TALES OF THE WILDERNESS ***
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TALES OF THE WILDERNESS
BORIS ANDREYEVICH VOGAU (Boris Pilniak, pseud.)
WITH AN INTRODUCTION BY
PRINCE D. S. MIRSKY
TRANSLATED INTO ENGLISH BY
THE SNOW A YEAR OF THEIR LIVES A THOUSAND YEARS OVER THE RAVINE ALWAYS ON DETACHMENT THE SNOW WIND THE FOREST MANOR THE BIELOKONSKY ESTATE DEATH THE HEIRS THE CROSSWAYS
RUSSIAN FICTION SINCE CHEKHOV
The English reading public knows next to nothing of contemporary Russian Literature. In the great age of the Russian Realistic Novel, which begins with Turgeniev and finishes with Chekhov, the English reader is tolerably at home. But what came after the death of Chekhov is still unknown or, what is worse, misrepresented. Second and third- rate writers, like Merezhkovsky, Andreyev, and Artsybashev, have found their way into England and are still supposed to be the best Russian twentieth century fiction can offer. The names of really significant writers, like Remizov and Andrey Bely, have not even been heard of. This state of affairs makes it necessary, in introducing a contemporary Russian writer to the English public, to give at least a few indications of his place in the general picture of modern Russian Literature.
The date of Chekhov's death (1904) may be taken to mark the end of a long and glorious period of literary achievement. It is conveniently near the dividing line of two centuries, and it coincides rather exactly with the moment when Russian Literature definitely ceased to be dominated by Realism and the Novel. In the two or three years that followed the death of Chekhov Russian Literature underwent a complete and drastic transformation. The principal feature of the new literature became the decisive preponderance of Poetry over Prose and of Manner over Matter--a state of things exactly opposite to that which prevailed during what we may conveniently call the Victorian age. Poetry in contemporary Russian Literature is not only of greater intrinsic merit than prose, but almost all the prose there is has to such an extent been permeated with the methods and standards of poetry that in the more extreme cases it is almost impossible to tell whether what is printed as prose is really prose or verse.
Contemporary Russian Poetry is a vigorous organic growth. It is a self-contained movement developing along logically consistent lines. It has produced much that is of the very first order. The poetry of Theodore Sologub, of Innocent Annensky, [Footnote: The reader will notice the quotations from Annensky in the first story of this volume.] of Vyacheslav Ivanov, and of Alexander Blok, is to our best understanding of that perennial quality that will last. They have been followed by younger poets, more debatable and more debated, many of them intensely and daringly original, but all of them firmly planted in the living tradition of yesterday. They learn from their elders and teach their juniors--the true touchstone of an organic and vigorous movement. What is perhaps still more significant--the level of minor poetry is extraordinarily high, and every verse-producer is, in varying degrees, a conscious and efficient craftsman.
The case with prose is very different. The old nineteenth century realistic tradition is dead. It died, practically, very soon after Chekhov. It has produced a certain amount of good, even excellent, work within these last twenty years, but this work is disconnected, sterile of influence, and more or less belated; at the best it has the doubtful privilege of at once becoming classical and above the age. Such for instance was the case of Bunin's solitary masterpiece _The Gentleman from San Francisco_, and of that wonderful series of Gorky's autobiographical books, the fourth of which appeared but a few months ago. These, however, can hardly be included in the domain of Fiction, any more than his deservedly famous _Reminiscences of Tolstoy_. But Gorky, and that excellent though minor writer, Kuprin, are the only belated representatives of the fine nineteenth century tradition. For even Bunin is a poet and a stylist rather than a story teller: his most characteristic "stories" are works of pure atmosphere, as diffuse and as skeletonless as a picture by Claude Monet.
The Symbolists of the early twentieth century (all the great poets of the generation were Symbolists) tried also to create a prose of their own. They tried many directions but they did not succeed in creating a style or founding a tradition. The masterpiece of this Symbolist prose is Theodore Sologub's great novel _The Little Demon_[Footnote: English translation.] (by the way a very inadequate rendering of the Russian title). It is a great novel, probably the most perfect Russian _novel_ since the death of Dostoyevsky. It breaks away very decidedly from Realism and all the traditions of the nineteenth century. It is symbolic, synthetic, and poetical. But it is so intensely personal and its achievements are so intimately conditioned by the author's idiosyncrasies that it was quite plainly impossible to imitate it, or even to learn from it. This is still more the case with the later works of Sologub, like the charming but baffling and disconcerting romance of _Queen Ortruda_.