THE RUSSIAN MIND by Ronald Hingley


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Far from charting the Russian mind, Ronald Hingley uses the suggestively broad title of his latest book as an occasion to expound pat Western views on things Russian, ranging from the grammatically exotic perfective and imperfective aspects of Russian verbs, to pre- and post-revolutionary sexual mores, and, most importantly, to past and present Russian political orientations, both official and dissident. Familiar as he is with Russian life, history, and literature (Chekhov, 1976, for the latest), Hingley remains superficial, at best entertaining. He purports to stay clear of generalizations, and in fact illustrates the essay with many facts, anecdotes, and citations from Russian belles-letters and memoires, and from other scholars. But the ""evidence""--arranged to highlight the contradictory nature of Russianness--never congeals into a coherent interpretation of Russian cultural development. Rather it remains impressionistic and descriptive. The topic of Russian revolutionary currents brings out the most unscholarly in Hingley. Here he resorts to calling the nihilists, and even the intelligentsia as a whole, a ""tribe,"" and suggests that the radicalism which eventually overthrew tsarism was due to adolescent and psychopathic tendencies. He is ultimately consoled by the persistence of ""so many individual Russians with minds of their own,"" but presents no alternative to the mentally-disturbed theory of Russian history. For the uninitiated, the book offers a collection of intriguing anecdotes about Russia through the ages, seen through the persistently defensive prism of a conservative British scholar who prides himself on not being a ""Russia-fancier""; while for those steeped in Russian history and literature, Hingley only barely enumerates the important questions of the rich field he contemplates, without managing, in the space he allows himself, to do justice to any one of them.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1977
Publisher: Scribners