- From Pushkin to 'Polisandriia'
From Pushkin to 'Polisandriia' is a collection of essays devoted to Richard Freeborn, who retired from the Chair of Russian Literature at London University in 1988. Contributors include some of his former students and colleagues such as Robin Aizlewood, David Budgen, Neil Cornwell, Roy Davison, Jane Grayson, Michael Kirkwood, Arnold McMillin, Gordon McVay, Richard Peace, Don Piper, Donald Rayfield, Patrick Waddington, Faith Wigzell, and James Woodward. Given the reputation of these contributors, there is much to be said about the impact of Freeborn's scholarship. As the title suggests, these essays cover a period that begins with the nineteenth century and ends with recent history—as recent as the writing of Sasha Sokolov whose novel, Palisandriia, takes us into the postmodern era.
To enumerate the perspectives in this collection is to acknowledge a richness and clarity of critical opinion. Budgen's and Aizlewood's essays provide a point of entry into the foundation of the Russian novel. Budgen discusses Pushkin's novelistic fragments in the context of the period and Aizlewood—the emblematic features of Lermontov's novel, Geroi nashego vremeni, with reference to Bakhtin's theories. Peace, Rayfield, and Davison turn to Dostoevsky, underscoring, respectively, the quality of psychological analysis in Bednye liudi, the traces of Dumas fils's La Dame aux camelias in The Idiot, and the veiled control of intricate sequence and simultaneity of events in Besy. Wigzell then discloses the folkloric basis of Oblomov's levels of consciousness and Waddington and Woodward make a case for the substance and integrity of Turgenev's frequently dismissed novels, Dym and Nov', bringing to an end a well-established path in the development of the novel of the golden age.
The essays that focus on the Russian novel of the twentieth century take us along the path of the avant-garde and the experimental. Among the seven authors of this period that are examined, all have broken with the novel of Turgenev and Tolstoy. Cornwell's analysis of the response to the recent publication of Doktor Zhivago does not lead us to the modernist camp, but it does expose the difficulties of literary rehabilitation. Of particular interest are the insights into the experimental prose that persists in the Soviet period: from the Bohemian to the phantasmagoric. McVay, for example, introduces the work of Mariengof and Piper examines Tynianov's Smert' Vazir-Mukhtara as an analogy between the Russian Revolution and the Decembrist Revolt. Grayson compares Nabokov to Olesha, not forgetting that likenesses do not conceal their opposites. Kirkwood and McMillin conclude the collection with an essay on Zinov'ev and Sasha Sokolov, two of the most experimental prose writers of the 1970s and 1980s who demonstrate that the Russian novel has come to the same discursive crossroads as in the West.
Honoring Richard Freeborn, these fourteen scholars have produced a compelling body of criticism. While they provide no sum of the Russian novel, they do illuminate the properties that make such calculations possible. [End Page 529]