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A Marriage of Passion

January 28, 2016

Last month Languagehat read A Marriage of Passion [Сергей Петрович Хозаров и Мари Ступицына: Брак по страсти, 1851] and his opinion of Pisemskii improved:

[…] I now realize that [Pisemsky’s The Lump, a.k.a. The Simpleton, Тюфяк, 1847-50] was a poor introduction to a fine author. The upsetting thing is that I only read his 1851 follow-up, Sergei Petrovich Khozarov i Mari Stupitsyna: Brak po strasti [Sergei Petrovich Khozarov and Marie Stupitsyna: Marriage for passion], because Apollon Grigoryev, the best Russian literary critic of the nineteenth century, ended his survey of 1851 with it and clearly considered it the best novel of the year. I am in hearty agreement with that judgment, but if it weren’t for Grigoryev I would never have heard of it […] I’m glad to have happened on this wonderful short novel, which should be translated and added to the reading lists of Russ. lit. classes.

The rest of the post is delightful but hard to summarize, so head over there to read it. I haven’t read A Marriage of Passion yet, but Charles Moser’s description of it makes me realize how little I still understand imperial censorship:

A Marriage of Passion, like The Simpleton, may be regarded as a revision of “Nina” [Нина, 1847], the difference being that the suitor achieves his aim of marriage and then is disillusioned with his own wife rather than someone else’s. By Pisemsky’s lights such a denouement was unavoidable when a fuzzy-minded young man became infatuated with a shallow girl. However, since the author had reason to fear that a pessimistic ending might attract the censor’s disfavor, and since one story [Is She to Blame?, Виновата ли она?, 1844-58] had already been blocked by the censorship, he added a happy conclusion to the journal publication, which was quite out of joint with the body of the story. As this ending had it, Khozarov almost miraculously acquired sufficient funds and ceased borrowing; Mari matured rapidly and approached becoming a model wife. When the novelette was republished for the first time, Pisemsky eliminated this epilogue, as he was fully aware of its falseness. (22)

Over time I’ve learned various facts about the government censor and the church censor; about censorship becoming more or less strict from year to year and reign to reign; about the idiosyncrasies and corruptibility of particular censors; about the change from requiring a censor’s approval before publication to making journals accountable after the fact for what they published and “arresting” already printed books. I think modern readers can easily see that there were lines authors had trouble crossing when it came to politics, religion, or sex. But there were other lines in nineteenth-century Russia, less analogous to the ones that exist today, that I still don’t have much of a feel for, like this “pessimistic ending” business. I suppose the story without the happy ending would have been seen as an implicit assault on marriage, but would it have been “worse” than things other people published in those years?

There’s plenty of half-forgotten Pisemskii. His fiction takes up 20 20 1/2 volumes of this 24-volume edition (vol. 1 half of vol. 1 is others writing about him, and vols. 22-24 are plays). In the last few years I’ve read what’s in vols. 7, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, and part of 3 and 8, and I still haven’t overlapped with LH’s reading at all (see also his post on The Lump).

One Comment leave one →
  1. January 29, 2016 8:25 am

    Man, I had no idea there was so much Pisemsky — I knew my трехтомник was a “best-of,” but didn’t realize it was so ruthlessly culled!

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