Markevich’s Marina.

I’ve finished Boleslav Markevich’s 1873 Марина изъ Алаго-Рога (Marina from Aly Rog), which I mentioned recently here, and I must say I thoroughly enjoyed the linguistic stuff described in this 2014 post — towards the start of the novel, the two heroes, Count Zavalevsky and Prince Puzhbolsky, spend a great deal of time analyzing language and literature and talking about their stay in Italy and the things they saw there. Puzhbolsky, who falls hopelessly in love with Marina, first compares her to Palma Vecchio’s Santa Barbara, then thinks she reminds him more of Allori’s Judith with the Head of Holofernes or Rubens’ Helena Fourment with her son Frans. I can easily imagine a reader feeling that that sort of thing is impossibly recherché, not to say snobbish, but I like it and wish there had been more of it. Alas, as soon as Markevich has established that his heroes are well-traveled, sophisticated, and thoughtful people (and far better than the revolting radicals who had poisoned Marina with their vile ideas), he gets down to the serious business of laying out his absurd plot, borrowed wholesale from the trashiest melodrama (it hinges on the true parentage of his virtuous heroine) with large helpings of Turgenev and Tolstoy (e.g., Zavalevsky’s revival of life force on hearing Marina sing is taken straight from Nikolai Rostov’s similar epiphany on hearing Natasha sing in War and Peace). To be fair, he name-checks both authors and points out that War and Peace is a fine novel! I can’t say I’d recommend this book to anyone else, and had it been longer I might have set it aside before the plot ground to its inevitable happy end, but I’m glad that I set myself the task of trying everything that seemed plausibly worth reading in Russian literature, at least up through the last of Dostoevsky.


  1. I set myself the task of trying everything that seemed plausibly worth reading in Russian literature, at least up through the last of Dostoevsky

    You really have to read Chekhov’s stories. Russians love them enormously, but they barely register in English speaking world. You will be an ideal judge. You were not raised with them and not instructed from school years that it is CLASSICS and every educated person must enjoy them. You can be more objective. For example, you disliked Taras Bulba and, if I remember, most of Gogol (with the exception of Dead Souls, maybe?), but Russians love him, mostly for melody of his works and the whirlwind of words and pictures with which his writing grabs the reader and moves her along the story, misogyny and all. But maybe that’s something one should develop a taste for before the end of adolescence? Anyway, I would be very interested in your take on Chekhov.

  2. No, of course I’ll read Chekhov — I’m reading Bunin’s collected stories now, and loving them. I don’t mean I’ll stop reading Russian literature (God forbid!), just that I’ll stop plowing through it year by year, month by month, reading everything in turn. If I were a few decades younger, I might do that, but as it is, I’ll start cherry-picking and not worrying about chronology. There’s a lot of 20th- and 21st-century stuff I want to get to!

    For example, you disliked Taras Bulba and, if I remember, most of Gogol

    You’ve got it backwards — I love virtually all of Gogol, it’s only TB that I can’t stand.

  3. But yes, I’m lucky not to have had any of it forced down my throat at school; that ruined Dickens and Hardy for me, among others.

  4. This reminds me of one thread quite some time back where an embittered Finn or Swede (I don’t remember which) rubbished the entirety of Russia’s great 19th-century literature as little more than a tool of Russian propaganda. I do remember finding this exhilarating whereas Hat found it offensive.

    But the proposition might be put, that you can only begin to approach literary classics with the right mindset when you’ve taken them down from their pedestals and started again from scratch to appreciate them for what they are.

  5. John Cowan says


  6. Yes, Panu. I didn’t find it offensive so much as sad — I mean, I find the whole nationalism thing offensive, especially when it slops over onto literature, but in this case I liked Panu and was sorry to see that he suffered so intensely from that malady.

  7. Hooray! Hat is reading Ruslit further and likes Gogol.

    It was said times and again that even secondary school education was unable to kill the love of reading.

  8. This is Languagehat post #6800.

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