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

Sunday, February 15, 2015

"The White Mother" and "The White Dog", two short stories by Fyodor Sologub translated by John Cournos, 1908?)

Two Short Stories by Balzac's First Russian Translator. -  Late Czarist Period 

Fyodor (sometimes translated as "Theodor", born and died in St Petersburg, Russia) Sologub is a second level Russian writer that I encountered for the first time yesterday.  He was a profuse literary writer and was the first, according to my research, to translate Balzac into Russian.  That alone makes him an important figure.  He wrote a number of short stories and I enjoyed the two I read. (At the end of this pits I will include a link from which you can download  a collection of his short stories translated by John Crounus , from 1915.  Crounus (1881 to 1966) was born in Russia into a Yiddish family.  His family immigrated to the USA, living in Philadelphia, when he was ten. He had a diverse career as a writer and it is for his translations that he is still known.  

"The White Mother". Published somewhere between 1900 and 1913

"The White Mother" feels like a story Balzac might have written, or Turgenev on a sentimental day.  The story focuses on a thirty five year old bachelor.  When we first meet him he is at a party and the hostess is trying to suggest matrimonial prospects to him.  He listens to her but his heart is in verthe grave, given many years ago to his beloved and passed Layla.  Much of his time is spent thinking of her, she fills his dreams and he has no interest in displacing her with a wife.  One day he is out for a walk and he comes on a young boy crying and lost in the streets.  The man asks where his father lives and learns he is dead.  The boy tells him he has two mothers, one white and one black.  At first he thinks the black mother must be a nun and the boy an orphan.  He finds out the white mother is the boy's deceased mother, the black mother is his black haired black eyed step mother.  She wants to get rid of the boy, left as a burden on her as a stepmother after his father died.  After some pondering and conversations with friends, the boy somehow makes him think of a son he and Layla might have had, he adopts the boy, the final touch is when the stepmother says she will agree to it only on the condition the man pay her for the clothes the boy is wearing.  This is a story aimed at the heart and it works.  I enjoyed reading it a lot.

"The White Dog"

"The White Dog" is a very interesting story set in the Russian countryside.  It has an amazing close that I am surprised got past censors circa 1907.  One of the central characters is an unmarried woman, having reached spinsterhood at thirty or so.  I don't want to spoil the plot for potential readers but at the close of the story she strips naked and runs outside, she evidently transforms into a huge white dog.  Two men hear the unearthly howls of the dog and take it for a werewolf and shot her.  As they approach the dog they see it is a woman, covered in blood.  No doubt this story echoes Russian folklore and certainly it can be seen as the final venting of frustration by the woman and perhaps as societies disregard for such women as no longer of value.

Mel u

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