A Window On Russia by Edmund Wilson

By Edmund Wilson

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Russian Language 3
Pushkin 15
Tyutchev 28
Gogol: The Demon within the Overgrown backyard 38
Seeing Chekhov simple 52
Turgenev and the Life-Giving Drop 68
Sukhovo-Kobylin: "Who Killed the French Woman?" 148
Notes on Tolstoy 161
Notes on Pushkin 185
A Little Museum of Russian Language 197
The unusual Case of Pushkin and Nabokov 209
Svetlana and Her Sisters 238
Solzhenitsyn 270

The glory of the overdue Edmund Wilson, as Frank Kermode remarked, has continuously been "his skill to spot, no matter if he couldn't thoroughly describe, the master-spirit of an age." different critics are extra analytic or extra systematic, yet none relatively fit Wilson's seize of tradition and heritage, of pursuits and males. In A Window on Russia, which Wilson modestly calls "a handful of disconnected items, written at numerous occasions whilst I occurred to have an interest within the a number of authors," we come upon that infrequent excitement of getting into a residing international the place the useless hand of academia by no means casts its shadow. actual, the essays are asymmetric, the sooner surveys of Gogol and Chekhov, for example, are mild affairs, with no the variety and poignancy of Wilson's experiences of Turgenev and Tolstoy and Pushkin. actual, he's no phrasemaker. He tells us that "Gorky rightly stated that Tolstoy and God have been like bears in a single den," and there's not anything in his personal feedback on Tolstoy that equals the pithiness of Gorky's comment. but how memorably Wilson builds up a personality, an period; how interesting are his fussy information and leisurely summaries; how simply he makes his issues: the bureaucrats who flourish less than the Soviets as they did lower than the Tsars, the peasants who are suffering from one regime to a different, the depression authors who universally melancholy of Russia but can't undergo to be parted from her. incorporated within the present miscellany is the recognized controversy among Nabokov and Wilson over Evgeni Onegin, which first seemed within the big apple evaluation, and particularly fantastic chapters on Svetlana and Solzhenitsyn which seemed within the New Yorker.

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And Tyutchev is the great Russian master of the pregnant and pointed and poignant short poem. But the landscapes and seasons that Tyutchev prefers -and he largely lives on landscapes and seasonswith the feelings that these inspire, are quite different from the clear autumn bitterness or the sharp summer irony of Housman. Tyutchev loves the indeterminate moments between fair and rainy weather, when a thunderstorm is looming or passing, or between the night and the dawn or the sunset and the dark, which reflect indeterminate and variable emotions.

But there is nothing of this in A Woman's Kingdom, which simply describes a day in the household of an unmarried woman-a chronicle of domestic incident, solidly and soberly treated, in which the rise of the industrial middle class (the theme of a number of the later stories) is given its first intensive treatment. The method here changes as well as the scale. We now rarely get a single situation-as in Ward No. 6-carried through to an ironic climax. This final series of stories, ofwhich Chekhov managed to produce only a few a year, become more and more complex, involving a number of characters and presenting, as his plays of these years do, a whole social microcosm.

Magarshack, who analyzes the patterns of the plays and demonstrates the subtlety and terseness of their beautiful workmanship. Yet there is no question that 58 A WINDOW ON RUSSIA Western readers have been seriously handicapped with Chekhov even more than with the other Russian writers by their unfamiliarity with the cultural and social background of the world that he is writing about. He is much more limited and local than Tolstoy or Dostoevsky, and we do not always catch his allusions or understand the points he is trying to make.

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