The Short Fiction of Ivan Turgenev
A Reading Life Project
"A Sportsman's Sketches may well be the greatest collection of short stories ever written"-Frank O'Connor
Frank O'Connor loved the short stories of Ivan Turgenev (1818 to 1883.) He said if he were forced to name the two best short stories ever written they would both be by Ivan Turgenev. (I think O'Connor is at his best when he talks of Turgenev and Guy de Maupassant.) Ford Madox Ford said Turgenev's short stories were among the greatest of all cultural treasures of humanity, and he is including the great art and music of all time. He also said his stories were very hard to write about. With these preliminaries out of the way (there is some background information on Turgenev in my prior posts on his work), I am very happy to announce that another Reading Life Project, The Short Fiction of Ivan Turgenev. He wrote some 70 short stories, probably not much more than 1000 pages in all. (As I am reading the stories on my Ipad I have to estimate the page lengths.)
"Hor and Kalinitch" is the very first short story by Turgenev. It, like all the stories in Sportsman's Sketches is based on what he saw and learned while living on his mother's vast estate where she owned around five thousand serfs, over whom she basically held powers of life and death and whom she treated with great cruelty. Some historians say that Turgenev's stories were in part responsible for the abolition of serfdom in Russia but I think this maybe a bit of a stretch.
In this story the narrator appears as an emotionally detached observer. The story centers on two serfs, the title characters, owned by a small land holder. One is very thrifty and the other idealistic. Going back to Frank O'Connor, author of the by far best book on the short stories (OK it will also drive you crazy), he says Turgenev's basic theme in all his work is his attempt to work out his own feelings that he was a weak ineffectual person, O'Connor says he was not, and his admiration for the "practical man" who knows how to do things.
"Hor and Kalinitch" really is more of a sketch of life in the time and place than a plot centered work. Turgenev's does a wonderful job of letting us see even now what it was like to live in Russia in the 1850s. We feel like we are walking through an estate. It is also a very funny story when it focuses on the landlord.
I have previously posted on his novel, Fathers and Sons, his novella, Diary of a Superfluous Man and his short story, "Father Alexyei's Story".
Please share your experience with Turgenev with us.