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By Edmund Wilson

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Russian Language 3
Pushkin 15
Tyutchev 28
Gogol: The Demon within the Overgrown backyard 38
Seeing Chekhov simple 52
Turgenev and the Life-Giving Drop 68
Sukhovo-Kobylin: "Who Killed the French Woman?" 148
Notes on Tolstoy 161
Notes on Pushkin 185
A Little Museum of Russian Language 197
The unusual Case of Pushkin and Nabokov 209
Svetlana and Her Sisters 238
Solzhenitsyn 270

The glory of the overdue Edmund Wilson, as Frank Kermode remarked, has continually been "his skill to spot, no matter if he couldn't thoroughly describe, the master-spirit of an age." different critics are extra analytic or extra systematic, yet none particularly fit Wilson's snatch of tradition and background, of events and males. In A Window on Russia, which Wilson modestly calls "a handful of disconnected items, written at quite a few occasions while I occurred to have an interest within the quite a few authors," we stumble upon that infrequent excitement of getting into a dwelling international the place the useless hand of academia by no means casts its shadow. actual, the essays are asymmetric, the sooner surveys of Gogol and Chekhov, for example, are moderate affairs, with no the diversity and poignancy of Wilson's experiences of Turgenev and Tolstoy and Pushkin. precise, he's no phrasemaker. He tells us that "Gorky rightly acknowledged that Tolstoy and God have been like bears in a single den," and there's not anything in his personal comments on Tolstoy that equals the pithiness of Gorky's comment. but how memorably Wilson builds up a personality, an period; how interesting are his fussy information and leisurely summaries; how simply he makes his issues: the bureaucrats who flourish below the Soviets as they did lower than the Tsars, the peasants that suffer from one regime to a different, the depression authors who universally melancholy of Russia but can't endure to be parted from her. integrated within the present miscellany is the recognized controversy among Nabokov and Wilson over Evgeni Onegin, which first seemed within the long island evaluate, and particularly excellent chapters on Svetlana and Solzhenitsyn which seemed within the New Yorker.

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Both themes are plainly the reflections of something that has been deeply experienced by Pushkin and on which he might have brooded with bitterness; yet he handles them in such a way that there is never any melodrama involved: Lensky is extremely sincere, but foolish and perhaps a bad poet; Salieri is a villain, but he states his point of view with so much conviction and dignity that we almost come to respect him. The emotion that we get from reading Pushkin is something outside the picture: it is an emotion, half-comic, half-poignant, at contemplating the nature of things.

Now, Gogol is the master of this prose imbroglio. Though he may seem to be merely stirring round and round his 42 A WINDOW ON RUSSIA thick and nutritious pages, as if they were the strawberry boiled preserve, or the kasha to be eaten with currants or honey, or the dough full of hazelnuts and poppy seeds for one of the fancier forms of the rich polymorphous Ukrainian bread that his country people are always eating, this invariably results in a finished dish, which contributes to a well-arranged dinner.

There is a moment of respite and open horizons-the troika dashing off with its cheerful bells. In this torpid and moldy Russia, something has been set in motion, and Gogol has a moment of exaltation. But where is it going? he asks, and the horizon returns no answer. Nor is he able to escape from this world that is tedious as well as mad; nor has he power to redeem his hero through the Purgatory he plans to succeed this Hell. In the fragments that have come to us of the Second Part, the adventurer Chichikov, though sent to jail, seems to emerge just as much of a scoundrel, and the supposedly virtuous characters are the victims of obsessions like those of the First.

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