Tuesday, March 2, 2021

Turgenev's Diary of a Superfluous Man

Soviet Roulette has taken a bit of a hiatus.  I required a break and dove into all manner of literature since the pandemic broke out, starting with George Eliot's oeuvre.  Yet I'll keep my oar in the water by mentioning a few Russian books now and again.  Today, I'll mentioned that I've read Ivan Turgenev's Diary of a Superfluous Man and found that the novella seems to foreshadow many of the later classics of modern fiction, including Dostoyevsky's Notes from the Underground or Goncharov's Oblomov.  In truth, I wasn't a huge fan of Turgenev, and was particularly underwhelmed by his most famous work, Fathers and Sons, which seemed a little crude, a novel of ideas rather than a novel of living characters.  However, as I've read more of Turgenev, I've become more and more impressed with his versatility.  They say Turgenev is a great stylist, and perhaps that is difficult to capture in translation.  But what strikes me most about the man is that he was willing to continuously test out new ideas and new literary forms.  While I have many more books to read, I am struck by how different each of his books can be.  Smoke seemed like a light, gossipy novel;  Fathers and Sons seemed obsessed with philosophical posturing;  Diary of a Superfluous Man seems like an investigation into morbid psychology;  First Love seems like a tender romance. I now have the feeling that I will get a wonderful overview of Russia's literary tradition if only I allow myself the time to read all of his diverse novels.  That's a wonderful thing.  I am not sure if I will ever encounter a Turgenev book I like as well as Crime and Punishment, War and Peace, or any of Chekhov's major plays.  Even so, I think I will come to think of him as deserving to be considered in their company.  I will have to tackle Saunders' new book to see how it looks when he considers a Turgenev story along side stories of these other greats.  

Some favorite quotes

How is that that fourteen days are less than fourteen years or fourteen centuries?

..she was always busy, forever bustling about like an ant--and completely without purpose, which cannot be said of an ant.  

That is what children are for, to keep their parents from getting bored.  

While a man is truly living, he has no sensation of his own life;  like a sound, it becomes clear to him only a short time later.  

I have nothing against happiness;  in fact, I have tried to approach it from every angle...

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