Only a couple, but two of my favorite bloggers are talking about Russian books that I’ve read and you probably have too:
Wuthering Expectations is writing about Dostoevskii, starting here (Dostoevskii was like a jazz musician “who practices for eight hours during the day than plays completely different music at the club for two sets”) and here on The Gambler (Игрок, 1866):
I will glance back at the opening paragraph. The narrator’s absence is never really explained. The sister, Marya Filippovna, departs the novel after doing nothing at about the one-fifth mark. The money of course fits the gambling theme. And then there is Mezentsov, the great Mezentsov, who not only never arrives but is never mentioned again. Never hinted at. Dostoevsky’s Godot.
And it’s true. According to this online concordance, the name Mezentsov never occurs in all of Dostoevskii except in the first paragraph of The Gambler.
But what kind of hero is Pechorin? Lermontov mischievously called him “a hero of our time,” explaining in the preface he added for the second edition that he was made up of “the vices of our entire generation in their full development,” a portrait of “contemporary man.” Besides providing fodder for the unfortunate vice of social-realist fiction which was to preoccupy Russian literature for the next century and a half, this is misleading in that (as Nabokov says) Pechorin is at least as much a copy of previous world-weary protagonists like Goethe’s Werther, Byron’s various Byronic heroes (not to mention the poet himself), and Pushkin’s Onegin as he is a portrait of anything contemporary. But if we are to try to bring him up to date, to make him comprehensible in cultural terms more present in our minds than Goethe and Byron, what can we compare him to? Certainly not to “hipsters,” pace this misguided attempt by Harry Leeds; hipsters (whoever they are) may be bored, but they don’t go around getting people killed. No, I think the closest comparison from post-WWII culture is Harry Lime, the dangerously attractive psychopath at the center of the classic 1949 film noir The Third Man (played unforgettably by Orson Welles). Pechorin, like Lime, doesn’t really give a damn about anybody but himself, and I can very easily picture him delivering Lime’s famous speech from the Ferris wheel (“Victims? Don’t be melodramatic. Look down there. Tell me. Would you really feel any pity if one of those dots stopped moving forever?”). Such people can be fun to read about, but they are (as Lady Caroline Lamb said of Byron) mad, bad, and dangerous to know.
“Unfortunate vice”! I fear LH may not enjoy Pisemskii as much as I’ve been enjoying him, but I’ll be curious to see.