Tuesday, 12 August 2014

On Turgenev (and some other Russians)

I'm reading Turgenev's A Hunter's Sketches.
Turgenev doesn't have a strong personality like Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky or, another favourite Russian author of mine, Nabokov; nor a sharp tongue like Jane Austen, to whom people sometimes compare. His voice is soft, gentle, which easily gets lost among the thunderous voices around him.
But then, can anyone always be in the mood for writers like Tolstoy or Nabokov or Dostoyevsky? I doubt it. Perhaps if you're a Tolstoy aficionado, or a Nabokov fanatic...., but even then I doubt it. There are times when they depress me, force me to question my insignificant, unremarkable life or intimidate me, make me unable to do anything. There are times when they make me feel so tiny, so boring, so talentless and shallow. There are times when I feel embarrassed of being so frivolous and trivial. There are times when, reading them, I yearn for something greater, only to stare hopelessly at my smallness, and despair. There are times when I simply feel tired of their personalities, their voices, their egos. At such moments, Turgenev is a delight- he is gentle and loving (and has what Virginia Woolf calls "saintliness"), his stories have balance, coherence and objectivity with open, inconclusive, lifelike endings that remind one of Chekhov. He doesn't appear to teach us, to dictate our thoughts and emotions, to tell us to respond in a certain way. He accepts life as it is, and depicts it with calmness and some melancholy. His stories are deeply moving in their humanity, beauty and simplicity. 
An enjoyable book. 
Now I'm going to get back to it. 


  1. Di,

    Your commentary on Turgenev certainly fits the novel by Turgenev that I'm reading now: The Home of the Gentry. If Turgenev has a fault, it is that he is too low-key. Sometimes I wish his characters would show a little more passion.

    1. Do you sometimes feel that way about Jane Austen?

  2. Di,

    No, I can't say that I have. Sometimes, though, I feel the narrative voice is a bit too sharp and unkind. _Persuasion_ is one novel that comes to mind, but I've also read that it was published posthumously and perhaps she hadn't quite finished revising it. It's also, if I remember correctly, the only one in which some of her early work on it still remained. Usually, I think she destroyed everything but the final version.

    1. What? That one is her most romantic (and Romantic) work.
      I think it needs revision, but not the love story part, only the parts about the other characters.
      But I agree, the narrative voice can be a bit sharp and unkind.

  3. Di,

    I think the part involving her crippled friend needs a bit of work. I suspect she died before she had a chance to go over it one more time. This actually is her next-to-last version. And, Persuasion and Mansfield Park are my favorite Austen novels.

    1. Hmmm, I guess.
      Back to Turgenev, are you enjoying that book?

  4. Di,

    Oh yes. I'm a great admirer of Russian literature and Turgenev is one of my favorites.


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