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

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

The Captain's Daughter by Alexander Pushkin (1838, translation by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky, forthcoming 2016)

IAlexander Pushkin is considered the founder of Russian literature.  

With the publication of the complete prose of Alexander Pushkin, in a forthcoming work entitled Novels, Tales and Journeys The Complete Prose of Alexander Pushkin the great translating team of Richard Pevear and Lariissa Volokhonsky has done yet another wonderful service to the  English speaking literary world.    Pushkin is considerd without dispute Russia's greatest poet.  I remember long ago in Clifton Fadiman, in  The Life Time Reading Plan, a book that has been a directive force in my reading life for decades, said many he respected gave Pushkin the title of greatest poet of all time but that this did not come through in translation.  (New translations of his major poetic works by highly regarded scholars are forthcoming, I have review copies of a few books and will read them soon so perhaps his poetry will begin to be more widely in translation.)

In addition to a very well done and educational introductory essay by Richard Pevear, the collection contains sixteen works Pushkin completed.  The longest is the novella The Captain's Daughter. Also included are a number of uncompleted works, including his attempt at a historical novel in the style of Walter Scott.  Pushkin came from an aristocratic family and Pevear gives us a good mini-biography of Pushkin whose life was cut short in a duel with a man who affornted the honor of Pushkin's wife.  I long ago read and posted on two of his short stories, "The Quern of Spades" and "The Shot".  I will enjoy rereading them in the new translation.  

The Captain's Daughter is a historical romance based loosely on anti- Catherine the Great uprisings by Cossack tribesmen in 1773 to 1775 in what is called Pugachev's Revolt in which a Cossack leader claimed to be the murdered Czar Peter III.  Pyotr Andreyich Grinyov, lead character in the story was placed in the Russian Army at seventeen by his father, as a junior officer.  On the way to his first assignment he is rescued in a snow storm by what he thinks is an old peasant.  Out of gratitude he gives the man his coat.  

Pyotr is sent to a fort in the midst of Cosssck territory, he falls in love with the Captain's daughter, the captain is killed, and the man is captured by Cossscks. A series of accidental events take place in which we see the strength of character of the man and the depth of his love for the captain's daughter.  

Pyotr is falsely arrested for being in league with thecr rebels, who want an end to serfdom,  when a romantic rival for the Captain's Daughter, jealous because she loves Pyotr, turned him into to the Czarist police.  He had been released by the rebel leader because the old man in the snow storm was in fact the Cossack tribal chief.   In a further coincidence a change meeting with a mysterious woman leads the captain's daughter to an audience with the Empress Catherine the Great who frees Pyotr.

There is an interesting subplot involving Pyotr's parents initial refusal to accept the captain's daughter as a daughter-in-law because her family lacked social standing.

The Captain's Daughter is a very interesting work.  It deals with loyalty, class structures, thecrolecof luck in life and the characters are very well developed.  Historically it covers similar ground as Tolstoy's Hadji Murad.  

An aspect of the story I really appreciated was the relationship of Pyotr to an old family serf, basically a slave, who was totally devoted to Pyotr.

I will for sure read all the works in this collection.

I was kindly given a review copy of this book.

This is a great addition to Russian Literature in translation.

Mel u

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