Saturday, 22 March 2014

On Virginia Woolf on Turgenev

Fragmentary, superficial, badly-expressed thoughts on chapter 5 "Turgenev: A passion for art" from "Virginia Woolf and the Russian Point of View" by Roberta Rubenstein (

1/ The Russian trinity here is Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky and Turgenev. I find it better than to refer to the 1st 2 and Chekhov. Comparing novelists and short fiction writers is problematic.
2/ Like Virginia Woolf, I'm 1 of those who appreciate Turgenev "more for his formal artistry than for his political or social commentary".
3/ In 1 aspect, Tolstoy and Turgenev are opposites. Tolstoy, in his works, is like an omniscient God, seeing everything from the largest, most epic scenes to the smallest gestures, the tiniest glances that easily go unnoticed, and all that goes through his characters' minds. Anyone who has read Tolstoy knows what I mean, I lack the words to praise him as he deserves. Turgenev isn't like that, and it is proof that he's not as great, but his books "leave behind the impression that they contain a large world in which there is ample room for men and women of full size and the sky above and the fields around". His economy of style is suggesting, leaving room for the readers to fill in.
4/ Virginia Woolf praises his "power of suggesting emotion by scenery... All the lines rubbed out except the necessary". She also praises "his method of drawing from details in the natural world to suggest mood and feeling".
(This, strangely enough, makes me think of F. Scott Fitzgerald).
5/ "The superficial impression deepens and sharpens itself as the pages are turned. The scene has the size out of all proportion to its length. It expands the mind and lies there giving off fresh ideas, emotions, and pictures much as a moment in real life which sometimes only yield its meaning long after it has passed". 
This is 1 of those times when I lament the inadequacy of my language and then find someone express my exact thoughts.
6/ She, similar to what I've said in my 'theory', says that a novelist can't be a politician and can't believe in 1 cause only.
7/ As Virginia Woolf notes, Turgenev's characters don't have to speak in order to make us feel their presence.
8/ Never stop observing. Pay attention to everything.
9/ According to Roberta Rubenstein, Virginia Woolf comes to prefer Turgenev, with his "artistic restraint, his sensitivity to beauty and his lyrical sensibility", to Dostoyevsky. 
To me, Dostoyevsky is thought-provoking, Turgenev touches the heart.

Will come back to this chapter when I read more works by Turgenev, to see if my view will remain the same. Virginia Woolf's essays on literature are always satisfying.

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