TURGENEV'S LETTERS by Ivan Sergeyevich Turgenev


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Editor/translator Knowles calls Turgenev ""a dedicated hypochondriac,"" ""a poor father but a splendid 'uncle'""; he sees the Russian giant as ""an admirer of women . . . but a poor and frequent lover""; he notes that he was ""generally lazy but never missing an opportunity to go anywhere where shooting was available."" And, perhaps most fundamentally, Knowles finds little nobility in Turgenev's well-known shifts of opinion: ""Although a polite, charming, considerate and modest man, he was weak-willed; he found it difficult to make up his mind and then often changed it."" Unsurprisingly, then, the selected letters here more or less match the editor's view of his subject: the Turgenev of this book is a more contentious, unsatisfying man than the milder fellow on display in the recent collected Letters in Two Volumes (p. 110). But, even with this bias, Knowles' abridged version of the Turgenev correspondence is probably more successful at projecting Turgenev's slippery personality and his literary position. The individual letters are better translated than in the above-mentioned David Lowe version. (An early letter to opera-star Pauline Viardot, Turgenev's most faithful woman intimate, recalls the beautiful prose of The Sportsman's Sketchbook.) The opinions seem to stand out more clearly here--as when Turgenev writes to Tolstoy, a lifelong nemesis: ""Systems are only valued by those who do not possess the whole truth and want to grab it by the tail. Any system is like truth's tail but truth is just like a lizard--it leaves its tail in your hand, knowing full well that another will grow in its place."" And the editorial material--introductions, notes--is (unlike that in Letters in Two Volumes) easily readable, providing a clear biographical frame. For scholars, then: the complete two volumes. For less professional readers: this shrewd, if slightly too skeptical, selection.

Pub Date: July 1st, 1983
ISBN: 0485112108
Publisher: Scribners