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August 5, 2014
  • Scott G. F. Bailey is reading The Devils (Бесы, 1871-72): “I don’t know how it’s escaped everyone’s notice that Anton Lavrentievich Govorov is clearly working for the tsar’s secret police.”
  • A recent production of Gogol’s Marriage  (Женитьба, 1842) was “far too normal,” according to Notes of an Idealist. For example, “the intended bride Agaf’ya was a kind of Jane Austen heroine (and dressed appropriately), quite naturally agitated at having to choose a husband, when she should be both stupid and a threat.”
  • Karen Langley of Kaggsy’s Bookish Ramblings reviews a 2014 edition of Pushkin’s Belkin’s Stories, translated by Roger Clarke. As I understand it, it’s a reissue or a revised version of a translation that appeared in a set of Pushkin’s complete works in English published between 1999 and 2003 and featuring translations by Clarke and Paul Debreczeny. For more see Clarke’s website.
  • Even Lizok’s review of Yuri Mamleyev’s Шатуны (which appeared in samizdat in 1966 and has a complicated publication history), translated by Marian Schwartz as The Sublimes (2014), is unsettling. Lizok calls this “metaphysical realist” novel about a serial killer “a book that is, whether I like it or not, a modern classic.” You can download a bilingual edition of Schwartz’s translation for free!
  • Sarah J. Young is working on a book on “narratives of prison, exile and hard labour” and her post on two historians’ books on prison reforms and corporal punishment in nineteenth-century Russia has much to offer non-historians. Highlights: there’s a large gap between the picture that emerges if you look at the “rhetoric of reform” and the one that comes out of personal narratives from those who saw or lived through the prison system. It’s possible that after the abolition of serfdom, convicts were economically important as a source of free labor. And the degree to which different social estates were subject to corporal punishment was prominent in the legal definition of those estates, so that “the system treated peasants, both during and after serfdom, as if they were already criminals, regardless of whether any crime or misdemeanour had been committed, and convicts as if they were serfs.” As is often the case, the parallels to the U.S. leap out: in particular, I’ve read that post-Reconstruction Southern prisons recreated slavery and the plantation economy in all but name, and that pre–Civil War legal codes in places like Virginia prescribed corporal and capital punishment for blacks for a much wider range of crimes than they did for whites.
  • Russian Dinosaur on Turgenev (and Annenkov, Botkin, Katkov, and others) on the Isle of Wight  in 1860. A plaque commemorating Turgenev’s stay at a particular villa was down for repair and previously mounted in a hard-to-see place, despite the fact that “it’s somehow hard to imagine daily crowds of gawking ‘Bazarov Trail’ tourists with ‘Rudin Rules!’ T-shirts forcing the freeholders of Cedar Lodge to adopt evasive measures.”
3 Comments leave one →
  1. August 6, 2014 8:19 am

    Thanks for the tip on the Mamleev download — it’s really great that they make it available free!

  2. August 11, 2014 7:41 am

    Your comment on post-Reconstruction Southern prisons is really interesting. I’ve been reluctant to pursue any parallels between serfdom and slavery in the US because however unpleasant serfdom was, and whatever abuses it allowed or even encouraged, it clearly wasn’t the same as slavery. But in terms of the development of prison labour there does seem to be a similarity worth exploring, so thanks for this, and for the link!

    • August 11, 2014 7:55 am

      I’m not sure what you mean by “it clearly wasn’t the same as slavery”; of course nothing is “the same” as anything else if you insist on complete identity, but we would be unable to think at all if we didn’t put things in categories and deal with them together (this thing and that thing are both maples; this maple and that oak are both trees), and it seems clear to me that the similarities between “serfdom” and “slavery” are far more important than the differences. Furthermore, I think using a special word (“serfdom”) and thinking about it separately from American slavery makes it difficult to see both how awful serfdom was and why it was so hard to end it. I remember reading a discussion about it some years ago that opened my own eyes and made me see how poorly I had been dealing mentally with serfdom — maybe it was the introduction to Nikitenko’s Up from Serfdom, a book I strongly recommend to anyone interested in the subject.

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