I must have read this for school as a kid. I have definitely read it a very long time ago and I can't imagine I would have done so off my own back.
An...moreI must have read this for school as a kid. I have definitely read it a very long time ago and I can't imagine I would have done so off my own back.
Anyway. It is a fantastic piece of work, widely acknowledged to be one of the best Russian short stories ever written, if not The Best. I would highly recommend it whether you are already a lover of Russian literature or are just starting to explore it. The idea is simple enough, that every person, no matter how unattractive and inconsequential, deserves some compassion and understanding. Yet there is so much in the measly 50 odd pages of this story. Comedy, tragedy, social satire and even a ghost story. It is one of the very very few books which has managed to make me laugh and cry. The influence that it had on later writers such as Dostoyevsky (who famously stated that "We all come out of Gogol's Overcoat"), Turgenev, Tolstoy, Kafka and many others is undeniable.
It is a story about a "small person", a poor civil cervant who does not have any outstanding abilities, is not clever or ambitious, who is made fun of by his co-workers, but who is, essentially, harmless and who enjoys his mindless repetitive work. And it is a story about the stark impersonal casual cruelty with which the world treats such a person, about "...how much inhumanity there is in man, how much savage coarseness is concealed beneath refined, cultured, worldly civility...".
The Diary of a Madman is a short story about a man's descent into madness. The hero, Poprishchin, is a middle aged minor civil servant obsessed with S...moreThe Diary of a Madman is a short story about a man's descent into madness. The hero, Poprishchin, is a middle aged minor civil servant obsessed with Sophie, the young and beautiful daughter of his boss, a senior official who stands on a much higher rank of the social ladder. As he begins to slide into insanity, the hero believes that he can hear a conversation between Madgie, Sophie's dog, and another dog and later steals letters written by Madgie to the other dog. The extracts from these letters and the hero's reaction to them were particularly hilarious.
Realising that the object of his affection is in love with a handsomer, younger and richer man and having learned that a donna is about to accede to the Spanish throne as there is no male heir, the hero suddenly realises that he is, in fact, the lost heir and, unsurprisingly, ends up in an insane asylum.
Poprishchin as drawn by Ilya Repin:
Gogol manages to be absurd and hilarious, while at the same time making a point about the self-delusional vain ideas we have about ourselves, which is still very much relevant today, and drawing a clever satire of the deep social divisions and beurocracy in 19th century Russia. And all in less than 30 pages. (less)
Viy is a story written by Nikolai Gogol which is most often classified as horror. I'm not sure I necessarily agree with that classification, although...moreViy is a story written by Nikolai Gogol which is most often classified as horror. I'm not sure I necessarily agree with that classification, although it does feature a bumbling main character who comes to a sticky end at the hands of a bloodsucking witch and a horde of other demonic creatures. Gogol himself styled it as a folk tale re-telling.
The titular Viy is a creture of Ukrainian folklore, a demon in the form of an old man with his eyelids and brows reaching down to the ground. If the eyelids are lifted, nothing can hide from Viy's gaze and he is able to kill and destroy villages and whole towns with his eyes.
At the start of the story, three seminary students from Kyiv's Bratsky Monastery set off for home on their summer vacation. They veer off the main road to try to find shelter and something to eat for the night. They come across a remote farmstead where an old woman reluctantly lets them in but separates them to spend the night each in a different place. Khoma Brut, our main hero is put into an empty sheep pen and is just about to drop into a dead sleep when the old woman enters and all the fun begins.
Gogol's language is very rich and colourful and he has a particular gift for treating his characters with so much humour that even though most of the story happens in a dark church at night with the hero under attack by a dead body and other unpleasant things, it reads as a comedy.
I really enjoyed the story overall and would recommend it to anyone interested in the Ukrainian/Russian folklore, as well as any fan of Gogol. There is also a fantastic Russian film made in 1967 which is based on it, available on youtube with English subtitles. You can see the first part here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pjiB6a...(less)
The Tale of Fedot-strelets is a satirical play in verse written in 1985 by Leonid Filatov and is hugely popular in Russia. Leonid Filatov was primaril...moreThe Tale of Fedot-strelets is a satirical play in verse written in 1985 by Leonid Filatov and is hugely popular in Russia. Leonid Filatov was primarily an actor, though he also directed theatre and films and wrote a number of books of which Fedot-strelets is by far the most popular. I have stumbled across a translation into English here: http://samlib.ru/a/alec_v/fed-rus-eng... which may give an English speaker some idea of this book though, inevitably, it is just a shadow of the original as a lot of the humour is in the particular phrasing used by Filatov which is untranslatable.
The play is written in folk fairytale style with some modern terminology woven in to comical effect and you can often hear Russian people using phrases from the book without even realising they are doing so, because many have since become colloquialisms. All the characters are common Russian folklore figures which a Russian audience will recognise immediately.
The main cast:
Fedot, a wise cracking, vainglorious and incredibly lucky hunter/soldier:
The Tsar, a petty and malicious tyrant and an old lothario:
Marusja, a beautiful maiden of typical Russian folklore stock, one who will cook, clean, pander to the man's every whim, play the violin and solve every problem that he has ever had:
They all seem to have huge sad eyes. Don't think the one in the picture turned into a bird of any kind but plenty of them do turn into pigeons, swans, doves and the like. In Russian folklore there were even two types of bird women, Alkonost and Sirin, which I find fascinating. Both used to sing heavenly songs with the former making you forget everything and the latter being prophetic.
Baba Yaga, a forest dwelling evil witch:
The General, a lazy fool happy to follow all orders:
The tale is narrated by the jester who makes a number of shrewd observations along the way and starts with Fedot being ordered by the Tsar to bring a pheasant or a grouse from the hunt. While on this task, Fedot comes across a pigeon who begs him to spare her life and then turns into the beautiful maiden, Marusja. Unsurprisingly, Fedot is not the only one who thinks that Marusja is a real find. Having learned of Marusja from the General, the Tsar sends Fedot on a number of quests thought up by Baba Yaga in an attempt to kill him off on the sly so that the Tsar may marry Marusja, finally sending him to get that which cannot exist. There are a number of side characters including the Tsar's daughter, a spoilt princes who the Tsar tries to marry off to every foreign envoy (including one from a tribe of cannibals) and her nurse, an old woman with a sharp-tongue.
I really love this book but, I guess, when it comes right down to it, it's not a literary masterpiece by any stretch and my love for it has probably more to do with my own nostalgia than anything else. Plus it's really funny (in Russian at least). However, while not being an original folk tale itself, this book is closely based on one and does provide a very accurate and humorous look at the quintessential Russian fairytale and also represents an excellent example of the social and political satire in Russia both at the time when the book was written but also throughout most Russian history, with the Tsar and the General being caricatures of the political and executive powers, respectively, and Fedot representing the people. (less)
I must admit. I am a romantic at heart. Spare me the fate of the world crap and give me a good love poem/story any day of the week.
I used to read Blok...moreI must admit. I am a romantic at heart. Spare me the fate of the world crap and give me a good love poem/story any day of the week.
I used to read Blok's poetry when I was seventeen and revel in it. I mean, sure it is a bit stalky and obsessive at times in that lurking in dark conners waiting for the woman you love to pass by so you may glance at her and then go die on her doorstep or under her window way, but I never minded that at seventeen.
And Blok is certainly a man who took romanticising a woman seriously. I mean, he idealised the woman he married so much, he wouldn't sleep with her (his feelings for the Beatuful Lady were too pure plus he was too busy having countless affairs with less perfect women) practically pushing her into the arms of his best friend and fellow poet who, whilst also thinking her a perfection, wasn't above shagging her.
Anywho, I am no longer seventeen but I still read Blok from time to time and enjoy it immensely.
One of my favourite Blok poems:
She came in from the cold With a blush on her cheeks Filling the room With the aroma of fresh air and perfume, Her clear voice and disrespectful Chatter.
She immediately dropped a fat Literary journal on the floor And suddenly it felt Like there was not enough room In my large parlour.
All this was somewhat irritating And pretty absurd. But she wanted me To read Macbeth to her.
Having barely reached the earth's bubbles, Of which I cannot speak without excitement, I noticed that she was also excited And looking closely out the window.
It turned out that a large tortie cat Was crawling along the edge of the roof Trying to get to the kissing doves.
I was most upset because It was not us but the doves that were kissing And because the times of Paolo and Francesca have passed. (less)