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