The Enchanted Wanderer and Other Stories

 

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By Nikolai Leskov.

This is quite an amazing compendium of his stories – only recently published. I liked the ebook so much I decided to purchase the hardcover. Leskov has very definitely been overlooked in the west and perhaps Russia too. There’s so much in his stories and you are transported but not just in a purely sensual way – the intellect is at work here also.

Some quotes:

‘Reading is an occupation far too serious and far too important in its consequences for young people’s tastes not to be guided in its selection.

 

Machines have evened out the inequality of talents and gifts, and genius does not strive against assiduousness and precision. While favouring the increase of earnings, machines do not favour artistic boldness, which sometimes went beyond all measure, inspiring popular fantasy to compose fabulous legends similar to this one. Workers, of course, know how to value the advantages provided by the practical application of mechanical science, but they remember the old times with pride and love. It is their epos, and, what’s more, with ‘a man’s soul inside’.

 

The dog dreams of bread, of fish the fisherman. Theocritus (Idyll)

 

That I couldn’t bear, and, in the words of the late poet Tolstoy, ‘having begun like a god, I ended like a swine’.

 

 

 

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Lady MacBeth of Mtsensk

By Nikolai Leskov.

This a a perfect short novel: it grabs you by the throat and carries you along in a violent fashion towards the shocking conclusion. Even 150 years later this novel is still incredibly powerful and, apparently, Leskov scared even himself when writing it. Morality, love, murder and meaning are all analysed and one of the real strengths is that you are left with so many questions at the conclusion. Who is the most culpable? Sergei or Katerina herself? Was the boredom of bourgeois respectability instrumental in creating these monstrous acts? They follow the familiar motif of adherence to passion or supposed ‘true love’ – but what if this becomes subjugation and requires terrible actions? An incredibly interesting and moving novel. Leskov, it seems, was an outsider – not accepted by the conservatives or the radicals – maybe because of his equivocal nature, which can be seen in the unresolved questioning in this book. Absolutely an intense and thought provoking read. As a reader, you come out the other side very affected and it is as though the world is silent in the last few lines as everyone holds their breath, and then it finishes suddenly.

 

 

 

 

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Russian Sketches, Chiefly of Peasant Life

By Leskov, Grigorvich, Nekrasov, Lermontov.

The Leskov story ‘The Sealed Angel’ is the longest story here and it really is very intriguing. It follows the tribulations of a group of old believers and their dealings with the religous orthodoxy. There is much description of the iconography and the story is well told. I have been considering reading some Leskov for a while – I did once see the Shostakovitch opera ‘Lady MacBeth of Mtsensk District’ which was brilliant. Grigorovich also had a few stories here and they didn’t really do much for me. A little too heavy on the description and not enough substance.

The poem by Lermontov was excellent as were the ‘poems’ by Nekrasov. I put ‘poems’ in quotes because they seemed prose to me – but that may have been the translation. I had wanted to read something by Nekrasov previously, due to his associations with both Belinsky and Dostoevsky, but he is known more as a publisher than a poet and works were difficult to find. Again this collection was read on kindle and downloaded from openlibrary.org – the advent of ebooks have opened up millions of novels and collections which were difficult to source and read previously. The ease of access means things can be read on a whim due to some random association – that has to be good.

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