Thursday, May 29, 2014

Chekhov and Chernyshevsky in an historical dialogue about Turgenev: an advance warning

I'm reading Anton Chekhov's long story "The Duel" (one of the many novellas Chekhov left us, bless him, coming in at a little over 40,000 words). "The Duel" is possibly one of the greatest things anyone has ever written. I've read it a couple of times before, but this is the first time I've read it in the wake of having read Ivan Turgenev's Fathers and Sons, Nikolai Chernyshevsky's What is to be Done?, and Fyodor Dostoyevsky's Notes From Underground. And I am seeing new things in "The Duel," especially parallels with the Chernyshevsky novel, and a character who may be at least partially based on the Chernyshevskian revolutionary superman Rakhmetov. All of these ideas of mine are provisional at this point (I still have about 100 pages more of story to read), and I'm poking around to see if I can find out when Chekhov actually read What is to be Done?, so I'll just keep reading and thinking things over, and possibly next week I'll write some highly unoriginal thoughts here on the blog about "The Duel" as Chekhovian commentary on the Russian literary figure of the "Superfluous Man."

6 comments:

  1. "[O]ne of the greatest things anyone has ever written" is high praise. You make it clear that I need to read "The Duel." Thanks.

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    1. I've said before that if I were to ever teach a class on writing a novel, "The Duel" would be the first text I'd have the students read. It has everything necessary to a novel, in a compact form, while at the same time ignoring all of the modern novel cliches.

      I don't want to make too much of the Chernyshevsky parallels at this point. Maybe I'm just painting those on top of Chekhov's work. We'll see (or not, I guess). Either way, "The Duel" is a masterpiece.

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  2. Ooh, more in the argument! I look forward to finding out what you think.

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    1. It'll be tricky, since I'm going to attempt not to interpret, but only to point to what's actually in the text. But certainly Bazarov is mentioned by name, and Chekhov's zoologist is a utilitarian with a hyperactive self-improvement gene, and the idea of "free love" is kicked around. Some interesting stuff. And of course the prose is 1,000 times better than that of Chernyshevsky. There's a great bit where the narrator describes the awesome spectacles of nature, and the Superfluous Man yawns dismissively and declares that nature is nothing compared to the imagination. A wonderful story.

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  3. That's the danger, you start seeing the stuff everywhere.

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    1. But the thing is, much great literature is stuffed with handfuls of earlier great literature.

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