Skip to content

“Let the reader not expect to meet any heroes of Russian progress here…”

January 28, 2015

Remember how Leskov rewrote the sewing cooperative from What Is to Be Done? (Что делать?, 1863)? Here’s how eager he was that his readers would pick up on the Chernyshevskii references:

Part 2

Chapter 1

A Little Man with an Ample Heart

In this novel, as my reader can easily see, judging by the first part, all the people will be very little, so little that the author considers it an obligation once again to warn the reader of this in advance. Let the reader not expect to meet any heroes of Russian progress here, nor any ferocious retrogrades. In this novel there will not be any provincial teachers who open inexpensive libraries for an illiterate people, nor husbands who subsidize the lovers of their runaway wives, nor beds of nails on which model people are somehow able to sleep, nor tyrant-fathers who make it their purpose to oppress their genius children. All this has already been and is being described, and probably we have not yet seen the end of it. Just the other day the new issue of a certain periodical publication brought out a story where […] (133)

The bed of nails is Rakhmetov, of course, and on the next page we have a reference to an even more beloved character from Chernyshevskii’s novel, as Leskov (à la Ch.) invites the reader to guess what is coming next:

The most perspicacious of my readers will be the one who can guess that the little man about to take the stage is none other than our old friend Il’ia Makarovich Zhuravka. (134)

The perspicacious reader! You’ll notice the beginning of book 2 of The Bypassed (Обойденные, 1865) is not unlike the beginning of book 2 of At Daggers Drawn (На ножах, 1870-71).*

Leskov seems to have tired of in-your-face metaliterary arguing in the long process of reworking Cathedral Folk (Соборяне, 1867-72). Marta Łukaszewicz quotes the first page of Dwellers in God’s House (Божедомы, 1867), the second attempt at publishing that novel:

We do not follow our long-robed protagonists from the day of their birth and will not relate whether they were often or seldom dragged by their hair, or often or seldom beaten at the seminary. All this has been described without omissions by other people who are more skilled than we are in such descriptions — by people who ate the grain gathered from their fathers’ parishes and then crushed their penny-pinching breadwinners under their heel. (74-75)

Łukaszewicz says that people now treat Cathedral Folk as if it were the first time anyone had written about priests’ lives in Russian literature, but in fact Leskov was polemicizing with others who’d written on the same theme like N. A. Blagoveshchenskii, N. Osokin, N. Bunakov (a.k.a. N. Fedorovich), and V. Raiskii (a.k.a. A. K. Blizhnev, 74 and passim). The pair of a strong-willed priest and his passive junior partner, like Tuberozov and Benefaktov, was already a commonplace, but unlike others Leskov makes them more than a flat example of the problems of church hierarchy (75-76).

As for the metaliterary rebukes to other writers, they disappear from the speech of the narrator, but Leskov has Tuberozov criticize literary depictions of priests, much as in Poor Folk (Бедные люди, 1846) Dostoevskii had let Makar Devushkin complain about how poor people were written about (79-80). [Update 1/30/15: In the final text of Cathedral Folk it isn’t only Tuberozov who is allowed to engage with literature: Biziukina compares herself to a character from a Marko Vovchok novel.]

See Marta Łukaszewicz, “Хроника Н.С. Лесков Соборяне в контексте современной беллетристики о жизни духовенства,” Русская литература: Тексты и контексты (2011): 73-81.

* How, I hear you ask, does Leskov start book 2 of his first “anti-nihilist” novel, No Way Out (Некуда, 1864)? With a much more restrained, whimsical passing reference to Gertsen. Also cf. Pisemskii on how he couldn’t literarily seduce women the way Pushkin, Turgenev, Goncharov, and Ostrovskii could.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. January 29, 2015 8:44 am

    Interesting stuff! A couple of notes on minor authors: “N. Osokin” was the pseudonym of Mikhail Ionovich Osokin, and “Blizhnev” may have been either V. A. Raiskii or P. N. Lachinov — it doesn’t appear to be entirely clear.

    • January 29, 2015 9:37 am

      Thanks for this! Where do you see P. N. Lachinov? I see some sources crediting A[nna] A[leksandrovna] Lachinova as the author of “Blizhnev’s” На краю пропасти (Семейство Снежиных), but in favor of V. A. Raiskii being the author there’s Łukaszewicz’s footnote, apparently an unpublished letter of Raiskii’s, and the letter from Chekhov to Suvorin linked in the post where Chekhov claims to have met Raiskii, the author of Семейство Снежиных.

      I see an E. Lachinova and an A. L—va in Golitsyn’s 1889 dictionary of Russian women writers, but no entry for A. A. Lachinova or Blizhnev. Gorbunov’s dictionary has more on A. A. Lachinova, the younger sister of Praskov’ia Aleksandrovna Lachinova, and says she may have been the Blizhnev who wrote the novel Семейство Снежиных that was singled out by Chekhov, but fails to mention that Chekhov said Raiskii wrote it. The other works mentioned there came out between 1888 and 1904. The thing that seems most likely to me is that Anna Lachinova did most of her writing well after Семейство Снежиных came out in 1871 (journal) and 1875 (book), and that Raiskii did write it.

      • January 29, 2015 10:08 am

        Sorry, I meant Lachinova; A. N. Rozov in Священник в духовной жизни русской деревни (p. 210) says “…из повести Ближнева (псевдоним В. А. Райского или П. А. Лачиновой)” (Google Books). But maybe “П. А.” is an error for А. А.? What a mess the whole business of pseudonyms is!

      • January 29, 2015 11:12 am

        If P. A. was A. A.’s more famous sister, it’s easy to see where such a mistake could come from (and A. A. would seem more likely to be right by difficilior lectio potior, though it also seems they wrote some novels jointly, with older sister P. A. having the final word).

        Is there a hoax somewhere here? It’s interesting that Chekhov had trouble finding Raiskii, and Raiskii showed up out of the blue saying his last copy of the novel had been destroyed in a fire.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: