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#1 Lovebird

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Posted 27 August 2006 - 03:35 PM

I am a great admirer of Russian literature. Perhaps it's because my favorite fairtales as a child were from a Georgian storybook. Anyway, I was wondering, what , in your opinion, are the most important works, or most influential, or that you simply like a lot, in Russian literature.

#2 Paquita

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Posted 27 August 2006 - 07:28 PM

I really enjoyed Pushkin's "Eugene Onegin" (maybe because of the ballet!) and Dostoevsky's "Notes from the Underground" and of course, "Crime and Punishment".

#3 drb

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Posted 27 August 2006 - 09:20 PM

Many of Pushkin's works have been made into ballets, and often Russian dancers name him as among their favorites. I don't think Alexander Pushkin, the great ballet master, was related (does anyone know?). Cranko's Onegin was first performed by ABT in 2001, so perhaps it will return in the not too distant furture.

For the greatest ballet based on a work by a Russian writer, I would vote for Ivan Turgenev's play A Month in the Country, as choreographed by Sir Fred Ashton. It is available for a free read on the Australian Gutenberg Project site:

http://gutenberg.net...3/0300831h.html

#4 dirac

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Posted 28 August 2006 - 08:59 AM

With the note that all of these were read in translation, I enjoyed the following:

Eugene Onegin (the Charles Johnston translation)
Anna Karenina
War and Peace
The Possessed
Crime and Punishment
The short stories of Gogol
Short stories and plays by Chekhov Ė especially ĎThe Lady with the Dogí and ĎThe Three Sistersí

I havenít read The Brothers Karamazov or The Idiot yet, I regret to say.

There are new translations coming out all the time Ė I just picked up the latest Anna Karenina -- but I have a partiality for the old ones by Constance Garnett, odd as they are in some respects, because thatís where I encountered many of these books first.

I would say that all of the above are important reading, but if you are forced to choose, get at least one Tolstoy and one Dostoevsky under your belt. The Gogol stories are great for starters, too.

Thank you for starting the topic, Lovebird. I hope others will chime in with their opinions.

#5 bart

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Posted 28 August 2006 - 09:40 AM

A warning. 19th-century Russian literature is very dense, often very long, and deeply imbedded in a precise social, cultural, and political milieu. This is the kind of literature meant for reading aloud over long leisurely afternoons and evenings , a way to pass the time in country houses where there were few other options for distraction. It helps to prepare with some sort of introduction to the time and period about which you are reading. Or perhaps a film version on video.

My own introduction was through War and Peace, which I started reading after seeing the 50s very abridged Hollywood movie (the one with Audrey Hepburn as Natasha -- dubbed into Spanish -- don't ask!!). Sergei Bondarchuk's late 60s film version is the better and more faithful film, but I could never get over the absence of Hepburn. The book was in the old Louise and Aylmer Maude translation in a small but very fat Oxford Uinversity Press edition. I still use this volume, which has required re-binding more than once.

A good relatively short intro to Turgenev is Fathers and Sons. To Tolstoy: the youthful Childhood, Boyhood, Youth. To Gogol: The Nose; also, The Overcoat. To Pushkin's prose: Queen of Spades, which has been made into a Tchaikovsky opera. To Dostoevsky: short stories like The Gambler. To Chekov's prose, the stories recommended by dirac. The 20th century is another huge area: one good intro would be Mikhail Bulgakov's Master and Margarita. And Victor Serge, imprisoned under Stalin but later able to get to western Europe: Conquered City, and The Case of Comrade Tulayev.

And, for something very weird indeed, Ivan Goncharov's Oblomov (19th century), the tale of a man so wrapped in laziness, ennui, and the existential blahs that his biggest daily decision is whether or not to bother to get out of bed. (I saw a wonderful stage play based on this last year.)

I wonder how many of these literary works -- and others not mentioned so far -- have been turned into ballets?

#6 dirac

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Posted 28 August 2006 - 10:24 AM

Thank you for that list, bart. Although movies have often led people to good books, I myself would not recommend actually seeking out any film version first. A movie has a way of imposing itself on the readerís imagination (and this can happen regardless of whether it is any good or not). I canít speak for others, but I plunged right into Anna Karenina as a teenager and was never sorry. The books are long, but they pull you into their world. On the other hand, if you have trouble with the book, perhaps a good movie can help you visualize the period.

#7 bart

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Posted 28 August 2006 - 10:53 AM

I also prefer to start with the book. But sometimes this can be difficult, especially when we're talking about a world as unfamiliar to us as that of 19th century Russia.

A virtue of films is that they can focus on the main characters (who they are, what happens to them) by drastically downplaying the social, political, religious, cultural environment in which they live, using it primarily as a background.

A good film can hook you on the story of the main characters. If it leads you to the novel, you'll find a much richer world, and one that can be pursued at a more leisurely and thoughtful pace.

I'll give you an example taken from opera rather than film. This coming spring, Florida Grand Opera will perform a new opera, composed by David Carlson, based on Anna Karenina. Carlson says of his librettist and director:

What Colin [Graham] did was realize that Anna Karenina is really the story of two couples. Once we'd figured that out, I think everything around it sort of fell into place.

So the opera is "about" Anna and Vronsky, and Levin and Kitty. This can work very effectively on the stage or in a film. But it is only a small portion of what a careful reader will find in the novel, which presents its characters as deeply imbedded in, intertwined with, and controlled by a much larger world. (Those Russian characters who think they are independent of the world around them, and who act as if they are, tend to have a very hard time in life indeed. As Anna discovers.)

So, I guess you could say: "If you loved the movie, you really DO have to read the book." :clapping:

#8 dirac

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Posted 28 August 2006 - 11:04 AM

bart writes:

A virtue of films is that they can focus on the main characters (who they are, what happens to them) by drastically downplaying the social, political, religious, cultural environment in which they live, using it primarily as a background.


Well...Iím not sure Iíd call that a virtue -- more of an unavoidable misfortune. I did see a movie version of Anna Karenina before reading it (Garboís second reading of the role, with Fredric March) and was puzzled by all the stuff about Levin and Kitty I had to plow through when I got to the book. I did eventually learn to appreciate those segments of the book, but I think it took longer because I had seen a more streamlined version first. On the other hand, I donít blame filmmakers for concentrating on Anna Ė if you have only two hours or so to get your story told, you have to focus on her.

#9 bart

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Posted 28 August 2006 - 11:30 AM

Well...Iím not sure Iíd call that a virtue -- more of an unavoidable misfortune.

I should have gone for "a virtue and also a limitation," because it seems that one of the definiing qualities of film its ability to "reduce" complexity to something directly accessible to the eye and ear in a finite amount of time. This involves gains, but also significant losses, as compared to the original source.

I wonder if anyone has actually tried to publish a version of the novel that includes only her relationship with Karenin and Vronsky, as the Garbo film does.

And what about ballet? Out of curiosity, I Googled "Karenina" and "Plisetskaya," and came up with this 1988 NY Times review of the ballet created for her in 1972. Plisentskaya was 62 at the time of this performance. Vronsky and Karenin are there. But -- as in the case of Balanchine's mothers-in-law -- Levin and no Kitty seem to have been jettisoned.
http://query.nytimes...750C0A96E948260

#10 Lovebird

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Posted 28 August 2006 - 08:25 PM

A lot of Pushkin's work has been made into opera, Mazeppa is based on Pushkin's Poltava as well as Onegin and Queen of Spades. An author that I love but that is not very well known outside of Russia is Nikolai Leskov. I love his short stories which are mostly comedies, similar to the picaresque stories of Spain, unfortunately there, I think , only one translation available? I have read about five of his stories in the original Russian, I think it is difficult to translate because a lot of the humour would lose its meaning when translated. Lady Macbeth of the Mstsensk District, famous Shostakovich opera, is based on his tragic play. Of Gogol I would recomend Dead Souls and of course The Overcoat. Also, A Hero of Our Time by Lermontov I would say if you have not read definately try to. It's character is, I believe, the first anti- hero, modern man in Russian literature. Personally I feel this novel influenced many of the Russian realist writers. A novel that has a special place in my heart is Tolstoy's Resurrection. I have re-read many times and each time I find something else that really speaks to me. The female character, Katiusha is my favourite female character in Russian literature, with respects to Anna Karenina.

#11 dirac

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Posted 29 August 2006 - 03:22 PM

An author that I love but that is not very well known outside of Russia is Nikolai Leskov. I love his short stories which are mostly comedies, similar to the picaresque stories of Spain, unfortunately there, I think , only one translation available? I have read about five of his stories in the original Russian, I think it is difficult to translate because a lot of the humour would lose its meaning when translated.


Yes, comic writing is most difficult to 'get' in translation. I always wanted to study Russian but it was one of those things I never got round to, alas. I will have to seek out 'Resurrection' - that's another thing on my to- do list.

#12 richard53dog

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Posted 29 August 2006 - 03:42 PM

And what about ballet? Out of curiosity, I Googled "Karenina" and "Plisetskaya," and came up with this 1988 NY Times review of the ballet created for her in 1972. Plisentskaya was 62 at the time of this performance. Vronsky and Karenin are there. http://query.nytimes...750C0A96E948260



Um, I think perhaps Plisetskaya is having some years added on to her. Sources seem to agree that she was
born in 1925; I think she celebrated her eightieth birthday last year. Bart, maybe you are thinking of Ulanova or some other older Russian ballerina?

I have a cheap Russian bootleg VHS of her in Anna Karenina with the ill-fated Alexander Godunov. I think it's a lot of fun, there are more costume changes for Plisetskaya than one can imagine. Tolstoy???? Was he involved???

This movie is sort of nostalgic for me because it brought back memories of when I first saw Plisteskaya, it was late in the game, but geez is the game over yet? But it captures that period when she was a bit dimished
but her magnetism was intact.

Richard

#13 richard53dog

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Posted 29 August 2006 - 03:52 PM

A lot of Pushkin's work has been made into opera, Mazeppa is based on Pushkin's Poltava as well as Onegin and Queen of Spades.


. A novel that has a special place in my heart is Tolstoy's Resurrection. I have re-read many times and each time I find something else that really speaks to me. The female character, Katiusha is my favourite female character in Russian literature, with respects to Anna Karenina.



Lovebird, if we count things such as poems and plays, Pushkin's writings generated a heap of operas.
In addition to the ones you mention, there are Boris Godunov, Ruslan and Lyudmila, the Golden Cockerel, The Tale of the Tsar Sultan, Mozart and Salieri, The Stone Guest as well as some less well known ones.

An oddity opera-wise is Franco Alfano setting of Resurrection. This doesn't stay too close to Tolstoy!


Richard

#14 Paul Parish

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Posted 29 August 2006 - 04:25 PM

War and Peace is my favorite novel ever. i'd always heard it was so heavy and difficult, and then I couldn't put it down -- I loved these people so, it was a physical feeling, I just loved them -- Natasha, Nikolai, Pierre, Andre, Maria, the old Prince and the old Count Bezukhov, God how I loved him, what a wonderful old man. The scene where he danced the Daniel Cooper with the old lady at Natasha's name-day party had me beside myself with joy; the LOVE in that family! God how I loved them all.

Though the last time I re-read it, I got bogged down when the Mason started in on Pierre about his wife.

I had seen the BBC tV version before I read it, ALL 26 episodes (they ran on KQED twice a week all summer, and i scheduled the week around them). Let me recommend that series to anyone who's curious but afraid of W+P. Young Anthony Hopkins played Pierre, and he was wonderful. The whole thing was wonderful; I had to read the book after just to get back

#15 Helene

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Posted 29 August 2006 - 04:30 PM

I read War and Peace in the early 80's, when sick in bed with the flu for four days. I expected it to be Dostoyevski X 4 heavy, but I really loved it.

I'm still inching my way through Anna Karenina and savoring it all, even the footnotes. So far, the jewel has been Tolstoy's description of Karenin's internal life.


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