Lovebird

Russian Literature

69 posts in this topic

I just finished reading Pushkin's narrative poem The Gypsies. Massine based his ballet Aleko on this poem and, since the ballet appears to be lost, I was curious as to what the source material was like.

Now that I've read it, I can't see how you could make a ballet out of this poem except in the most superficial sense (i.e. plenty of atmospheric gypsy dances.) The complicated point that Pushkin makes in his poem -- that the refugee from civilization (Aleko) wants freedom for himself but not for anyone else -- seems beyond the ability of dance to convey. Still, it would be interesting to see the ballet (although it's probably unrevivable at this point.)

Share this post


Link to post
I just finished reading Pushkin's narrative poem The Gypsies...

Now that I've read it, I can't see how you could make a ballet out of this poem except in the most superficial sense (i.e. plenty of atmospheric gypsy dances.) The complicated point that Pushkin makes in his poem -- that the refugee from civilization (Aleko) wants freedom for himself but not for anyone else -- seems beyond the ability of dance to convey.

I just finished reading Anna Karenina, and can see why ballets based on the novel can be made only the most superficial sense. The psychology in the book is the source of its riches, particularly in the ways that Karenina and Levin are very much alike. Portraying a Tragic Love Affair barely scratches the surface and misrepresents the characters of Karenina and Vronsky.

Share this post


Link to post
I just finished reading Pushkin's narrative poem The Gypsies. Massine based his ballet Aleko on this poem and, since the ballet appears to be lost, I was curious as to what the source material was like.

Now that I've read it, I can't see how you could make a ballet out of this poem except in the most superficial sense (i.e. plenty of atmospheric gypsy dances.) The complicated point that Pushkin makes in his poem -- that the refugee from civilization (Aleko) wants freedom for himself but not for anyone else -- seems beyond the ability of dance to convey. Still, it would be interesting to see the ballet (although it's probably unrevivable at this point.)

Rachmaninov also created an opera based on this Pushkin story. I don't know much about it or how often this Aleko may be performed, though but I believe I've seen a recording or two floating around

Richard

Share this post


Link to post

I was a fan of Anton Chekov in drama class. Always picked his plays because it was easy to relate to. But didn't his audience and actors take his work seriously, when he didn't mean it to be?

Share this post


Link to post

Oh, God, I LOVE THIS TOPIC!

Well, XIX Century Russian Literature has been always been part of my readings ever since i was a kid. Growing up in Cuba, we had to study it a lot, and then, afterwards, i just started to love it and devoured everything that i could get. Gogol, Pushkin, Chejov, Shojolov, Turgueniev, Lermontov, Lomonosov, (you name it) and then, my favorite bad boy of them all, the one and only Dostoiewsky. About a recomendation, i can't resist but name my favorite title of all times, Dostoiewsky's "Crime and Punishment" :clapping: (somewhere else i just mentioned that i'm reading for the 11 th time!). Somehow i just can't get enough of Rodion Romanovich Raskolnikov :( , and as i get older, it looks to me that the more that i try to know him, the more fascinating and less accesible he turns ! :)

Share this post


Link to post

This summer I re read Turgenev's A Month in the Country, a book that deserves re reading for its beautiful, fluid prose and nostalgic atmosphere. Turgenev to me is a unique writer, different from all other Russian writers. Has anyone read a work by Chekhov with the curious title of Unfinished Piece for a Piano Player? It is my next reading list book, and I would like thoughts about it. Miamiboy, it is nice to hear of a fellow Russian literarure fan, sometimes I feel that in the U.S, save for Crime and Punishment, Russian literature is a bit undiscovered, there are so many great works.

Share this post


Link to post

Hi Lovebird! tiphat.gif

I'm really happy laugh.gif to find there's people out there who loves russian literature as much as i do. Sometimes it's hilarious how people seems to look at it as some kind of "sovietized" taste. rofl.GIF Yes, it's true that i grew up in Cuba and that i had a pro-soviet education that has been very influential all my life ,(not only in literature, but also in classical music and ballet). What some people don't seem to realized it's the fact that russian literature was there, in a maximun aphoteosis before the soviets, and yes, even if i had to read Maxim Gorky's "The Mother", and some of Vladimir Mayakovsky's poetry, my love for the classics had grown way past our school standards.

I have a suggestion that you might like: Try to get a hold on "White Nights", by Dostoievsky. It s a beautiful and romantic short novel, that i read yeeeeeeeeears ago, but for which i still have fond memories. It tells the stoy of a shy young man , who is oriented into his internal world, and thus is in real demand of a soulful conversations and love. The action takes place in Saint Petersburg, in a very romantic and fascinating atmosphere wub.gif . Not only the location is important, but also a time of a day: all actions in the story take place in evening and night time, the famous "leitmotif" of the novel. Keep in touch!

Share this post


Link to post

White Nights sounds like a beautiful novel, thank you for suggesting it and I will certainly read it, Dostoyevsky makes memorable characters. I wonder if the title refers to that period of time in St Petersburg when the sun shines all night and day, something to do with its far north location? It must be a magical time. Miami boy, like you my love of Russian literature extends to other areas, especially Russian opera :tiphat: I noticed that you are from Cuba, I am from Spain, sometimes I feel that Russian and Hispanic sensibilities are very close to each other. I have read Mayakovsky, one poem in the original Russian. I like the strange way he uses words, I especially like the image of A Cloud in Trousers.

Share this post


Link to post
This summer I re read Turgenev's A Month in the Country, a book that deserves re reading for its beautiful, fluid prose and nostalgic atmosphere. Turgenev to me is a unique writer, different from all other Russian writers. Has anyone read a work by Chekhov with the curious title of Unfinished Piece for a Piano Player? It is my next reading list book, and I would like thoughts about it. Miamiboy, it is nice to hear of a fellow Russian literarure fan, sometimes I feel that in the U.S, save for Crime and Punishment, Russian literature is a bit undiscovered, there are so many great works.

Hello, Lovebird, good to hear from you. Russian literature in the US did receive a recent boost from Oprah Winfrey - she selected a recent translation of Anna Karenina for her book club and it actually made the paperback best seller list for awhile. :tiphat:

Share this post


Link to post
I have read Mayakovsky, one poem in the original Russian. I like the strange way he uses words, I especially like the image of A Cloud in Trousers.
So did George Balanchine, who described himself that way.

Share this post


Link to post
I am a great admirer of Russian literature. Perhaps it's because my favorite fairtales as a child were from a Georgian storybook.

Oooh, lovebird, i hadn't read the beggining of your first post on this thread. Now that i realize about your mentioning of the russian fairy tales, i must say that this is a very special topic to me because these beautiful and enigmatic russian fairy tales, in their soviet editions back then, were esential in my reading training as a kid. I had tons of books of them, and would reread them over and over. Those stories are precious to me, as they remind me my very early happy childhood. "Masha and the bear", "The Princess and the pea" "Alionushka and Ivanuschka", "Frost", "The little snow girl" and many many others. My favorite of them all was always the lovely "Vasilisa the beautiful"...(sight)

Share this post


Link to post

Thanks for taking the time to revive this thread, cubanmiamiboy. Good reading. :)

Share this post


Link to post

My favorite Dostoyevsky novels are Crime and Punishment -- but especially The Idiot. I wonder whether it would be possible to make a ballet centered on the character and problems of Prince Myshkin?

I thought while reading “The Idiot” that one episode early in the novel could be the basis for a Georges Feydeau farce (at least the surprise appearances and door slamming parts) or possibly some scenes for a movie along the lines of the Blake Edwards/Peter Sellers “Pink Panther” series.

Prince Myshkin has moved into the flat of Ganya, his mother, his sister and some hangers-on; he is their first and only boarder. Ganya is upset that the family has to take in boarders to make ends meet—however he is upset about something all the time. Scenes of family life take place around the prince although don’t affect him. Then Nastasya Filipponva arrives at the front door of the flat. The bell is broken and she stands outside yanking the bell pull and getting angrier each time it doesn’t ring. The prince happens to be passing the front door on the way to his room, notices Nastasya Filipponva trying to get in and opens the door.

She mistakes him for a footman, berates him because the bell doesn’t work, further criticizes him for not answering the door quickly enough and tosses her coat to him. Surprised he doesn’t catch it and gets yelled at a bit more for letting it fall on the floor. Finally she tells him to announce her, gets upset when he walks toward the drawing room, now carrying her coat, and is shocked when he already knows who she is.

The prince manages to open the door to the drawing room where the family has been loudly quarrelling. When he announces Nastasya Filipponva each of the family is shocked and disturbed; Ganya was numb with horror. Nastasya belittles the family for having such a small flat, sneers at the women to whom she is introduced and laughs at Ganya. Then disgraced general Alexandrovich enters, accompanied by the sly and scheming Ferdyschchenko...

The front door opens and into the entryway piles a bunch of “incongruous and disorderly” people some of whom we have met in earlier chapters, others described for the first time. All of them seem interested in enjoying themselves by humiliating Ganya.

Clearly this stage directionish recounting of 15 pages of “The Idiot” doesn’t come close to summarizing what Dostoevsky wrote and that Constance Garnett translated but as I was reading it I thought it could be hilarious on stage, not something one (at least this one) often thinks of when reading Dostoevsky.

-----

Another note on Russian literature: “The Possessed: Adventures with Russian Books and the People Who Read Them” by Elif Batuman is a wonderful book. It is a collection of essays on Russian literature that is both funny and learned by an academic who writes very well. There are short discussions of Anna Karenina, The Possessed (hence the title although it is also about those who get possessed by Russian literature and by the study of language as language) and Isaac Babel with a side trip to Samarkand which seems to have become one of the least romantic and dreariest places on the old Silk Road.

Her description of academic conferences in St. Petersburg and Berkley are both high and low points of the book. High points because they are funny as hell, low because almost everyone at both places seems ridiculous. The Babel meeting in California is full of absurdities--the Hoover Institution is co-sponsoring it and they would really like to have some three dimensional objects as part of the show--a fake fur hat that looks like something a Russian would wear or a Cossack costume that was probably picked up at a Halloween shop going out of business sale. Batuman is a real treasure very much worth following. Much of this book appeared in “The New Yorker” and she continues to write for them.

Share this post


Link to post

Thanks. Ed. Sounds worth a read. Good hearing from you.

Share this post


Link to post

I believe no one has mentioned Pasternak's Doctor Zhivago - to me an extraordinary novel, and one I've enjoyed as much as Dostoevsky's The Idiot, Brothers Karamazov, and Tolstoy's Anna Karenina.

Share this post


Link to post

I confess I've never gotten around to Doctor Zhivago. I watched the movie again recently and could easily have devoted the three-plus hours to reading the book instead.

Share this post


Link to post

I confess I've never gotten around to Doctor Zhivago. I watched the movie again recently and could easily have devoted the three-plus hours to reading the book instead.

I forgot to subscribe to this thread, so didn't see your comment until today. I am a fan of director David Lean, but I think it is felt by many of us that the film has its 'issues'. Though interstingly, for me at least, I came to appreciate Julie Christie's acting in that film AFTER I read the book. Then I realized that she was able to nail certain aspects of the book character - so I guess it's only the weepy Omar Sharif that still bugs me. ;)

The book is looooooong (more than a 3 hour read), but so rich - I didn't want it to end. I happened to read it at the right time for me. Either that, or the writing just won me over and kept me in its thrall. It has some of the best snow and winter weather descriptions I know of (I happen to love that kind of thing). Some of the book is so visceral for me, that I'm more reminded of a film like Larisa Shepitko's "The Ascent", than Lean's tearjerker melodrama. I don't have the book with me to find one of those passages, but there is also a lot of philosophizing that is quoteable (I found these sections online) -

“About dreams. It is usually taken for granted that you dream of something that has made a particularly strong impression on you during the day, but it seems to me it´s just the contrary. Often it´s something you paid no attention to at the time -- a vague thought that you didn´t bother to think out to the end, words spoken without feeling and which passed unnoticed -- these are the things that return at night, clothed in flesh and blood, and they become the subjects of dreams, as if to make up for having been ignored during waking hours.”

“To be a woman is a great adventure; To drive men mad is a heroic thing.”

“And now listen carefully. You in others--this is your soul. This is what you are. This is what your consciousness has breathed and lived on and enjoyed throughout your life-your soul, your immortality, your life in others. And what now? You have always been in others and you will remain in others. And what does it matter to you if later on that is called your memory? This will be you--the you that enters the future and becomes a part of it.”

"Now what is history? It is the centuries of systematic explorations of the riddle of death, with a view to overcoming death. That's why people discover mathematical infinity and electromagnetic waves, that's why the qrithsymphonies. Now you can't advance in this direction without a certain faith. You can't make such discoveries without spiritual equipment. And the basic elements if this equipment are in the Gospels. What is the supreme form of vital energy. Once it fills the heart of man it has to overflow and spend itself. And then the two basic ideals of modern man- without them he is unthinkable-the idea of free personality and the idea of life as sacrifice."

Interesting article on Pasternak:

http://www.guardian....nak-translation

Share this post


Link to post

Thank you for bringing back this topic, pherank. I certainly didn't mean to suggest the book could be read in three hours, only that my time might have been better spent that way. :) Lean emphasizes the love story and straightforward narrative, partially a matter of where his strengths lie as a filmmaker and also the requirements of classical movie storytelling. I will say that despite its obvious flaws it looks better in retrospect - for better and usually for worse they don't make them like that any more. (Julie Christie is indeed good and I thought Rod Steiger was pretty astounding. The moist-eyed Sharif was Lean's second choice after Peter O'Toole turned him down. I think in his review John Simon suggested the Navy should use Sharif as an icebreaker.)

I had read that the film wasn't close to the spirit of the book, and your description of the novel makes me want to pick it up pronto, although perhaps not in the translation sliced and diced in the Guardian article you thoughtfully provided. Do you recommend any particular translation?

Share this post


Link to post

I had read that the film wasn't close to the spirit of the book, and your description of the novel makes me want to pick it up pronto, although perhaps not in the translation sliced and diced in the Guardian article you thoughtfully provided. Do you recommend any particular translation?

The Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky translation seems to be liked by a lot of people - and hated by others. And the Manya Harari and Max Hayward translation (which I read) gets the same kind of reviews. Pasternak was primarily a poet, and the language of this book is poetic in the Russian, so it is apparently difficult language to capture in both literal meaning and stylistic impact. You might be better off getting the book for free from your library - maybe even checking out a couple of the translations at the same time to compare.

At any rate, the descriptions of life in St. Petersburg, and small towns in eastern Russia near Siberia, are priceless, and certainly relate to the lives of Russian dancers who came from that world. I've always been interested in hearing about life in Imperial Russia - and I have absolutely no idea why. ;)

Dr. Zhivago, if nothing else, is a great chronicle of events in Russia, and that was probably why the book was banned by the authorities - they didn't want anyone to know what really went on in people's lives during the revolution and creation of the USSR.

http://www.amazon.co...d=ATGX6W1IK2XMN

http://www.amazon.co...=Doctor Zhivago

>> I just remembered something important: Zhivago is full of patronymic names (naturally), and it becomes incredibly confusing trying to remember who everyone is. So what I now recommend to anyone starting a Russian novel is to create a kind of family chart with the names and a brief description below each naem, so that you can see visually the relationships between the various characters. It really helps to have something to refer to. I really can't understand how the Russians keep things straight in their minds when reading a novel - using first and middle names alone seems like a crazy way to keep track of people.

Or, you can use someone else's list! (But there will be more characters to add to this list)

http://www.sparknote...characters.html

Edited by pherank

Share this post


Link to post

Pherank (whom my iPad keeps trying to call Phreak), thank you for writing about Dr. Zhivago. I saw the movie first, back when I was quite young. I thought it was good, not great. I remember that I was bothered by Zhivago's infidelity. But my mom, a strict Catholic who didn't believe in divorce, told me to read the book so that I could understand the characters better; she had enormous sympathy for Zhivago. I did too once I read the book. Except for the cinematography - the snow was practically a character in the novel - the book is so much richer, both politically and in terms of characters. I know that's often true, but I found it to be truer of this book and movie than most others.

As far as what great Russian novel to read first, mine was Anna Karenina. My boyfriend at the time had to read it for college, so I read it too. I then launched into War and Peace, followed by Crime and Punishment, The Brothers Karamazov, and then a series of shorter works by Tolstoy and Dostoyevski. I look back on that year with great fondness as my mind was fully immersed in all matters Russian. I've never lost that affection.

I've mentioned it on other threads, but I reread War and Peace once every decade. It's a different book each time even though, until my most recent read, I used the very same physical book that I'd originally read. I switched things up this last time and found a whole new world! I read a modern translation. Until then, I hadn't known how funny Tolstoy could be! His descriptions of the military are especially hilarious. The translation I read is the one by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky. I've just begun rereading a modern translation of the Brothers Karamazov.

Share this post


Link to post

Hello, vagansmom, good to hear from you. I started out with Anna Karenina, too, probably because I'd seen one of the movie or television versions first. I tend to be in favor of reading the book before seeing the movie, since even bad movies have a way of imposing their images in your mind's eye, but it's not always possible.

Share this post


Link to post

Pherank (whom my iPad keeps trying to call Phreak), thank you for writing about Dr. Zhivago.

Perhaps that is my real name, and I just can't hide from it! Nice to hear your thoughts on Zhivago - "the snow was practically a character in the novel" - Yes! And I happen to love that sort of imagery, so the descriptions of the weather will stay with me perhaps longer than the philosophizing, but it was all good for me. I've always remembered the chapter "Snow" from Thomas Mann's The Magic Mountain - part of my personal mythology.

Hello, vagansmom, good to hear from you. I started out with Anna Karenina, too, probably because I'd seen one of the movie or television versions first. I tend to be in favor of reading the book before seeing the movie, since even bad movies have a way of imposing their images in your mind's eye, but it's not always possible.

I'm realizing that I just can't remember what Russian Literature book I read first, and it rather bothers me. I know that Dostoyevsky's The Idiot came early, and I was personally very affected by that book and still count it one of the most important readings in my life. During my adolescence I read a huge amount of European Literature and philosophy, especially in highschool (when I thought it was important to know all the 'classics' before going to college - How innocent is that!). So Russian Lit books are scattered throughout my reading history, but in no particular order.

Share this post


Link to post

vagansmom writes:

During my adolescence I read a huge amount of European Literature and philosophy, especially in highschool (when I thought it was important to know all the 'classics' before going to college - How innocent is that!).

Innocent, indeed, alas....

Share this post


Link to post

dirac, that's a great quote, but it's not mine - it's pherank's.

Share this post


Link to post