories also convey a truth. For if biography is fiction, so, to a certain extent, is personality. People are mutable and full of surprises. Such transformations are here a source of hope. But other lives, Petrushevskaya suggests, remain essentially closed, undeveloped.

But she offers no tidy solution or summary. Who can know, she suggests, who was really to blame, who suffered most, whose story was truest? Who, in any case, are we to judge? Accustomed to the didactic traditions of Soviet literature, many readers have been puzzled by her refusal to sort out villains from heroes, or construed as casual condonement her failure to condemn.

Others, on the contrary, have pointed to a moral that was not there, interpreting her work as a straightfor- ward indictment of the social ills—drink, divorce, poverty, moral decline—that Soviet society in its braver moments could admit to.

The comparison is in some ways apt. But her wit, her criticism—her pity—strike further. Here, albeit at its grimmest or most forlorn, is not just the Soviet comedy but the human one—no less so for the fact that her characters themselves often fail so lam- entably to address the broader, universal issues, beyond the leaking roof and the lack of eggs.

Indeed, that is part of what makes them so funny, and so sad. To be sure, Soviet ideology, with its false optimism and black-and-white morality, failed glaringly to deal with such existential angst. But so, in the end, do shopping malls and designer clothes. Petrushevskaya, as she makes plain in the interviews here, has no illusions that life is fundamentally easier elsewhere, or was ever easier in human history, even if the margins for courtesy and social grace have sometimes been greater than they are in the kitchen of a Moscow apartment.

The reader, she makes clear, should have no illusions either. Petrushevskaya puts at our service a penetrating knowledge of the human heart and a ruthless eye and ear for its pretences. Her wit is superbly tuned to all the nuances of bravado, self- pity, self-deceiving hope, or plain Russian vranyo fibbing developed to the plane of art with which people present their stories.

Orchestrating and amplifying the voices of her characters, she makes audible, to those listening, their tragic under- tones. But she counts on her readers to be listening hard—to catch the pathos behind the bravado, and supply to these lives a transforming gesture of pity. What can you tell me about your own family and upbringing? They were Old Bolshe- viks, members of the Party since the s, the people who had made the Revolu- tion—and they were first in line for repression under Stalin.

But my great-grandfather survived and during the War—he was already 80 years old—he managed to get the whole family out of Moscow and take us to Kuibyshev: The hardest years were from to I was 9 years old and so skinny that even among those waifs and strays I earned the name moskvichka spichka, the Moscow matchstick. There I was fed and clothed and for the first time in my life I remember Interview recorded in December and May Many Muscovites were evacuated there and to other cities east of Moscow.

Lyudmila Petrushevskaya 29 I took part in a kind of show: The teachers there were marvellous, wonderful women. My mother meanwhile established herself back in Moscow and eventually brought me home, and so began the torment of life in a communal city apart- ment. For eight years my grandfather, mother, and I shared a single, twelve-square-metre room: My grandfather had been sacked from his post and deprived of his pension in , supposedly for some political misdemeanour.

Lectures on Russian Literature

But after he lost his job not a single person came to his aid, and in the following years he slowly went mad. So our home was like a mini-Gulag, with no privacy at all for him and not a single peaceful night for us. But at home there was simply nowhere to be, so virtually every evening after school I simply went to the library and stayed there until it closed. But there were thousands of children in my position. The choice was very stark: So that was where the split between the intelligentsia and the working class began: There was virtually no contact between the two.

I remember feeling a complete outcast in the yard outside our house where the other kids played. As our poet Aleksandr Kushner—our greatest living poet—said: Of course we came into collision with the system, but we were so skilled at living, at just surviving. My mother hid it all from me. Very little has been written about all this but probably some 80 per cent of the population at that time were some sort of partisans, underground people.

Every- one hid very carefully what they really thought, even within the family. Because if the children started babbling the game would soon be up.

In those terrible times everyone had to learn this. It was only when I started writing that I came into direct conflict with the system—as a system which rejected what I wrote absolutely. I understood this as just a law of life. And like every other writer I tried to find ways out. It was very funny. Some people would get themselves jobs in publishing houses or on editorial boards.

Others would try to make friends with editors-in-chief or do ghost-writing for them. Others just gave in and tried to write what was required of them. Women of course had their own methods which were quite understandable! We all knew these hundred prescriptions by heart. As far as finding a protector went, every instinct in me rejected that solu- tion, although I did get a few proposals of that kind.

One editor, at Sovremennik publishing house, advised me that if I were just to change the endings of all my stories and make them more positive—have everyone get married, for instance— everything would be just fine!

Lyudmila Petrushevskaya 31 As it happened the second envelope I sent went to the journal Avrora in Leningrad. The editor at that time was Aleksandr Volodin, whom I already knew and liked—so I thought it might be worth a try.

Six months later I got a reply. I remember clearly I was washing the floor at the time. I heard something drop into the letterbox and went to have a look. And there was the letter. I tore open the envelope and read: Petrushevskaya, you are a real writer. At which point I fell to my knees on the newly washed floor and burst into tears!

And about six months later they published me there—in the summer of My first stories. I was 34 years old. As I recall, you had only a handful of stories published over the next fifteen years. Of course everyone understood that it was a great compliment to have your work singled out for banning—it was a sign of quality. Public praise of any kind was the mark of the devil, we all knew that instinctively.

To be banned was the opposite of being stigmatized, they banned you out of sheer enthusiasm for your work! But it must have been terribly depressing effectively to be deprived of an audience. Around the mid-seventies I felt I had reached an absolute dead end, there seemed to be no hope at all.

But in , I started writing plays: It was —just after Gorbachev had come to power—and everything was just beginning, all the arrests and bannings and restrictions were still fresh in our minds. The emotional charge was extraordinary. When I went backstage afterwards I was in pieces, I just cried my eyes out, I barely made it onto the stage to take a bow.

A woman in the Ministry of Culture had said— this play is about me! And then Vasily Chichkov, who was then Chief Editor of the journal Sovremennaya dramaturgiya Contemporary Dramaturgy , took it on himself to publish it. Behind the publication of every banned work of literature there was a tale of fantastic heroism, selflessness. People forget so quickly the conditions we lived in then. That was a time of civil war, that was a time of real devastation. Was that achieved in this performance?

Now Mark Zakharov had introduced some additional, silent characters into the play: And at the end of the play they sat down and began playing a Schumann quartet, with Fyodorovna playing the cello. At which point Ira comes onto the stage carry- ing the little child—and the two of them simply stare out at the audience!

Every- one was crying! There was such an extraordinary atmosphere—this wonderful, heavenly music and these figures set deep back on the stage. They had removed the first six rows of seats to bring the stage forward so that it seemed absolutely grandiose, the depth was incredible.

And there right at the back of the stage in the shadows you could see illuminated all these tattered old photographs of an old military family—the men with whiskers and sideboards, dressed in military greatcoats, and the women and children in white dresses. Have there been other groups or circles that have played that role for you at other stages in your life? That was their decision: For twenty-three years! Novy mir fed me, gave me work, all through the most difficult and hungry times they gave me reviews and book reports to do.

Above all my first editor there, Nina Petrovna Borisova, literary godmother to me and to many other writers—Yevgeny Popov, Fridrikh Gorenshtein. She said to me once: The thing is that my work is of no use to stupid or evil people—they hate it, reject it, see only the bare facts I present and not what surrounds them.

Is there any truth in that reading? Anywhere in the world you could find a group of people like this, a group in which each person develops a particular role in the company of the others and always sticks to this one role—so that after a while they cease to have the right to play any other. And yet every one of those people is mortal—this actor and that actor, the villain and the clown—all of them are going to die.

And when the shadow of death falls over them, when they are suddenly faced with this clear threat, everything changes, everything. In Russian we have a word, tusovka, which describes the circle of your closest friends or companions, your gang, the people who surround you at a particular stage in your life. The moment of parting from it, saying farewell, is always a land- mark; to move from one tusovka to another is like shedding one life and starting all over again.

No one at first real- izes that the heroine—the narrator—adores her friends: And yet she consciously sets about losing them, losing their love and respect, in order to save her own child. But of course the story was misread by many people—they thought it was a story somehow condoning the selfishness of adults who neglected their own children.

I got two whole sackfuls of letters cursing me! In the end I decided to stop reading it in public. Wherever I went there were sure to be at least two or three crazed people in the audience who were convinced—they simply knew! But she puts on all kinds of airs to conceal her own desperation. But you have to see how the theme of her lying and boasting is mixed with the theme of her hunger—the empty bedside table, the empty glass—and with the theme of her solitude: And you have to hear the second voice in the story, the voice of her companions in the ward—who try to persuade the doctor not to discharge her But this second voice provides the counterpoint, it makes the fugue of the story.

I know many readers have wept over this story—women, naturally, who understand everthing!

My best readers have always been women. Some might say that she was simply mad—that would be one possible interpretation. And others might say that the author is just playing with her readers—giving them various versions to play with, to reflect on. Any work of art is a kind of game played between the author and the reader.

But a defining feature of almost all your characters to begin with is their complete lack of self-awareness. With your manipulative and self-righteous characters—mothers, very often—their lack of self-knowledge is almost grotesque. But by reading or watching, that person comes to reflect on his own life too. I know someone who was so affected by reading one of my plays, Music Lessons, that it really did change his life.

Anyway, there was one young man I knew who, like Nikolai in the play, insisted on marrying the girl he loved. His parents were dead against it and he had to struggle to defend his choice.

Norshtein is a simply fantastic director, probably the greatest director of animated films in the world—he showed that animation was a genre for adults as well as children, that it was one of the highest forms of art, just as serious as music or painting. So I undertook to write it and it was a long process. For four or five months Yury and I discussed it virtually every day. So we would sit there and tell each other stories and together we tried to find the right approach.

I invented the figure of the poet who would go through the whole film, writing and writing, and his pages would simply fly away in the breeze and no one would read his verse. And then a little wolf by chance picks up one of the pages and runs away with it—and as he runs with the page it turns into a baby. Later on the figure of the poet more or less disappeared and it was the little wolf that drew everything together. The poet appears only as one of the figures in the tableau that reappears from time to time in the film.

And in fact that song turned out to be the starting-point of the whole film. It was a wartime song, everyone knew it. I was 3 years old already when the war began and by the time I was 4 or 5 I could sing all those songs myself—whereas Yury was that bit younger and never knew that song.

The song in fact dates from the s, though it was evidently still popular during the war years. Thanks to Martin Dewhirst for his information on this point.

Lyudmila Petrushevskaya 37 a tree and watches snowflakes fall—and all these images periodically crushed in sudden flashforwards by modernity, cars, the highway. It represents family life—the eternal life of the family that has gone on just the same under Ivan the Terrible or Stalin, that goes on, I suppose, all over the world.

In general writers who pretend their childhood was radiant and per- fect are awful liars, like Aleksei Tolstoy—a fine writer but a dreadful liar. I was nearly 30 by then.

I started writing properly only when I discovered about suffering—not suffering on my own account, but fear for a beloved being. Until that moment, until the birth of your first child, you know only fear for yourself—but when a child is born a completely different world opens up.

There are plenty of people— mothers, grandmothers—who go through life without ever growing up—without ever understanding anything! Success weakens the muscles—whereas disappointment, the tragic perception of how one can fail or not get there in time—is the most powerful motivator to action.

When a pearl forms it squeezes the oyster inside the shell, makes life uncomfortable for it, and the older the oyster is the more pearls form and the more uncomfortable it gets. The life of the flesh per se—birth, the trials of love, and so on—is bound to end in tragedy, but what matters is the way we reflect on that tragedy. Your work is informed by a very strong sense not just of the charm of youth but of the real horrors of old age.

That seems to me one of the central elements in The Time: I wanted to get to the age of my heroine myself—or more or less! Old age is a very mysterious thing; many people are afraid of it.

I was still rela- tively young when I started writing The Time: Night, still the mother of a small child. But already the thought of old age worried me dreadfully.

I suppose I wrote the novel as a kind of warning to myself—so that I would approach old age fore- warned, forearmed. In writing it I lived through experiences I hoped never to live through in real life. A person never really feels that he is old—never.

Once I asked a woman of 84—a friend— what it felt like to be old. Here was the solution to the riddle! It was the story of a woman whose son had been in prison and come out again and found himself unable to live, spiritually annihilated. Russia is a land of women Homers—women who tell their stories orally, just like that, without inventing anything.

But I dare to hope that The Time: Night is a kind of encyclopaedia of all their lives. A person is shattered if they discover in themselves not love but hatred towards their own mother—or their own child. They realize that they are fallen, that they are outcasts, they have defied the order of things. Once, years ago, I attended some do at the theatre and beforehand I went backstage with a lovely group of women—all of them writers or actors or artists or directors, what have you, working in the theatre, and as we were waiting for the show to begin we sat and drank coffee and told each other stories—there was a wonderful atmosphere.

And I decided to try out one question on them: Andrei feels destroyed as a person. How can he go on living? What suffering, incomparable, Homeric suffering! There were a lot of things that had to be left out in the end, that were beyond limits. But the structure of the novel demanded brevity—and I realized in the end that the diary as it stands was enough. Her comments put paid to any eroticism that remained!

All the teenage emotions she expresses in the diary are made a mockery of. And in the end we see Alyona after all taking charge of her own life, proving her mother redundant. So between the lines she emerges as a much stronger, more valiant character than her mother gives her credit for.

The harshest judges are often those who deserve judgement themselves. Anna thinks she understands her daughter perfectly—that she knows exactly what motivates her behaviour. A parent has so much more experience than his child, has seen so much more, has so much more reason to fear. He can spoil the innocence of his child by his own imagination.

We can see that her story is terrible in many ways—the story of a person who loves and is constantly rejected, who knew from the beginning that she came sec- ond to her adored brother. A child who feels unloved will always have problems and go in perpetual search of love elsewhere. Alyona has been deprived of a father and to all intents and purposes a mother too: In doing so she proves herself already a different person from the daughter her mother described.

I wanted to let the reader know that the story was over now, it was all in the past. So I hope that the second time round readers will cease to take it on a purely tragic level and see the humour in it. A person can never get at his own secret—never. He will create himself in a certain image one moment but ten minutes later that image will start to double and triple and eventually disappear altogether—and something quite different will replace it.

But of course I do give some clues to figuring Anna out. Dreadful, smelly, mad, who needs them? Their children are all they have, the only people left to love them. The Lord God brought children into this world armed with beauty and tenderness and light, whereas the old have nothing to offer.

I knew that I had to find some resolu- tion—there was so much energy packed into this novel, it was like a tightly coiled spring. And at the same time I wanted to leave the door open, not seal it totally. I had to find that one point—that small detail—that would hold it down and yet leave it ready to spring open every time it was read. The reader must be jolted every time—jolted I hope, in the end, into tears.

Because tears are a release. You have to weep—not so much over the hero or heroine as over life itself, the world. I searched a long time for that little detail that would leave readers with a sense of relief—with tears.

I knew there could be no victory for Anna, for the heroine—she had to be defeated if she was to become a person, holy, a true poet. She had to give in, give up the struggle, become human. A sociologist could take any number of your plays or stories and say: Everyone living together in one apartment makes life very difficult. There are many paradoxes in life. We want parents to love their children but if a child grows up surrounded by love he may spend the rest of his life searching for it—and who will give him such love again?

In a strange way love in child- hood can disarm a person. The longer their self-absorption con- tinues, their solitude, the more they look like prisoners of themselves—the more sorry people feel for them.

Their role is precisely to uncover the sources of kindness in other people. She devoted her life to looking after chil- dren and looked after her husband like a child as well, earned the living for both of them while he pursued his endless studies. She died very young, her youngest daughter was only 19 years old, but the most fantastic thing was the way she died.

She was ill for three years, in the most terrible way—she lost her mind, went senile, and no longer recognized anyone. But in those three years she gave her family the chance to love and care for her, to feel that they were good people too— the chance as well to get used to her dying so that when death came they experi- enced it not as a grief but as a liberation. They looked after her wonderfully and at the end they could feel they had done their duty—that was also her gift to them.

You see how God looks after us! There was such justice in that story. So many fine people have had terrible deaths. Think of all those who died in the camps, in Kolyma. Such things deserve to be studied. In general, you know, this world of ours is such a wise, clever text. It deserves to be read. How do you feel this lack of recognition has affected you as a writer? You can see plenty of cases where mass publication and acclaim, and all the material benefits and public status they bring, have subtly or not so subtly altered the outlook of a writer.

My family belonged to the Moscow intelligentsia, and like any child who grows up surrounded by books I naturally wanted to write. I studied journalism at the university and later worked as a journalist, and all that time I was writing away, Interview recorded in May Lyudmila Petrushevskaya 45 trying to imitate my favourite writers: But all that early writing—before I found my own voice—was just nonsense, pastiche, parody.

I was terribly conscious of the huge moral demands made on writers in Russia, the passion and modesty required of them. As you know, Russian literature has been a kind of religion in this country—a religion based on the moral position of writers, on their suffering.

Pdf russian literature

All our greatest writers have been sufferers and saints: Pushkin, Akhmatova, Tsvetayeva, Bulgakov—all of them. Our literature has been the substance and essence of my whole life, as it has for millions of ordinary people, for whom it has provided the only source of light throughout their long, hard lives.

The great classic writers of the nineteenth century and the early part of the twentieth represented the heights for us, the snowy peaks of literature. Along- side them most Soviet writers—those who got printed, that is—looked paltry and insignificant.

The memory of those great writers, many of whom never knew peace and respect in their own lives, casts a brilliant light over all of us still today. Or leave life. How did that happen for you? My family were dependent on my being able to work, and if my son fell ill it meant disaster.

My first husband was struck down by a terrible illness, he was paralysed for six years before he died and received only a miserly pension. He was a saintly man.

From time to time it seems Jesus Christ appears in the world in the guise of ordinary people, and he was one such person.

My second husband saved me. Spiritually I was in a terrible state. But those years of struggle and loneliness opened my eyes. I felt the life of ordinary people enter me and demand some outlet. Many people have told me the stories of their lives—on trains, in queues, in hospitals, at bus stops. People are forever telling each other stories, but not many people set store by them and not many people have tried to write them down.

I carry these endless monologues around inside me and I remember them forever. Not a single thing in my stories and plays is invented. But all the raw ingredients I use come from real life, and they turn out to be much more powerful than anything you could invent. I believe all the best writers have essentially worked in that way. I used to study them endlessly, all the classics.

Except Chekhov. The same with Pushkin. But when I started writing properly I stopped trying to imitate and wrote just as simply as I could, without metaphor or simile, in the voice people use to tell their story to another person on the bus—urgently, hastily, making sure you come to the point before the bus stops and the other person has to get off. Such stories have to be told at speed, and the plot is never the point—sometimes they begin at the end, and the story consists just in explaining how that end came about.

Sometimes there can be no end in the traditional sense. I feel desperate now to get at least one book out. I wrote a letter to Gorbachev and the message was very simple, it was a cry from the heart: My book of stories has been doing the rounds since the s, and the publishers keep putting it off and putting it off.

How long can they go on? I went through the same process with Three Girls in Blue, appealing to Chernenko to have it staged. Mind you, all the same old bureaucrats are still in place and you have to work round them. We work like the Mafia—like good mafiosi! Decent people were always there, but the possibilities for helping one another are much greater now. Readers still have a thirst for it, for real books. What happens to the children when people treat each other the way they do?

Do we have the right to treat each other like that? Those questions are at the heart of all my stories and plays. But my positive hero is the reader or the spectator. You have to give the audience a chance to relax and laugh; Shakespeare knew all about that with his Falstaff. Then they began to pity them, and finally they under- stood that the play was about us.

And you could feel the way their acting changed as a result. He knew that he had to entice his hearers to join him in savoring the rich life and the complex people of a vanished world in literature that he hailed as Russia's Renaissance.

Thus he relied heavily on quotation and interpretive narrative selected to make intelligible the feelings his students should have as they read, the reactions that should follow the course of the feeling that he was attempting to direct, and the creation of an understanding of great literature based on alert and intelligent appreciation instead of on what he regarded as sterile critical theory.

His whole method was to draw his students in to share his own excitement at great writing, to envelop them in a different world of reality that is all the more real for being an artistic semblance.

These are, then, very personal lectures emphasizing shared experience. And, of course, because of their Russian subject they are somehow more personally felt than his hearty appreciation of Dickens, his penetration of Joyce, or even his writer's empathy for Flaubert. This is not to say, however, that critical analysis is in any way wanting in these lectures.

He may make plain important hidden themes as when he points out in Anna Karenin the motifs of the double-nightmare.

That Anna's dream foreshadows her death is not its only significance: And the implications of the horse race in which Vronski kills his mount Frou-Frou are not neglected. It is a special insight that despite the richly sensual love of Anna 6 Vladimir Nabokov: Lectures on Russian literature and Vronski their spiritually sterile and egotistic emotions doom them, whereas Kitty's marriage to Lyovin brings the Tolstoyan ideal of harmony, responsibility, tenderness, truth, and family joys.

Nabokov is fascinated by Tolstoy's time schemes. The how of the feeling that the reader's and the author's time-sense completely coincide in a manner that produces ultimate reality he gives up as an unsolved secret. But Tolstoy's juggling of the time-scheme between the Anna-Vronski and the Kitty-Lyovin actions is worked out in most interesting detail. He can point out how Tolstoy's presentation of Anna's thoughts in her drive through Moscow on the day of her death anticipates the stream-of-consciousness technique of James Joyce.

He has an eye for the oddity, also, as that two officers in Vronski's regiment represent the first portrayal of homosexuality in modern literature.

He is tireless in illustrating how Chekhov made the ordinary seem of supreme value to the reader. If he criticizes the banality of Turgenev's character biographies interrupting the narrative and the relation of what happens to everyone after the ending of the story proper, Nabokov can yet appreciate the delicacy of Turgenev's cameo descriptions and of his modulated sinuous style, which he compares to "a lizard sun-charmed on a wall.

It is the mark of a great teacher as well as critic that he can rise to the author's level in a masterpiece. Particularly in the Tolstoy lectures, which provide the most exhilarating reading and are the heart of this volume, Nabokov from time to time joins Tolstoy at a dizzy level of imaginative experience.

The interpretive description with which he guides the reader through the story of Anna Karenin is itself a work of art. Perhaps the most valuable contribution that Nabokov made to his students was not merely his emphasis on shared experience but on shared informed experience.

As a creative writer himself he could meet the authors he treated on their own ground and make their stories and characters come alive by his own understanding of what constitutes the art of writing. In his persistent emphasis on intelligent reading he found that nothing equalled the reader's command of detail as the key to unlock the secret of how masterpieces work.

His commentary notes on Anna Karenin are a treasure of information that enhances the reader's awareness of the inner life of the novel. This scientific yet artistic appreciation of detail, characteristic of Nabokov himself as a writer, constitutes ultimately the heart of his teaching method. He summed up his feeling as follows: Any ass can assimilate the main points of Tolstoy's attitude toward adultery but in order to enjoy Tolstoy's art the good reader must wish to visualize, for instance, the arrangement of a railway carriage on the Moscow-Petersburg night train as it was a hundred years ago.

The dress that Kitty would have worn skating is reproduced from a contemporary fashion illustration. We have discourses on how tennis was played, what Russians had for breakfast, luncheon, and dinner, and at what times.

This scientist's respect for fact combined with the writer's own understanding of the intricate trails of passion that inform a great work of imagination is quintessentially Naboko-vian and is one of the particular virtues of these lectures. As he said in an interview, unless you know the streets of Joyce's Dublin and what the semi-sleeping car on the Petersburg-Moscow express looked like in , you cannot make sense of Ulysses and Anna Karenin[a].

In other words, the writer makes use of some specific realities, but only as bait with which to trap the readers into the greater unreality—or greater reality—of his fiction. Of course, if the reader does not understand and assimilate this detail, he remains outside the imaginative reality of the fiction. It is quite true that without Nabokov's explanation of the conditions under which Anna traveled on that fateful journey to Petersburg certain of the motifs in her nightmare cannot be understood.

Lectures on Russian literature This is the teaching method, but the result is a warm sense of shared experience between Nabokov and the hearer-reader. One reacts with joy to his communication of understanding through feeling, a gift given particularly to critics who are themselves great literary artists.

That the magic he felt so keenly in literature should be aimed at pleasure we learn from these lectures and from the anecdote that at the first meeting of Literature in September , at Cornell, Vladimir Nabokov asked the students to explain in writing why they had enrolled in the course.

At the next class he approvingly reported that one student had answered, "Because I like stories. New Directions, ].

The Cambridge Introduction to Russian Literature

The lectures exist in very different states of preparation and polish, and even of completed structure. Most are in his own handwriting, with only occasional sections usually the biographical introductions typed by his wife Vera as an aid to delivery. The degree of preparation ranges from the handwritten rough notes for the Gorki lecture to a considerable amount of typed material for Tolstoy that seems to have been planned as part of an extended general introduction to the lectures on Anna Karenin reworked as a textbook.

The appendices to the Anna Karenin essay consist of material prepared for Nabokov's edition. When typing exists the text was usually further modified by Nabokov, who might add fresh comments by hand or revise phrases for felicity.

Thus the typed pages are likely to run a little more smoothly than the handwritten. The holograph pages on a few occasions appear to be fair copies, but normally they give every indication of initial composition, and they are often much worked over both during the writing-out and on review. Some separate sections in the lecture folders clearly represent simple background notes made in the initial stages of preparation and either not utilized or else considerably revised and incorporated subsequently into the lectures themselves.

Other independent sections are more ambiguous, and it is not always demonstrable whether they reflect stages of amplification during the course of repeated delivery in different years and in different places from the basic Wellesley series seemingly not much modified, except for Tolstoy, when delivered later at Cornell or else jottings for possible incorporation in a future revision.

Whenever possible all such material not manifestly background and preparatory memoranda has been salvaged and worked into the texture of the discourse at appropriate places. The problem of making a reading edition from these manuscripts falls into two main parts: Structurally, the main order of delivery, or the organization of the lectures on any one of the authors, is not ordinarily in question, but problems do arise, especially in the Tolstoy lectures, which are composed of a series of discrete sections.

The evidence appears to be quite contradictory, for example, whether Nabokov intended Anna's story to be finished before he took up in any major way the Lyovin narrative with which he proposed to conclude, or else whether the plot line of Anna and Vronski was to begin and to end the series, as presented here. It is not entirely clear, also, whether Notes from Underground i. Thus even in an essay like that on Anna Karenin in which at least some preliminary preparations looking toward publication can be encountered, the proposed organization is in some legitimate doubt.

The problem is intensified in the lecture on "The Death of Ivan Ilyich," which exists only in the form of a few fragmented notes. Between these two extremes comes a series like that on Chekhov, which is only partly organized. The section devoted to "The Lady with the Little Dog" is fully worked out, but "In the Gully" is represented only by rough notes with directions to read certain pages from the story.

The Seagull handwritten manuscript was discovered apart from the rest but appears to belong to the series. It is rather elementary in its form, but it seems to have received Nabokov's approval since its beginning has been typed and then a note in Russian refers to the continuation in the rest of the manuscript.

In some lectures a small rearrangement has been necessary in cases of doubt about the progression. In a few of the folders isolated pages of Nabokov's remarks are interspersed—sometimes little independent essays but sometimes only notes or trials—which have been editorially integrated in the discourse in an effort to preserve the maximum discussion that Nabokov made of the authors, their works, and the art of literature in general.

Lectures on Russian literature Quotation bulked large in Nabokov's teaching methods as an aid in transmitting to students his ideas of literary artistry. In the construction of the present reading edition from the lectures, Nabokov's method has been followed with very little cutting except of the most extended quoted illustrations, for the quotations are most helpful in recalling a book to the reader's memory or else in introducing it to a fresh reader under Nabokov's expert guidance.

Quotations, therefore, ordinarily follow Nabokov's specific instructions to read certain passages usually marked also in his own classroom copy with the effect that the reader may participate in the talk as if he were present as a listener.

To further this flow-in of quotation with discussion, the convention of quotation marks at every indentation has been set aside, and except for opening and closing marks and the usual marks about dialogue, the distinction between quotation and text has been deliberately blurred. When a useful purpose might be served, the editor has occasionally added quotations to illustrate Nabokov's discussion or description, especially when his teaching copies of the books are not available and one does not have the guidance of passages marked for quotation in addition to those specified in the body of the lecture as to be read.

Only the teaching copies for Anna Karenin and for certain of the Chekhov works have been preserved. These are marked for quotation and contain notes about the context, most of these comments also being present in the written-out lectures but other notes clue Nabokov in on some oral remark to make about the style or the content of passages to be emphasized by quotation or verbal reference.

Whenever possible, comments in the annotated copies have been worked into the texture of the lectures as appropriate occasion arose. Nabokov highly disapproved of Constance Garnett's translations from the Russian. Thus the passages marked for quotation in his teaching copy of Anna Karenin are interlined heavily with his own corrections of errors of translation or his own versions of the authorial expression.

Quotation in the present volume follows, of course, Nabokov's own alterations in the basic translation as he would have read them, but usually omits his bitter sidenotes about the translator's incompetency, directed at Constance Garnett's blunders. The Tolstoy lectures, perhaps because of their partial reworking for a proposed book, are unique in presenting many of the quotations typed out in full within the text instead of relying on Nabokov's usual practice of noting passages to read from his teaching copy.

This teaching copy differs from that of Madame Bovary where the entire text was freely annotated in that after part one only selected passages in Anna Karenin have been revised.

The typing-out of quotations poses something of a problem because changes made in the Garnett text in these typescripts do not always agree with the alterations made in the text of the teaching copy and these passages are frequently abridged. There is also a separate section, presumably intended for publication but not here reproduced, labeled as corrections to the Garnett edition for the first part of Anna Karenin which, when referring to the quoted passages, does not always agree either with the manuscript or the marked book.

A choice of one of these three as the exclusive copy for the text of the quotations in the present volume would be partly unsatisfactory since each series of revisions seems to have been made without reference to the others. Under these conditions, where chronological priority has little or no significance, it has seemed most useful to provide the reader with the maximum number of changes that Nabokov made in the Garnett version by using the abridged manuscript copy as the norm but freely inserting in its text whatever further alterations he made either in the teaching copy or the typed-out list.

Nabokov was acutely conscious of the need to shape the separate lectures to the allotted classroom hour, and it is not unusual to find noted in the margin the time at which that particular point should have been reached.

Within the lecture text a number of passages and even separate sentences or phrases are enclosed in square brackets. Some of these brackets seem to indicate matter that could be omitted if time were pressing.

Others may represent matter that he queried for omission more for reasons of content or expression than for time restrictions; and indeed some of these bracketed queries were subsequently deleted, just as some, alternatively, have been removed from the status of queries by the substitution for them of parentheses. All such undeleted bracketed material has been faithfully reproduced but without sign of the bracketing, which would have been intrusive for the reader.

Deletions are observed, of course, except for a handful of cases when it has seemed to the editor possible that the matter was excised for considerations of time or, sometimes, of position, in which latter case the deleted matter has been transferred to a more appropriate context.

On the other hand, some of Nabokov's comments directed exclusively to his students and often on pedagogical subjects have been omitted as inconsistent with the aims of a reading edition, although one that otherwise retains much of the flavor of Nabokov's lecture delivery. Among such omissions one may mention remarks like "you all remember who she was" when he compares Anna Karenin to Athena, or his adjuration to the undergraduates that they should enjoy the pathetic scene of Anna's visit to her son on his tenth birthday, or his spelling out Tyutchev's name with a long "u" which sounds, he remarks, like "a kind of caged twitter," a comment worth preserving , or observations for an unsophisticated audience in his analysis of Tolstoy's 9 Vladimir Nabokov: Lectures on Russian literature structure: By the way it does not come from sin—s, i, n—but s, y, n—and it means arranging events in such a way as to indicate coexistence.

Stylistically the most part of these texts by no means represents what would have been Nabokov's language and syntax if he had himself worked them up in book form, for a marked difference exists between the general style of these classroom lectures and the polished workmanship of several of his public lectures.

Since publication without reworking had not been contemplated when Nabokov wrote out these lectures and their notes for delivery, it would be pedantic in the extreme to try to transcribe the texts literatum in every detail from the sometimes rough form found in the manuscripts.

The editor of a reading edition may be permitted to deal more freely with inconsistencies, inadvertent mistakes, and incomplete inscription, including the need sometimes to add bridge passages in connection with quotation. On the other hand, no reader would want a manipulated text that endeavored to "improve" Nabokov's writing in any intrusive way even in some of its unpolished sections. Thus a synthetic approach has been firmly rejected, and Nabokov's language has been reproduced with fidelity save for words missing by accident and inadvertent repetitions often the result of incomplete revision.

Corrections and modifications have been performed silently. Thus the only footnotes are Nabokov's own or else occasional editorial comments on points of interest such as the application of some isolated jotting, whether among the manuscripts or in the annotated copy of the teaching book, to the text of the lecture at hand. The mechanics of the lectures, such as Nabokov's notes to himself, often in Russian, have been omitted, as have been his markings for correct delivery of the vowel quantities in pronunciation and the accenting of syllables in certain names and unusual words.

Nor do footnotes interrupt what one hopes is the flow of the discourse to indicate to the reader that an unassigned section has been editorially inserted at a particular point. The transliteration of Russian names to their English equivalents has posed a slight problem since Nabokov was not always consistent in his own usage; and even when he made up a list of the forms of names in Anna Karenin, part one, presumably for the planned publication of the Tolstoy lectures, the transliterated spellings do not always agree with the forms in his own manuscripts, or even internally in their system.

Quotations from the texts of the translators of other authors introduce a variety of different systems, also. Under these conditions it has seemed best to make a thorough revised transliteration of the Russian names in all these lectures according to a consistent system that has been agreed upon and performed by the joint efforts of Professor Simon Karlinsky and Mrs. Vladimir Nabokov, to whom special thanks are due. In these remarks he states that he has described at the beginning of the course the period of Russian literature between and This opening lecture has not been preserved among the manuscripts except perhaps for one leaf, which appears as the epigraph to this volume.

The editions of the books that Nabokov used as teaching copies for his lectures were selected for their cheapness and general availability. Nabokov admired the translations from the Russian of Bernard Guilbert Guerney, but of few others. The texts from which Nabokov taught are as follows: Tolstoy, Anna Karenina New York: Modern Library, ; The Portable Chekhov, ed.

Avrahm Yarmolinsky New York: Vanguard Press, This notion is ampler in the minds of Russian readers since it comprises, in addition to the novelists, a number of untranslatable poets ; but even so, the native mind remains focused on the resplendent orb of the nineteenth century. In other words, "Russian literature" is a recent event. It is also a limited event, and the foreigner's mind tends to regard it as something complete, something finished once and for all.

This is mainly due to the bleakness of the typically regional literature produced during the last four decades under the Soviet rule. I calculated once that the acknowledged best in the way of Russian fiction and poetry which had been produced since the beginning of the last century runs to about 23, pages of ordinary print.

It is evident that neither French nor English literature can be so compactly handled. They sprawl over many more centuries; the number of masterpieces is formidable. This brings me to my first point. If we exclude one medieval masterpiece, the beautifully commodious thing about Russian prose is that it is all contained in the amphora of one round century—with an additional little cream jug provided for whatever surplus may have accumulated since.

One century, the nineteenth, had been sufficient for a country with practically no literary tradition of its own to create a literature which in artistic worth, in wide-spread influence, in everything except bulk, equals the glorious output of England or France, although their production of permanent masterpieces had begun so much earlier.

This miraculous flow of esthetic values in so young a civilization could not have taken place unless in all other ramifications of spiritual growth nineteenth-century Russia had not attained with the same abnormal speed a degree of culture which again matched that of the oldest Western countries.

I am aware that the recognition of this past culture of Russia is not an integral part of a foreigner's notion of Russian history. The question of the evolution of liberal thought in Russia before the Revolution has been completely obscured and distorted abroad by astute Communist propaganda in the twenties and thirties of this century.

They usurped the honor of having civilized Russia. But it is also true that in the days of Pushkin or Gogol a large majority of the Russian nation was left out in the cold in a veil of slow snow beyond the amber-bright windows, and this was a tragic result of the fact that a most refined European culture had arrived too fast in a country famous for its misfortunes, famous for the misery of its numberless humble lives—but that is another story.

Or perhaps it is not. In the process of sketching a picture of the history of recent Russian literature, or more precisely in the process of defining the forces which struggled for the possession of the artist's soul, I may, if I am lucky, tap the deep pathos that pertains to all authentic art because of the breach between its eternal values and the sufferings of a muddled world—this world, indeed, can hardly be blamed for regarding literature as a luxury or a toy unless it can be used as an upto-date guidebook.

For an artist one consolation is that in a free country he is not actually forced to produce guidebooks. Now, from this limited point of view, nineteenth-century Russia was oddly enough a free country: A staunch determinist might argue that between a magazine in a democratic country applying financial pressure to its contributors to make them exude what is required by the so-called reading public—between this and the more direct pressure which a police state brings to bear in order to make the author round out his novel with a suitable political message, it may be argued that between the two pressures there is only a difference of degree; but this is not so for the simple reason that there are many different periodicals and philosophies in a free country but only one government in a dictatorship.

It is a difference in quality. Lectures on Russian literature good, and gentle life to the age of , when he blissfully dies in his sleep — it is quite possible that despite your brilliant talent, Mr. Nabokov, we feel [in such cases we don't think, we feel] that no American publisher could risk bringing out such a book simply because no bookseller would want to handle it. This is a publisher's opinion, and everybody has the right to have an opinion.

Nobody would exile me to the wilds of Alaska for having my happy atheist published after all by some shady experimental firm; and on the other hand, authors in America are never ordered by the government to produce magnificent novels about the joys of free enterprise and of morning prayers.

In Russia before the Soviet rule there did exist restrictions, but no orders were given to artists. They were—those nineteenth-century writers, composers, and painters— quite certain that they lived in a country of oppression and slavery, but they had something that one can appreciate only now, namely, the immense advantage over their grandsons in modern Russia of not being compelled to say that there was no oppression and no slavery.

Of the two forces that simultaneously struggled for the possession of the artist's soul, of the two critics who judged his work, the first was the government. Throughout the last century the government remained aware that anything outstanding and original in the way of creative thought was a jarring note and a stride toward Revolution.

The government's vigilance in its purest form was perfectly expressed by Tsar Nicholas I in the thirties and forties. His chilly personality pervaded the scene much more thoroughly than did the philistinism of the next sovereigns, and his attachment to literature would have been touching had it really come from the heart.

With striking perseverance he tried to be everything in relation to Russian writers of his time—a father, a godfather, a nurse, a wetnurse, a prison warden, and a literary critic all rolled up in one. Whatever qualities he may have shown in his own kingly profession, it must be admitted that in his dealing with the Russian Muse he was at the worst a vicious bully, at the best a clown. The system of censorship that he evolved lasted till the s, was eased by the great reforms of the sixties, stiffened again in the last decades of the century, broke down for a short spell in the first decade of this century, and then had a most sensational and formidable comeback after the Revolution under the Soviets.

In the first half of the last century, meddlesome officials, heads of police who thought that Byron was an Italian revolutionary, smug old censors, certain journalists in the government's pay, the quiet but touchy and wary church, this combination of monarchism, bigotry, and cringing administration hampered the author to a considerable degree but also afforded him the keen pleasure of pin-pricking and deriding the government in a thousand subtle, delightfully subversive ways with which governmental stupidity was quite unable to cope.

A fool may be a dangerous customer, but the fact of his having such a vulnerable top-end turns danger into a first-rate sport; and whatever defects the old administration in Russia had, it must be conceded that it possessed one outstanding virtue—a lack of brains. In a certain sense, the censor's task was made more difficult by his having to disentangle abstruse political allusions instead of simply cracking down upon obvious obscenity.

True, under Tsar Nicholas I a Russian poet had to be careful, and Pushkin's imitations of naughty French models, of Parny, of Voltaire, were easily crushed by censorship. But prose was virtuous. Russian literature had no Renaissance tradition of vigorous outspokenness as other literatures had, and up to this day the Russian novel remains on the whole the most chaste of all novels. And, of course, Russian literature of the Soviet period is purity itself. One cannot imagine a Russian writing, for example, Lady Chatterley's Lover.

So the first force fighting the artist was the government. The second force tackling the nineteenth-century Russian author was the anti-governmental, social-minded utilitarian criticism, the political, civic, radical thinkers of the day. It must be stressed that these men in general culture, honesty, aspirations, mental activity, and human virtue were immeasurably superior to the rogues in the government's pay or to the muddled old reactionaries that clustered around the shivering throne. The radical critic was concerned exclusively with the welfare of the people and regarded everything—literature, science, philosophy —as only a means to improve the social and economic situation of the underdog and to alter the political structure of his country.

He was incorruptible, heroic, indifferent to the privations of exile, but also indifferent to the niceties of art. These men who fought despotism—the fiery Belinski of the forties, the stubborn Chernyshevski and Dobrolyubov of the fifties and sixties, Mihaylovski, the well-meaning bore, and dozens of other honest obstinate men—all may be grouped under one heading: In looking through old periodicals of the sixties and seventies, one is astounded to find what violent 13 Vladimir Nabokov: Lectures on Russian literature ideas these men were able to express in a country ruled by an absolute monarch.

But with all their virtues, these radical critics were as great a nuisance in regard to art as was the government. Government and revolution, the Tsar and the Radicals, were both philistines in art. The radical critics fought despotism, but they evolved a despotism of their own. The claims, the promptings, the theories that they tried to enforce were in themselves just as irrelevant to art as was the conventionalism of the administration. What they demanded of an author was a social message and no nonsense, and from their point of view a book was good only insofar as it was of practical use to the welfare of the people.

There was a disastrous flaw in their fervor. Sincerely and boldly they advocated freedom and equality but they contradicted their own creed by wishing to subjugate the arts to current politics. If in the opinion of the Tsars authors were to be the servants of the state, in the opinion of the radical critics writers were to be the servants of the masses. The two lines of thought were bound to meet and join forces when at last, in our times, a new kind of regime, the synthesis of a Hegelian triad, combined the idea of the masses with the idea of the state.

One of the best examples of the clash between the artist and his critics in the twenties and thirties of the nineteenth century is the case of Pushkin, Russia's first great writer.

Officialdom headed by Tsar Nicholas himself was madly irritated by this man who instead of being a good servant of the state in the rank and file of the administration and extolling conventional virtues in his vocational writings if write he must , composed extremely arrogant and extremely independent and extremely wicked verse in which a dangerous freedom of thought was evident in the novelty of his versification, in the audacity of his sensual fancy, and in his propensity for making fun of major and minor tyrants.

The church deplored his levity. Police officers, high officials, critics in the pay of the government dubbed him a shallow versificator; and because he emphatically refused to use his pen for copying humdrum acts in a governmental office, Pushkin, one of the best educated Europeans of his day, was called an ignoramus by Count Thingamabob and a dunce by General Donner-wetter. The methods which the state employed in its attempts to throttle Pushkin's genius were banishment, fierce censorship, constant pestering, fatherly admonishment, and finally a favorable attitude toward the local scoundrels who eventually drove Pushkin to fight his fatal duel with a wretched adventurer from royalist France.

Now, on the other hand, the immensely influential radical critics, who in spite of absolute monarchy managed to voice their revolutionary opinions and hopes in widely read periodicals—these radical critics who blossomed forth in the last years of Pushkin's short life, were also madly irritated by this man who instead of being a good servant of the people and of social endeavor wrote extremely subtle and extremely independent and extremely imaginative verse about all things on earth, the very variety of his interests somehow lessening the value of revolutionary intention that might be discerned in his casual, too casual, pokes at minor or major tyrants.

The audacity of his versification was deplored as being an aristocratic adornment; his artistic aloofness was pronounced a social crime; mediocre writers but sound political thinkers dubbed Pushkin a shallow versificator.

In the sixties and seventies famous critics, the idols of public opinion, called Pushkin a dunce, and emphatically proclaimed that a good pair of boots was far more important for the Russian people than all the Pushkins and Shakespeares in the world.

In comparing the exact epithets used by the extreme radicals with those used by the extreme monarchists in regard to Russia's greatest poet, one is struck by their awful similarity. Gogol's case in the late thirties and forties was somewhat different. First let me say that his play The Government Inspector and his novel Dead Souls are products of Gogol's own fancy, his private nightmares peopled with his own incomparable goblins.

They are not and could not be a picture of the Russia of his time since, apart from other reasons, he hardly knew Russia; and indeed his failure to write a continuation of Dead Souls was due to his not possessing sufficient data and to the impossibility of using the little people of his fancy for a realistic work that would improve the morals of his country.

But the radical critics perceived in the play and in the novel an indictment of bribery, of coarse living, of governmental iniquity, of slavery. A revolutionary intention was read into Gogol's works and he, a timorous law-abiding citizen with many influential friends in the conservative party, was so appalled at the things that had been found in his works that in his subsequent writings he endeavored to prove that the play and the novel, far from being revolutionary, had really conformed to religious tradition and to the mysticism which he later evolved.

Dostoevski was banished and almost executed by the government in his youth for some indulgence in juvenile politics; but when afterwards he extolled in his writings the virtues of humility, submission, and suffering, he was murdered in print by the radical critics.

And these same critics fiercely attacked Tolstoy for depicting what they called the romantic romps of titled ladies and gentlemen, while the church excommunicated him for his daring to evolve a faith of his own making. Lectures on Russian literature These examples will I think suffice.

It can be said without much exaggeration that almost all the great Russian writers of the nineteenth century went through this strange double purgatory. Then the marvelous nineteenth century came to a close. Chekhov died in , Tolstoy in There arose a new generation of writers, a final sunburst, a hectic flurry of talent. In these two decades just before the Revolution, modernism in prose, poetry, and painting flourished brilliantly. Andrey Bely, a precursor of James Joyce, Aleksandr Blok, the symbolist, and several other avant-garde poets appeared on the lighted stage.

When, less than a year after the Liberal Revolution, the Bolshevik leaders overturned the Democratic regime of Kerenski and inaugurated their reign of terror, most Russian writers went abroad; some, as for example the futurist poet Mayakovski, remained.

Foreign observers confused advanced literature with advanced politics, and this confusion was eagerly pounced upon, and promoted, and kept alive by Soviet propaganda abroad. Actually Lenin was in art a philistine, a bourgeois, and from the very start the Soviet government was laying the grounds for a primitive, regional, political, police-controlled, utterly conservative and conventional literature.

The Soviet government, with admirable frankness very different from the sheepish, half-hearted, muddled attempts of the old administration, proclaimed that literature was a tool of the state; and for the last forty years this happy agreement between the poet and the policeman has been carried on most intelligently.

Its result is the so-called Soviet literature, a literature conventionally bourgeois in its style and hopelessly monotonous in its meek interpretation of this or that governmental idea. It is interesting to ponder the fact that there is no real difference between what the Western Fascists wanted of literature and what the Bolsheviks want. Let me quote: One thing, however, we demand: Rosenberg, Minister of Culture in Hitler's Germany. Another quotation: Both of these are textual quotations, and their similitude would have been highly diverting had not the whole thing been so very sad.

The round body of the law had delicate dialectical tentacles: In the course of forty years of absolute domination the Soviet government has never once lost control of the arts. Every now and then the screw is eased for a moment, to see what will happen, and some mild concession toward individual selfexpression is accorded; and foreign optimists acclaim the new book as a political protest, no matter how mediocre it is.

We all know those bulky best-sellers All Quiet on the Don, Not by Bread Possessed, and Zed's Cabin —mountains of triteness, plateaus of platitudes, which are called "powerful" and "compelling" by foreign reviewers. But, alas, even if the Soviet writer does reach a level of literary art worthy of, say, an Upton Lewis—not to name any names—even so the dreary fact remains that the Soviet government, the most philistine organization on earth, cannot permit the individual quest, the creative courage, the new, the original, the difficult, the strange, to exist.

And let us not be fooled by the natural extinction of elderly dictators. Not a jot changed in the philosophy of the state when Lenin was replaced by Stalin, and not a jot has changed now, with the rise of Krushchev, or Hrushchyov, or whatever his name is. Let me quote Hrushchyov on literature at a recent party reunion June This is what he said: Since a definite limit is set to an author's imagination and to free will, every proletarian novel must end happily, with the Soviets triumphing, and thus the author is faced with the dreadul task of having to weave an interesting plot when the 15 Vladimir Nabokov: Lectures on Russian literature outcome is in advance officially known to the reader.

In an Anglo-Saxon thriller, the villain is generally punished, and the strong silent man generally wins the weak babbling girl, but there is no governmental law in Western countries to ban a story that does not comply with a fond tradition, so that we always hope that the wicked but romantic fellow will escape scot-free and the good but dull chap will be finally snubbed by the moody heroine.

But in the case of the Soviet author there is no such freedom. His epilogue is fixed by law, and the reader knows it as well as the writer does. How, then, can he manage to keep his audience in suspense? Well, a few ways have been found. First of all, since the idea of a happy end really refers not to the characters but to the police state, and since it is the Soviet state that is the real protagonist of every Soviet novel, we can have a few minor characters—fairly good Bolsheviks though they be—die a violent death provided the idea of the Perfect State triumphs in the end; in fact, some cunning authors have been known to arrange things in such a way that on the very last page the death of the Communist hero is the triumph of the happy Communist idea: I die so that the Soviet Union may live.

This is one way—but it is a dangerous way, for the author may be accused of killing the symbol together with the man, the boy on the burning deck together with the whole Navy. If he is cautious and shrewd, he will endow the Communist who comes to grief with some little weakness, some slight—oh, so slight!

An able Soviet author proceeds to collect a number of characters involved in the creation of this factory or that farm much in the same way as a mystery story writer collects a number of people in a country house or a railway train where a murder is about to occur. In the Soviet story the crime idea will take the form of some secret enemy tampering with the work and plans of the Soviet undertaking in question.

And just as in an ordinary mystery story, the various characters will be shown in such a way that the reader is not quite sure whether the harsh and gloomy fellow is really bad, and whether the smoothtongued, cheerful mixer is really good. Our detective is represented there by the elderly worker who lost one eye in the Russian Civil War, or a splendidly healthy young woman who has been sent from Headquarters to investigate why the production of some stuff is falling in such an alarming way.

The characters — say, the factory workers—are so selected as to show all the shades of state-consciousness, some being staunch and honest realists, others nursing romantic memories of the first years of the Revolution, others again with no learning or experience but with a lot of sound Bolshevik intuition. The reader notes the action and dialogue, notes also this or that hint, and tries to discover who among them is sincere, and who has a dark secret to hide.

The plot thickens and when the climax is reached and the villain is unmasked by the strong silent girl, we find out what we had perhaps suspected—that the man who was wrecking the factory is not the ugly little old workman with a trick of mispronouncing Marxist definitions, bless his little well-meaning soul, but the slick, easygoing fellow well versed in Marxian lore; and his dark secret is that his stepmother's cousin was the nephew of a capitalist. I have seen Nazi novels doing the same thing on racial lines.

Apart from this structural resemblance to the tritest kind of crimethriller, we must note here the "pseudo-religious" side. The little old workman who proves to be the better man is a kind of obscene parody of the poor-in-wits but strong in spirit and faith, inheriting the Kingdom of Heaven, while the brilliant pharisee goes to the other place.

Especially amusing in these circumstances is the romantic theme in Soviet novels. I have here two examples culled at random. First, a passage from The Big Heart, a novel by Antonov, published serially in Olga was silent. Olga let her limpid blue eyes rest on him, and answered quickly: Lectures on Russian literature My other example is from a novel by Gladkov, Energiya: The young worker Ivan grasped the drill.

As soon as he felt the surface of metal, he became agitated, and an excited shiver ran through his body. The deafening roar of the drill hurled Sonia away from him. Then she placed her hand on his shoulder and tickled the hair on his ear.

Then she looked at him, and the little cap perched on her curls mocked and provoked him. It was as though an electric discharge had pierced both the young people at one and the same moment. He gave a deep sigh and clutched the apparatus more firmly. I have now described with less sorrow I hope than contempt, the forces that fought for the artist's soul in the nineteenth century and the final oppression which art underwent in the Soviet police state.

In the nineteenth century genius not only survived, but flourished, because public opinion was stronger than any Tsar and because, on the other hand, the good reader refused to be controlled by the utilitarian ideas of progressive critics. In the present era when public opinion in Russia is completely crushed by the government, the good reader may perhaps still exist there, somewhere in Tomsk or Atomsk, but his voice is not heard, his diet is supervised, his mind divorced from the minds of his brothers abroad.

His brothers—that is the point: It is he—the good, the excellent reader—who has saved the artist again and again from being destroyed by emperors, dictators, priests, puritans, philistines, political moralists, policemen, postmasters, and prigs. Let me define this admirable reader. He does not belong to any specific nation or class. No director of conscience and no book club can manage his soul. His approach to a work of fiction is not governed by those juvenile emotions that make the mediocre reader identify himself with this or that character and "skip descriptions.

The admirable reader does not seek information about Russia in a Russian novel, for he knows that the Russia of Tolstoy or Chekhov is not the average Russia of history but a specific world imagined and created by individual genius. The admirable reader is not concerned with general ideas: He likes the novel not because it helps him to get along with the group to use a diabolical progressive-school cliche ; he likes the novel because he imbibes and understands every detail of the text, enjoys what the author meant to be enjoyed, beams inwardly and all over, is thrilled by the magic imageries of the master-forger, the fancy-forger, the conjuror, the artist.

Indeed, of all the characters that a great artist creates, his readers are the best. In sentimental retrospect, the Russian reader of the past seems to me to be as much of a model for readers as Russian writers were models for writers in other tongues.

He would start on his charmed career at a most tender age and lose his heart to Tolstoy or Chekhov when still in the nursery and nurse would try to take away Anna Karenin and would say: Oh, come, let me tell it to you in my own words Day-ka, ya tebe rasskazhu svoimi slovami [slovo-word].

That is how the good reader learned to beware of translators of condensed masterpieces, of idiotic movies about the brothers Karenins, and of all other ways of toadying to the lazy and of quartering the great.

And to sum up, I would like to stress once more, Let us not look for the soul of Russia in the Russian novel: Look at the masterpiece, and not at the frame—and not at the faces of other people looking at the frame. The Russian reader in old cultured Russia was certainly proud of Pushkin and of Gogol, but he was just as proud of Shakespeare or Dante, of Baudelaire or of Edgar Allan Poe, of Flaubert or of Homer, and this was the Russian reader's strength.

I have a certain personal interest in the question, for if my fathers had not been good readers, I would hardly be here today, speaking of these matters in this tongue. I am aware of many things being quite as important as good writing and good reading; but in all things it is wiser to go directly to the quiddity, to the text, to the source, to the essence—and only then evolve whatever theories may tempt the philosopher, or the historian, or merely please the spirit of the day.

Readers are born free and ought to remain free; and the following little poem by Pushkin, with which I shall close my talk, applies not only to poets, but also to those who love the poets.

Lectures on Russian literature I value little those much vaunted rights that have for some the lure of dizzy heights; I do not fret because the gods refuse to let me wrangle over revenues, or thwart the wars of kings; and 'tis to me of no concern whether the press be free to dupe poor oafs or whether censors cramp the current fancies of some scribbling scamp.

These things are words, words, words. My spirit fights for deeper Liberty, for better rights. Whom shall we serve—the people or the State? The poet does not care—so let them wait. To give account to none, to be one's own vassal and lord, to please oneself alone, to bend neither one's neck, nor inner schemes, nor conscience to obtain some thing that seems power but is a flunkey's coat; to stroll in one's own wake, admiring the divine beauties of Nature and to feel one's soul melt in the glow of man's inspired design —that is the blessing, those are the rights!

Nabokov] 18 Vladimir Nabokov: Lectures on Russian literature Dead Souls Socially minded Russian critics saw in Dead Souls and in The Government Inspector a condemnation of the social poshlust emanating from serf-owning bureaucratic provincial Russia and thus missed the true point. Gogol's heroes merely happen to be Russian squires and officials; their imagined surroundings and social conditions are perfectly unimportant factors— just as Monsieur Homais might be a business man in Chicago or Mrs.

Bloom the wife of a schoolmaster in Vyshni-Volochok. Moreover, their surroundings and conditions, whatever they might have been in "real life," underwent such a thorough permutation and reconstruction in the laboratory of Gogol's peculiar genius that as has been observed already in connection with The Government Inspector it is as useless to look in Dead Souls for an authentic Russian background as it would be to try and form a conception of Denmark on the basis of that little affair in cloudy Elsinore.

And if you want "facts," then let us inquire what experience had Gogol of provincial Russia. Eight hours in a Podolsk inn, a week in Kursk, the rest he had seen from the window of his traveling carriage, and to this he had added the memories of his essentially Ukrainian youth spent in Mirgorod, Nezhin, Poltava—all of which towns lay far outside Chichikov's itinerary.

What seems true however is that Dead Souls provides an attentive reader with a collection of bloated dead souls belonging to poshlyaki males and poshlyachki females described with that Gogolian gusto and wealth of weird detail which lift the whole thing to the level of a tremendous epic poem; and "poem" is in fact the subtle subtitle appended by Gogol to Dead Souls. There is something sleek and plump about poshlust, and this gloss, these smooth curves, attracted the artist in Gogol.

The immense sphericalposhlyak singular of the word Pavel Chichikov eating the fig at the bottom of the milk which he drinks to mellow his throat, or dancing in his nightgown in the middle of the room while things on shelves rock in response to his Lacedaemonian jig ending in his ecstatically hitting his chubby behind—his real face—with the pink heel of his bare foot, thus propelling himself into the true paradise of dead souls these are visions which transcend the lesser varieties oiposhlust discernible in humdrum provincial surroundings or in the petty iniquities of petty officials.

But a poshlyak even of Chichikov's colossal dimensions inevitably has somewhere in him a hole, a chink through which you see the worm, the little shriveled fool that lies all huddled up in the depth of the poshlust-painted vacuum. There was something faintly silly from the very start about that idea of buying up dead souls, —souls of serfs who had died since the last census and for whom their owners continued to pay the poll-tax, thus endowing them with a kind of abstract existence which however was quite concretely felt by the squire's pocket and could be just as "concretely" exploited by Chichikov, the buyer of such phantasma.

This faint but rather sickening silliness was for a certain time concealed by the maze of complex machinations. Morally Chichikov was hardly guilty of any special crime in attempting to buy up dead men in a country where live men were lawfully purchased and pawned.

If I paint my face with home made Prussian Blue instead of applying the Prussian Blue which is sold by the state and cannot be manufactured by private persons, my crime will be hardly worth a passing smile and no writer will make of it a Prussian Tragedy.

But if I have surrounded the whole business with a good deal of mystery and flaunted a cleverness that presupposed most intricate difficulties in perpetrating a crime of that kind, and if owing to my letting a garrulous neighbor peep at my pots of home-brewn paint I get arrested and am roughly handled by men with authentic blue faces, then the laugh for what it is worth is on me. In spite of Chichikov's fundamental irreality in a fundamentally unreal world, the fool in him is apparent because from the very start he commits blunder upon blunder.

It was silly to try to buy dead souls from an old woman who was afraid of ghosts; it was an incredible lapse of acumen to suggest such a Queer Street deal to the braggard and bully Nozdryov. I repeat however for the benefit of those who like books to provide them with "real people" and "real crime" and a "message" that horror of horrors borrowed from the jargon of quack reformers that Dead Souls will get them nowhere.

Chichikov's guilt being a purely conventional matter, his destiny can hardly provoke any emotional reaction on our part.