Joan's Reviews > The Complete Prose Tales of Alexandr Sergeyevitch Pushkin

The Complete Prose Tales of Alexandr Sergeyevitch Pushkin by Alexander Pushkin
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Sep 20, 09

Read in September, 2009

I began to read this book because our book club was having a meeting featuring Russian authors. I had procrastinated and having only time for a 'short' Russian book went to the library in search of something. Happily, I came across this book of short stories, fragments of stories and a novella which represent the complete prose of Pushkin.

The stories, written between 1827 and 1836, are wonderfully readable in the translation by Gillon Aitken. Literature scholars may laugh, but the short stories of Guy de Maupassant came to mind in that the stories are focus on people and the tragedies and happiness in their day to day lives. The confusion of war is an important element in many of the stories, especially the novella 'The Captain's Daughter' where a young man joins the Russian army as an officer and then becomes the captive of various factions of a rebellion. There isn't always a happy ending. The location and time are reasonably fully described to give a clear picture of the people and what is happening, despite the use almost always of 1st person narrative.

The narrator of the stories interjects observations that these stories are among the earliest written in Russian. In the story 'Roslavlev' there is the comment 'Thanks to the will of God, it is about thirty years now since we, wretched people, were curved with the inability to read Russian and, it would seem, to express ourselves in our native tongue.' In the story 'Dubrovsky' is the description of 'a vast library, for the most part consisting of books by eighteenth-century French writers' and in 'The Queen of Spades' one character asks another 'Wouldn't you like a Russian one [novel:]? ' and the other replies 'Are there such things?' I haven't read any of the early English writings where perhaps the same sense of pioneering is embedded in the writing.

The Russian climate is sometimes present not too overwhelming. It isn't always winter. The stories include references to the agrarian cycle of seasons, as the peasants after apologizing for their role in a rebellion are told by their master to being the hay harvest in the Captain's Daughter. In the story 'Dubrovsky', one of the characters 'wrapped himself up in a warm coat (it was already the end of September)...'

The writing is remarkably vivid, given that it was written in the early 19th century. Perhaps the Victorian influence hadn't resulted in censorship of intimate physical descriptions yet. Pushkin's writing isn't explicit, but it is clear and offers realistic descriptions that are missing from contemporary English language writing. In 'The Queen of Spades' is the description of an older woman removing her clothes to change to her dressing gown 'Her yellow dress, embroidered with silver, fell at her swollen feet. Hermann witnessed all the loathsome mysteries of her dress; at last the Countess stood in her dressing-gown ad night-cap; in this attire, more suitable to her age, she seemed less hideous and revolting.'

In addition to the sense of being among the first Russian-centric writing, the natural importance of the severe climate I appreciated the observations about society. In contrast to the peasants who rose and slept with the sun, Pushkin includes description of the aristocracy who had the resources to be independent of sunlight. In the story of the Queen of Spades 'the long winter night slipped by unnoticed; it was five o'clock in the morning before the assembly [of people at a card party:] sat down to supper.' The story 'The Moor of Peter the Great' is apparently somewhat biographical as Pushkin tells a story about one of his ancestors who was an Abyssinian who was taken (?against his will) to the court of Peter the Great, where he eventually married a member of the upper class.

Now perhaps, I can tackle some of Pushkin's poetry.
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09/06/2009 page 182
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