Radicals

Joseph Frank writes that an interest in existentialism led him during the 1950s to make a close study of Dostoevsky’s Notes from Underground, and then to undertake his life’s work, a biography of the Russian writer, of which three volumes have now appeared, with two to follow. The work is …

Indomitable Pasternak

In 1945 Boris Pasternak wrote an essay on Chopin in which he repeated the somewhat paradoxical view of the composer that he had expressed more than once in his poetry. “Chopin,” he contended, “is a realist in just the same sense as Lev Tolstoy.” He also associated Chopin with Bach.

The Real Thing

In his introduction to The New Soviet Fiction Sergei Zalygin writes: I would like to voice the opinion that our literature—at its best, naturally—has, on the whole, always risen to the occasion, even during the period of stagnation. By “the period of stagnation” he means the lethargic Brezhnev era, which …

An Artist’s Artist

The quality of V.S. Pritchett’s new book is plain from its opening pages. He tells there the story of Chekhov’s wretched childhood, by now almost as familiar as that of the boy Dickens and the blacking factory (which indeed Pritchett glances at). Here is his portrait of Chekhov’s father, the …

Lermontov’s Demon

Mikhail Lermontov (1814–1841) came into the world at the same time as Byron’s Lara, whose brow could turn “almost to blackness in its demon hue.” His career was suitably Byronic—what the journalist in Howell’s novel The Rise of Silas Lapham would have called “regulation thing.” A lonely and difficult childhood; …

Catherine Was Great

Some years after the empress’s death in 1796 the conservative historian Karamzin declared that “should we compare all the known epochs of Russian history, virtually all would agree that Catherine’s epoch was the happiest for Russian citizens.” Almost two centuries later, on the evidence of Isabel de Madariaga’s extensive and …

‘The Least Unsafe Man of Genius’

Professor Schapiro’s extremely well-prepared biography of Turgenev is the latest word on the subject, taking into account all the new material of the recent decade. It is particularly strong on the social and political background, the “times” at the center of which Turgenev so unerringly stood; and it is throughout …

Witnesses to Calamity

In 1942 Lionel Trilling wrote an essay for The Nation called “Tacitus Now,” in which he remarked that “our political education of the last decades fits us to understand the historian of imperial Rome.” By “us” he meant, of course, Americans, whose tradition had excluded the atrocious things that Tacitus …

Mandelstam Whole

Mandelstam is now generally acknowledged as one of the greatest Russian poets in an age when Russian poetry was very fine. Some would even place him as the greatest among his contemporaries. Without a doubt he is the best critic of Russian poetry to appear in modern times. It is …