A New Year.

While the rest of you are celebrating the turning of the calendar page to the year 2017, I am celebrating my own advance to 1858. Yesterday I read Turgenev’s Поездка в Полесье [A journey to Polesia], in which a hunter gets gloomy in the pine woods one day and meets a local robber the next (apparently there were supposed to be more installments, but that’s all that got printed, and pretty trivial stuff it is), the last of my 1857 reading, and today I began on his much-loved story Ася [Asya (a woman’s name)], published in January 1858. To provide a brief roundup of the 1857 items I read in the preceding days, in Pavel Melnikov (Pechersky)’s Медвежий угол [Bear’s Corner (i.e., ‘godforsaken hole’: nickname of the provincial town Chubarov)] the narrator visits a sleepy town created not for any economic reason but because someone pointed a finger at a map and said “Let there be a town there,” and the honest old contractor Gavrila Matveich explains how local corruption works; in Dostoevsky’s unexpectedly charming Маленький герой [A Little Hero] the narrator recalls a summer he spent at a country house when he was 11, tormented by the jokes of one woman and involved in the romantic travails of another; and in Tolstoy’s Люцерн [Lucerne] the narrator (essentially Tolstoy himself — he had recently visited the Swiss city) treats a wandering street singer from the Aargau to champagne at the fancy Schweitzerhof, hears his life story, and is enraged at the contempt shown by staff and guests to the ragged fellow — he is itching to use his fists on one or more of them but they don’t give him the satisfaction of an open insult. I enjoyed them all, but wouldn’t wish any of them to be longer than they are. Next (after the Turgenev story) come Goncharov’s Fregat “Pallada” [The Frigate Pallada] (about an 1852-55 expedition to Japan — it’s been called “his second-best book”); Aksakov’s Detskie gody Bagrova-vnuka [The childhood years of grandson Bagrov, tr. A Russian Childhood], which I’ve read in English and am looking forward to experiencing in the original; and Pisemsky’s Boyarshchina (name of a region) and Tysyacha dush [One Thousand Souls]. I was pleased, on going back over my reading record of the year, to see that I covered almost a decade (I started the year in 1851), so I should get well into the 1860s in 2017.

For a Robert Louis Stevenson quote suitable to the occasion, see this post, and a Happy New Year to you all!


  1. Happy new year! Let me repeat again my astonishment at your capacity to read all this ancient stuff.

  2. Yes, happy new year! That first sentence was definitely deserving of “Me, an intellectual” treatment.

  3. Happy New Year!

    Honestly, it’s downright inspiring. Can we fondly hope that–someday!–we’ll get to read Hat, L. Ten Years Blogging from Czarist Russia?

  4. Yes, inspiring, and quite instructive to see all the things I can’t read mixed in with the few things I have read.

  5. It’s funny, I originally had no intention of reading stuff that hadn’t been translated — I didn’t think my Russian was up to it. I just wanted to experience Great Works in the original; War and Peace was what I had in mind, and when I had read that I was exhilarated and wanted to read more. I think it was Sashura insisting I read Grossman’s Life and Fate (the WWII equivalent of War and Peace, oddly enough) in Russian that made me change my approach — I hadn’t thought of it as a Great Work and figured the translation was good enough, but when I actually read it I realized that 1) it was in fact a Great Work, and 2) the translation was not in fact good enough, and I bothered consulting it less and less as I went along, since most of the bits that gave me a hard time had clearly flummoxed the translator as well. And by the time I finished it I realized I could handle even difficult Russian prose on my own (well, with occasional help from Russophone friends), and I was off to the races.

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