Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Friday, July 27, 2012

Ivan Turgenev's First Short Story- "Hor and Kalinitch"

"Hor and Kalinitch" by Ivan Turgenev (1852, 21 pages)

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.

Mel u


Prashant C. Trikannad said...

Mel, my only experience with Turgenev is that while I have heard about I have never read anything by him. You make a strong case for his short stories and that's reason enough for me to start reading his works soon. Many thanks...

Anonymous said...

Hi Mel: Another of my favorites - to me, Turgenev is so gorgeously lyrical. Perhaps not as powerful and minutely detailed as Chekhov's short stories, but much more beautiful. Interesting to think of them both being excellent, but in different ways. Kathy aka Ruby

@parridhlantern said...

As you already know Turgenev is Probably my favourite Russian writer, from this era.

Louparte said...

Turgenev, for some reason, was the writer of my youth.
And lately I've returned to re-read some of his stories on
my iPad.

His stories touch some people. Henry James, O'Connor,
Murakami all admired him. I'm not sure why, but I am
always happy to return to his writing.

I just finished Hor and Kalinitch. It's not my favorite
Turgenev story. But it is the beginning of his journey and
you can see the seeds of his art. The calm, neutral
observation of human types, the poetic descriptions of
natural splendor are both there. But his great tragic
passion and unforgettable poetic descriptions of life and
death would come later. I recommend his novella, 'First
Love' for that. I re-read it last week and absolutely could
not put it down.