|1821 to 1881|
Yesterday I was checking my Amazon.com recommendations and they listed a forthcoming paperback edition of The Eternal Husband and other Stories by Fyodor Dostoevsky, translated by Richard Prevear and Larissa Volokhonsky. I like their translations but I was not really interesting in buying it, being happy to read older translations for free but I did check to see what stories were included in the collection. The shortest one was "Bobok". Long ago in the distant mists I read most of the major works of Dostoevsky and I am happy now to have begun slowly reading some of his shorter fiction. (My first post on his short fiction was on "A Christmas Tree and a Wedding".)
"Bobok" was written between the publication of Crime and Punishment (1866) and The Brothers Karamazov (1880). It sounds almost like a bit of an autobiographical story. The chief character is a frustrated writer. He wants to write literary fiction but his work always gets rejected by editors. He gets by through odds and ends of journalism, advertisements and translation of French works. When he submits works of literary fiction, they are rejected and he is told his work lacks the quality of real life. He is told he must seek out inspiration where ever he can. The story is told in the first person as if it were from the writer's diary.
One day he goes to the funeral of a friend and stays behind in the graveyard to think about his life and his writing. Suddenly he hears voices all around him even though no one is there. It is the recently buried conversing with each other and with him. It seems they have enough consciousness left to speak for two or three months after they are dead. The dead speak very openly about their lives. It is as if there is many life times of stories being told as inspiration for the writer. Some of the dead are bitter, some long for passion, others freely confess affairs and corruption they always denied while living. The writer begins to despair that the dead seem to have no inspiring stories for the living. He tells himself maybe he will have better luck in another cemetery.
"Bobok", the title is supposed to come from a Russian slang word for nonsense, is not hard to read, not very long and is very much worth reading.
Please share your experience with us on shorter Russian fiction.