A House of Gentlefolk ★★★★☆

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Title: A House of Gentlefolk
Series: (The Russians)
Author: Ivan Turgenev
Translator: Constance Garnett
Rating: 4 of 5 Stars
Genre: Classic
Pages: 228
Words: 62K



Synopsis:

From Wikipedia

The novel’s protagonist is Fyodor Ivanych Lavretsky, a nobleman who shares many traits with Turgenev. The child of a distant, Anglophile father and a serf mother who dies when he is very young, Lavretsky is brought up at his family’s country estate home by a severe maiden aunt, often thought to be based on Turgenev’s own mother, who was known for her cruelty.

Lavretsky pursues an education in Moscow, and while he is studying there, he spies a beautiful young woman at the opera. Her name is Varvara Pavlovna, and he falls in love with her and asks for her hand in marriage. Following their wedding, the two move to Paris, where Varvara Pavlovna becomes a very popular salon hostess and begins an affair with one of her frequent visitors. Lavretsky learns of the affair only when he discovers a note written to her by her lover. Shocked by her betrayal, he severs all contact with her and returns to his family estate.

Upon returning to Russia, Lavretsky visits his cousin, Marya Dmitrievna Kalitina, who lives with her two daughters, Liza and Lenochka. Lavretsky is immediately drawn to Liza, whose serious nature and religious devotion stand in contrast to the coquettish Varvara Pavlovna’s social consciousness. Lavretsky realizes that he is falling in love with Liza, and when he reads in a foreign journal that Varvara Pavlovna has died, he confesses his love to her and learns that she loves him in return.

After they confess their love to one another, Lavretsky returns home to find his supposedly dead wife waiting for him in his foyer. It turns out that the reports of her death were false, and that she has fallen out of favor with her friends and needs more money from Lavretsky.

Upon learning of Varvara Pavlovna’s sudden appearance, Liza decides to join a remote convent and lives out the rest of her days as a nun. Lavretsky visits her at the convent one time and catches a glimpse of her as she is walking from choir to choir. The novel ends with an epilogue which takes place eight years later, in which Lavretsky returns to Liza’s house and finds that, although many things have changed, there are elements such as the piano and the garden that are the same. Lavretsky finds comfort in his memories and is able to see the meaning and even the beauty in his personal pain.

My Thoughts:

The “official” title of this book is actually The Home of the Gentry. If you search for A House of Gentlefolk on wikipedia, you end up on the page for Home. Obviously Garnett did a bang up job of translating back in the late 1800’s. Which of course makes the rest of the book completely suspect and while it didn’t ruin my read, it did make me cranky and suspicious the whole time that what I was reading wasn’t actually what I was supposed to be reading. I feel like I got gypped out of 99 cents from buying this “Complete Collection” on amazon.

This was ALL THE DRAMA! If you’ve ever seen a spanish soap opera, add a mega-dose of melancholy and nothing working out and you’ll get this story. Lavretsky gets cuckolded, then used by his wife, abandons his daughter, falls in love with a woman only to have his wife return from the dead, and gets cuckolded again. And then the woman he loves becomes a nun and his wife lives her life out in society in Paris or something and the kid either dies or is so sickly that you know she is going to die. And the book ends with Lavretsky returning to his village and having memories. Ugh.

With all of that it would seem that this should have been a 2star book for me. And this is where the power of the russian writing shows its power over me. I enjoyed every second of this book.

In many ways this seemed the opposite of Turgenev’s Rudin. Rudin is brash, impulsive, self absorbed and willing to fight anyone on any point and as such he dies in France in one of their many “revolutions”. Lavretsky on the other hand doesn’t want conflict with anyone, ever, under any circumstances, to the point where he gives his wife a massive amount of money to go live her life and to leave him alone when she first cuckolds him. Lavretsky SHOULD have killed her lover in a duel and then given her the choice of honorably taking her own life or casting her out into the streets ignobly. Then when his wife returns, he has no fire to fight her on any point and just lets her slide back into his life. It was a complete contrast in people and I rather enjoyed that contrast, as a study.

One thing I have noticed is that the russian writers tend to have their women be the ones who are religious and try to convert the men they are interested in. In this book, Lisa is very God oriented and while Lavretsky isn’t, she’s convinced she can lead him to God after they are married. Once again, a lack of knowledge about what the Bible says on a subject seems to form the majority of the religious in these books. They, the characters have an idea that is kind of Biblical, but not actually based on it and then go with it however it seems to fit the circumstances instead of using the Bible as their yardstick and plumbline. I guess that’s what one would expect to see if Christianity was just a cultural thing instead of a personal thing. It is very disconcerting to me though and I suspect it will continue to be that way through all the russian books I read.

I think that’s enough for me. I’m right around the 600 word mark and that seems to be my happy place, at least according to the statistics that wordpress supplies me.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Rudin (The Russians) ★★★★☆

This review is written with a GPL 4.0 license and the rights contained therein shall supersede all TOS by any and all websites in regards to copying and sharing without proper authorization and permissions. Crossposted at WordPress, Blogspot, & Librarything by Bookstooge’s Exalted Permission

Title: Rudin
Series: (The Russians)
Author: Ivan Turgenev
Rating: 4 of 5 Stars
Genre: Classic
Pages: 183
Words: 49K



Synopsis:

From Wikipedia

Rudin’s Arrival

The novel begins with the introduction of three of the characters – Aleksandra, Lezhnev, and Pandalevskii. Pandalevskii relates to Aleksandra Dar’ya Mikhailovna’s invitation to come and meet a Baron Muffel’. Instead of the Baron, Rudin arrives and captivates everyone immediately with his intelligent and witty speeches during the argument with Pigasov. Rudin’s arrival is delayed until Chapter Three. After his success at Dar’ya Mikhailovna’s, he stays the night and the next morning meets Lezhnev who arrives to discuss some business affairs with Dar’ya Mikhailovna. This is the first time the reader finds out that Rudin and Lezhnev are acquainted, and studied together at university. During the day that follows Rudin has his first conversation with Natasha; as she speaks of him highly and says he “ought to work”, he replies with a lengthy speech. What follows is a description quite typical of Turgenev, where the character of Rudin is shown not through his own words, but through the text which underlines Rudin’s contradictory statements:

“Yes, I must act. I must not bury my talent, if I have any; I must not squander my powers on talk alone — empty, profitless talk — on mere words,’ and his words flowed in a stream. He spoke nobly, ardently, convincingly, of the sin of cowardice and indolence, of the necessity of action.”[5]

On the same day, Sergei leaves Dar’ya Mikhailovna’s early and arrives to see that Lezhnev is visiting. Lezhnev then gives his first description of Rudin.

Rudin and Natasha

In two months, we are told, Rudin is still staying at Dar’ya Mikhailovna’s, living off borrowed money. He spends a lot of time with Natasha; in a conversation with her he speaks of how an old love can only be replaced by a new one. At the same time, Lezhnev gives the account of his youth and his friendship with Rudin, making for the first time the point that Rudin is “too cold” and inactive. On the next day, Natasha quizzes Rudin over his words about old and new love. Neither she, nor he confess their love for each other but in the evening, Rudin and Natasha meet again, and this time Rudin confesses his love for her; Natasha replies that she, too, loves him. Unfortunately, their conversation is overheard by Pandalevskii, who reports it to Dar’ya Mikhailovna, and she strongly disapproves of this romance, making her feelings known to Natasha. The next time Natasha and Rudin meet, she tells him that Dar’ya Mikhailovna knows of their love and disapproves of it. Natasha wants to know what plan of action is Rudin going to propose, but he does not fulfil her expectations when he says that one must “submit to destiny”. She leaves him, disappointed and sad:

“I am sad because I have been deceived in you… What! I come to you for counsel, and at such a moment! — and your first word is, submit! submit! So this is how you translate your talk of independence, of sacrifice, which …”

Rudin then leaves Dar’ya Mikhailovna’s estate. Before his departure he writes two letters: one to Natasha and one to Sergei. The letter to Natasha is particularly notable in its confession of the vices of inactivity, inability to act and to take responsibility for one’s actions – all the traits of a Hamlet which Turgenev later detailed in his 1860 speech. Lezhnev, meanwhile, asks Aleksandra to marry him and is accepted in a particularly fine scene.

The Aftermath

Chapter Twelve and the Epilogue detail events of over two years past Rudin’s arrival at Dar’ya Mikhailovna’s estate. Lezhnev is happily married to Aleksandra. He arrives to give her news of Sergei’s engagement to Natasha, who is said to “seem contented”. Pigasov lives with Lezhnevs, and amuses Aleksandra as he used to amuse Dar’ya Mikhailovna. A conversation which follows happens to touch on Rudin, and as Pigasov begins to make fun of him, Lezhnev stops him. He then defends Rudin’s “genius” while saying that his problem is that he had no “character” in him. This, again, refers to the superfluous man’s inability to act. He then toasts Rudin. The chapter ends with the description of Rudin travelling aimlessly around Russia. In the Epilogue, Lezhnev happens by chance to meet Rudin at a hotel in a provincial town. Lezhnev invites Rudin to dine with him, and over the dinner Rudin relates to Lezhnev his attempts to “act” – to improve an estate belonging to his friend, to make a river navigable, to become a teacher. In all three of this attempts Rudin demonstrated inability to adapt to the circumstances of Nicholas I’s Russia, and subsequently failed, and was in the end banished to his estate. Lezhnev then appears to change his opinion of Rudin as inherently inactive, and says that Rudin failed exactly because he could never stop striving for truth. The Epilogue ends with Rudin’s death at the barricades during the French Revolution of 1848; even at death he is mistaken by two fleeing revolutionaries for a Pole.

My Thoughts:

After Anna Karenina and it’s almost 1300 pages, every other Russian novel that’s under 500 pages suddenly makes me feel like somehow I’m cheating and having an easy time of it. Russian literature is bleak and grim and depressing and your very soul is supposed to suffer while reading it. And here I am, breezing along like I’m on a circus ride or something.

It’s just not right. Or maybe I’m just not right. OR (prepare for Conspiracy Theory Numero Uno)…..

….. The WP4 have brainwashed me into somehow liking Russian Literature. I can totally see Dix trying to brainwash me, so I’m going with the Conspiracy Theory option.

Thankfully the titular character is not the main character. He’s an arrogant jackass who won’t stick to anything unless it is done exactly his way. Since he pretty much sponges off of other people, well, you can see the friction there. What got to me was near the end of the novel, Lezhnev (I’d call him a main character) meets Rudin (who is now practically homeless and barely surviving) and is very charitable to him. That was fine and showed what a good man Lezhnez was. What I really disliked was how Lezhnev starts praising Rudin for everything that I abominated in him. His inability to get along with others. His laziness. His excuses for not finishing things. His playing with people’s lives as if they exist for his use alone. I was actually waiting for him to starve to death all alone but I think how Turgenev portrayed him dying, getting shot at the barricades during the French Revolution of 1848 (I had to go look on wikipedia, but this Revolution was just another one by the Frenchies, not the one portrayed in Dickens’ Tale of Two Cities). It was very fitting for Rudin to die while sticking his nose into a completely different country’s business.

I have to admit, I am not skilled enough to be able to tell the differences in writing style of Turgenev from either Tolstoy or Dostoyevsky. Part of that might be that a good bit of Russian literature was translated by Constance Garnett and if she wasn’t careful, her own style would overpower theirs. While no translator is listed for this book, the public domain version is translated by Garnett so I’m going to assume this is her translation.

And yet, with everything, I still enjoyed this quite a bit. Turgenev sees people and does an excellent job of putting that down in words. I get all the benefit of a varied circle of acquaintences without actually having to deal with people. That is a Win-Win situation as far as I’m concerned!

The only other Turgenev that I’ve read is Fathers and Sons. I definitely preferred that to Rudin. However, I do look forward to more Turgenev as I continue this Russian journey.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Fathers and Sons (Classic)

f44d7dea90b6b1567680b9dd74a41878This review is written with a GPL 3.0 license and the rights contained therein shall supersede all TOS by any and all websites in regards to copying and sharing without proper authorization and permissions. Crossposted at Bookstooge.booklikes.blogspot.wordpress.leafmarks.com & Bookstooge’s Reviews on the Road Facebook Group by Bookstooge’s Exalted Permission.

Title: Fathers and Sons

Series: ——

Author: Ivan Turgenev

Rating: 4.5 of 5 Stars

Genre: Classic

Pages: 233

 

 

 

Synopsis:

We follow 2 young men, Bazarov and Arkady, as they relate to each other, their fathers and their romantic interests.

 

My Thoughts:

I was not expecting to like this so much. This book is a snapshot of the changing of a generation and how it can clash with those before. In Russia.

[if you’ve ever watched Yugioh the Abridged series, you’ll know that comes from Bandit Keith and his “In America!” schtick]

Honestly, this was melancholy, romance, young silliness, arrogance and then maturity all rolled into one.

Bazarov is our main antagonist and he does a good job of being an ass for the whole book. He is a nihilist and simply wants to destroy anything and everything, period. He is well enough off that he doesn’t have to work and so has lots of time to think and like many introspective young men, his thoughts are centered on himself. That never turns out well and in the end Bazarov gets what is coming to him.

As for protagonists, there didn’t seem to be just one and in fact it could be argued that Bazarov is the protagonist as well. Arkady is a young man under Bazarov’s philosophical sway until he comes under the sway of Katya, a reserved young lady who is strong as steel but covers it with a modest and demure exterior. The Fathers, of Bazarov and Arkady, don’t seem to be strong enough to count as the protagonists as they are afflicted with trying to be their sons best friend instead of their fathers. They typified everything that I associate with Russian men: emotional, philosophical and very melancholic.

I really liked the progression of seeing Arkady and Bazarov mature. Arkady takes on responsibility and finds his place and begins to shoulder the burden that his station in life places upon him. Bazarov lives true to his destructive principles and I was glad to see him die.

To end, thoroughly, thoroughly enjoyed this book and am now going to have to search out a hardcover copy in a used book store. On amazon, “good” hard cover copies start at $35. That is too rich for me.