The writers in this collection include: Adam Szymański, Stefan Żeromski, Wacław Sieroszewski and Henryk Sienkiewicz. All the stories were good – particularly the short one from Żeromski – ‘Twilight Tempation’. The common theme throughout was the study of rural life and the sufferings of the peasants and the poor. Szymański’s story was excellent as well: the participants were exiled to Siberia – but rather than focus on the physical hardships it looked at the homesickness and memories of the two characters. As I said – all the stories are well worth reading – it’s a window into a different world. The book is free from Amazon.
This novel was enjoyable, but for a slightly different reason than usual. I took pleasure in the actual prose, the richness of it. Remy de Gourmont was a symbolist and a combination of these sensibilities and perhaps the older translation made this novel a luxurious read. The verbal tussles of Sixtine and Entragues were interesting, but I can’t say that I enjoyed the story as much as ‘A Night in the Luxembourg’. I think this was because there wasn’t enough going on. Sixtine and Entragues seemed to meet, and spar with each other, again and again with imperceptible change. Several characters were brought into the action that could have been developed – but these were one-off experiences. So, this novel was good, and quite poetic – but it didn’t enthrall me. I may dip into it again; the prose captures and preserves a decadent, symbolist atmosphere so perfectly.
Lermontov was a romantic and enigmatic figure; some of this was brought about by revisionism after his death and the silence of many who knew him him best but mostly because of his poetic and somewhat heroic activities – which again we are viewing through a historical filter. Kelly does a good job of canvassing different versions of Lermontov’s actions and possible motives. Often these come from second-hand sources which could be more credible than the first hand sources that may have had an agenda. The biography is very engaging and the fact that much of Lermontov’s poetry is included in the text made for a very welcome surprise. The poetry, apart from ‘the Demon’, is quite difficult to get in translation.
As always (similarly with Pushkin) you are left considering the ‘what if’ question. Could Lermontov have lived up to his promise – or would he have lost himself in dissolute living after being singled out by the Tsar for punishment as an example? These are questions that can never really be answered. We know he was thinking of two novel projects before he died in the duel, but he had also been considering other projects earlier in the 1830s which never came to fruition. Out of the army life he may have knuckled down and left society, as Pushkin did from time to time, to get some writing done. Unfortunately he never had the chance having aroused the Tsars displeasure for firstly, his poem in support of Pushkin. Secondly, a duel. Thirdly, his novel ‘Hero of Our Time’ which the Tsar didn’t appreciate. Fourthly, that despite his prodigious talent Lermontov wasn’t using it in the service of Tsar and Russia in the way that the Tsar would have liked. As Lermontov used up his second chance by engaging in a rash duel the Tsar wasn’t prepared to forget a second time despite Lermontov’s heroics in the the Caucasus. He was sent back again, and while recuperating in Pyatigorsk managed to cause offence to an old colleague with his ascerbic wit. This colleague Martynov then challenged him to fight the duel in which he died. You can blame the intervention of the Tsar for the death of Lermontov – sending him back to the Caucasus with little hope of his situation improving, but you can also take the view that Lermontov would have found some way to get himself into trouble again. If it hadn’t been this duel – it could well have been one in Moscow having been forgiven by the Tsar. Lermontov was still only 26 but what we can say is that his novel and poetry does not seem as though it is written by a young man. Lermontov had a precocious talent and understanding of existence despite his years. This is an excellent biography.
There were some excellent prose tales in this collection that I downloaded for the Kindle. The tales I hadn’t read were: An Amateur Peasant Girl, The Shot, The Snowstorm, The Post Master, The Coffin-maker, Kirdjali and Peter the Great’s Negro. A few of these stories ended very abruptly and this did make laugh. Pushkin says ‘there’s your story, no need to carry on and bore you with any more writerly artifice, The End’. Not in those exact words… Though in finishing An Amateur Peasant Girl he says:
“The reader will relieve me of the superfluous task of describing the end of the story.”
The story The Shot is quite special and I thought I could see strains of what would become Lermontov’s domain in it. All of the pieces were interesting: from the dark surrealism of the Coffin-maker, to the historic Kirdjali, then the personal of Peter the Great’s Negro. I say ‘personal’ because the subject of this story was loosely based on Pushkin’s great-grandfather who was African and thought to be from Cameroon. The story was unfinished and when you read it there is definite potential for it to become a long work. It is as though an episode has been snatched out of the centre of a novel. The characters were well sketched and, as I said, the piece felt like it came from somewhere and had a destination that it hadn’t quite reached.