LETTERS IN TWO VOLUMES by Ivan Turgenev

LETTERS IN TWO VOLUMES

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KIRKUS REVIEW

The previous English sampling of Turgenev's letters, Edgar H. Lehrman's 1961 selection, was widely attacked for offering fragments (425 of them) instead of entire letters. Here, Vanderbilt professor Lowe rights that wrong--with 334 complete examples of Turgenev's correspondence, 200-or-so of them appearing in English for the first time. On the other hand, however, readers may not be too pleased with Lowe's edition either--since, by placing the hundreds of notes at the back of each volume, he has made it impossible to read the letters with any kind of narrative momentum. (Turgenev was no provincial; he makes constant allusions, many of them obscure, many of them crucial.) Still, despite this serious format problem, most aspects of Turgenev's life-and-work are on solid display here. His letters to literary contemporaries are, naturally, of greatest interest: there are important messages to Flaubert, Goncharov, Herzen, Saltykov, and, above all, Tolstoy--with further illumination of the already-well-documented love/hate relationship between the two giants. (Turgenev shows himself to be more moderate than Tolstoy in both love and hate: he scorns Tolstoy's attempts to write philosophy but values him for his mastery of intimate detail.) Throughout, Turgenev emerges as a man of gradation, without the burning inner passion one has come to expect from Russian writers of the era. His opinions change; he gives offense but is never surprised that he will, in turn, be offended. He suffers from the poor Russian response to his fiction (Fathers and Sons especially), but he is not blind to the reasons for this: after all, his anti-Slavism and mistrust of revolution alienate him from the greatest forces of the day at either end of that spectrum (Dostoevsky, Herzen). He is a cosmpolite, an opera-goer, a single man, but. the anxious father of one illegitimate daughter who enters an unfortunate marriage. He is sad, generous, always equable--even if this equability is sometimes achieved by two-faced-ness. (Praising people to their face, attacking them behind their backs.) He feels himself to be a failure. And the overall self-portrait is a complete but rather muted one--especially since the winding flow of impression must be constantly interrupted to hunt down those references and annotations.

Pub Date: March 15th, 1983
ISBN: 88233-735-1
Publisher: Ardis