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Saturday, 23 August 2014

We need to talk about Leskov

In spite of all the pressure and stress and depression, I choose to ignore it all and continue reading Nikolai Leskov's Selected Tales (trans. David Magarshack).
And I like it. 
Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District is quite an interesting story. Katerina (the Lady Macbeth) is a bored wife (Madame Bovary! Family Happiness! Lady Chatterley's Lover!), expectedly she has an affair, with her husband's clerk (Miss Julie! almost). Now, surprise, all of a sudden, mad with love, Katerina kills her father in law and husband Zinovy Izmaylov and an heir to the Izmaylov family, similar to the adulteress in the Japanese film Empire of Passion, since even though the Japanese woman only kills the husband, she also has an affair whilst her husband is away, she also kills because of the lover and her crime similarly isn't discovered right away also because people don't know that the husband has returned. However, it's not so simple. Whereas the couple in Empire of Passion get executed, Katerina and her lover Sergey are sent to Siberia, and at this point the story takes another turn, because if before we feel horrified of her cold-heartedness and ruthlessness, we now realise that she's less cruel and bad-natured than naive, irrational, blinded by love and incapable of understanding what she's doing. In the end, readers may not find her actions forgiveable or justifiable, but we may, to some extent, sympathise with her and feel sorry for her. She too is a victim. Sergey is much more abominable.
The Enchanted Wanderer is different, it's rich, colourful and fantastic. I wouldn't go as far as saying that Leskov's on the same level as Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky (as some people have done), but, despite some deficiencies, he could be placed next to Chekhov and Turgenev. Leskov's certainly more fascinating than Turgenev. This story, at least in part, is like a folk tale and has many twists and turns. Summary is not possible. Lots of details and events and actions and descriptions and conversations are crammed into 1 story, which could very well be expanded into a novel as thick as War and Peace. Is this a flaw? Maybe. But it is in its abundance that the story is captivating and wonderful. 
Here is a nice article on Leskov: http://quarterlyconversation.com/the-forgotten-19th-century-russian-great

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