“If they were re-read, it was with distaste and trepidation, almost as curiosities”
From Vika Thorstensson, here’s a televised lecture on Leskov by Lev Anninskii (in Russian). To judge by the current events references, it must have been filmed in late 2001 or 2002. It’s an overview that for my taste is long on generalities, though as sweeping statements go this is nice:
…first of course we read, as college students and in the upper grades of high school, Tolstoi and Dostoevskii. First Tolstoi, and you’d think “my God, Tolstoi is the starry sky, this is like an endless void above us,” And you’d read Dostoevskii and think, “Lord, this is like an endless void below us.” And how could you connect these two voids, Tolstoi’s above and Dostoevskii’s beneath? Where’s the path between the two voids? And when I started to read Leskov I understood: here it is! (1:24-2:02)
It goes into the reception history, with Tolstoi predicting Leskov would be better appreciated in the future, and Gor’kii presciently shielding Leskov from future Stalinist attacks by stressing his positive portrayals of revolutionaries, his personal motives for attacking revolutionaries, and his verbal artistry. I liked this part on how Leskov’s career must have looked to him at the end of his life:
His heritage? It was on the verge of disappearing at that moment, of disappearing from active literary memory. Second-tier novels like The Islanders and Bypassed were half-forgotten, and rightly so. His programmatic novels No Way Out and At Daggers Drawn, obviously first-tier in the author’s framework, were not at all forgotten, but placed in a category of scandalous, impure [works?]. If they were re-read, it was with distaste and trepidation, almost as curiosities. The brilliant novel Cathedral Folk did seem to be recognized, but in a somehow muted way, in some kind of condescending extra category: “Sure, it’s well-written, but you’re talking about priests!” And for 150 years, since Peter the Great stuck his knife into a table in front of the longhairs and said “here is your patriarch!” not one self-respecting member of the Russian intelligentsia had taken priests seriously. (12:05-13:14)
Anninskii’s picture of Leskov as a man unwilling to be limited by the orthodoxies of the political left and right fits well with Sperrle’s organic “keep changing or die” Leskov.