When I finished Anastasia Marchenko (see this post), I started an early novel by Saltykov but found it tediously ideological and gave up after a few chapters. (I expect this to become an increasingly severe problem as I approach the 1860s; that’s one reason I’m happy to linger in 1847.) I then read Alexander Druzhinin‘s «Полинька Сакс» (Polinka Saks); it was wildly popular when it came out and, according to L.K. Mansour, “influenced an entire generation,” and I can see why — I knew I was going to enjoy it when in the very first line the protagonist Saks (whose wife is the young and naive Polinka) addresses his correspondent as “почтенный пантагрюэлист” (‘venerable Pantagruelist’), and it carried its sentimental/melodramatic story along quite efficiently (Saks goes away on government business, leaving the hapless Polinka to be feverishly wooed by the fiery young Prince Galitsky, with unhappy results; he goes to “the town of —ov, four hundred versts from the capital,” which I figured must be Pskov, and, amusingly, this was confirmed when he refers to “Псковскими мужиками” — either he or the censor forgot to disguise that occurrence). While I was deciding what novel to turn to next, I thought I’d dip into Sergei Aksakov‘s first publication, Записки об уженье ‘Notes on fishing’ (for the second, much expanded, 1854 edition, the title was also expanded to Записки об уженье рыбы, which means the same thing).
Aksakov is best known for his autobiographical trilogy, «Семейной хроники» (A Family Chronicle), «Воспоминания» (Memoirs, translated as A Russian Schoolboy), and «Детские годы Багрова-внука» (Childhood years of grandson Bagrov, translated as A Russian Childhood); I knew that his little book on fishing had been well received, but I didn’t expect to spend much time with it. Instead, I found myself hooked (as it were), and it looks like I’m going to wind up reading the whole thing. Having been reading chronologically, I’m just as fed up with clever/ironic society tales as the Russian public must have been, and Aksakov’s straightforward, clean Russian prose and no-nonsense manner is immensely appealing. Surprisingly, there’s a translation into English, and the translator, Thomas P. Hodge, writes in his introduction:
Notes on Fishing is a literary achievement that merits mention alongside such works as Juliana Berners’s Treatise of Fishing with an Angle, Walton’s The Compleat Angler, Gilbert White’s Natural History of Selborne, Thoreau’s Walden, Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea, and Norman Maclean’s A River Runs Through It. In short, it belongs among the Western classics of fishing literature and nature writing.
So if anyone’s interested in a Russian take on an age-old pastime, with good advice on how to make your equipment (an honest Russian birch branch, well chosen and planed smooth, will serve you just as well as those fancy English rods they sell in the shops in Petersburg!), you know where to go.
Needless to say, I find myself looking up a fair amount of vocabulary; one of the fish names, язь, is translated as “ide” and “orfe,” neither of which meant anything to me, so I googled the Russian word to find out what it looked like and got this hilarious half-minute video (you don’t need to know Russian to enjoy it; he caught a язь and is very happy about it) and this equally hilarious Луркоморье page about the meme inspired by the video (which you do need to know Russian to enjoy; for Луркоморье/Lurkmore, see this LH post).