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Praised as “perhaps the most talented of Gogol’s early followers”

May 3, 2014

Languagehat has been reading more of Iakov Butkov (1820 or 1821-1856), a minor writer who died young and is remembered, when he is, because of Dostoevskii’s interest in him. The three stories LH talks about here sound rather good, and they sound more like the prototypical literature of the 1840s than anything should be able to, filled with uhlans with mustaches, poor clerks, major dramas turning on small and specific amounts of silver and paper rubles, low salaries and corruption, prostitution, and the Table of Ranks.

According to John Schillinger, Butkov was “praised by Chernyshevsky as perhaps the most talented of Gogol’s early followers, and by Remizov as the most gifted of all the Russian naturalists,” while Bulgarin “polemically asserted that Butkov had surpassed Gogol with a naturalism untainted by caricature.” Russian Wikipedia reports that Butkov was going to be drafted into the army until the publisher Kraevskii bought him an exemption and made him work off the debt with his writing. That’s a situation I’d never even thought about; so many writers of the time were of noble origin and already exempt.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. May 3, 2014 8:30 am

    The story about the draft exemption is from the chapter on Butkov in the Milyukov book listed in the Wikipedia article; the whole chapter is worth reading, and makes clear what a wretched life he had and how close he was in lifestyle to the wretched clerks he wrote about.

  2. May 3, 2014 8:56 am

    I’ll be damned — your Schillinger link tells me there’s a whole (if short) book about Butkov, Peter Hodgson’s From Gogol to Dostoevsky: Jakov Butkov, A Reluctant Naturalist in the 1840’s (W. Fink, 1976). Unfortunately, the one used copy listed at Amazon is $30, but maybe I can find it in a nearby library.

  3. May 7, 2014 4:02 pm

    Oh man, my stepson checked it out for me from the university where he works, and it looks great! I’ll be posting on it in due course.

    • May 7, 2014 4:38 pm

      Wonderful! I’m looking forward to that – I’ll have to read some Butkov in the meantime!

  4. May 9, 2014 8:03 pm

    You should look for the Hodgson book — he has a very high regard for your man Pisemsky.

    • May 9, 2014 8:30 pm

      All right, you’ve convinced me. The University of Minnesota seems to have a copy that’s not checked out.

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