Friday, May 24, 2013

Magnificent stories of Nature and Man

Sketches from a Hunter's AlbumSketches from a Hunter's Album
by Ivan Turgenev

"It is a remarkably pleasant occupation, to be on one's back in a forest and look upwards!  It seems that you are looking into a bottomless sea, that it is stretching out far and wide below you, that the trees are not rising from the earth but, as if they were the roots of enormous plants, are descending or falling steeply into those lucid glassy waves, while the leaves on the trees glimmer like emeralds or thicken into a gold-tinted, almost jet-black greenery." (p 131)

In his Preface to "The Seasons" the Scottish poet James Thomson wrote, "I know no subject more elevating, more amazing, more ready to poetical enthusiasm, the philosophical reflection, and the moral sentiment than the works of nature. Where can we meet such variety, such beauty, such magnificence?"
This is a theme that runs through the Sketches From a Hunter's Album. The beauty of the sylvan glade or the summer sun glistening off the meadows flowers is brought to life by the prose of Turgenev in these vignettes. Certainly the characters are also finely drawn and include all social stratas while emphasizing the narrator's interactions with peasants and serfs. It is the latter that impress the reader by the respect and generosity with which they are treated. The combination of fascinating characters and beautiful nature writing made this book a joy to read. I found myself looking forward to the next chapter with expectation that I would be treated to another even more interesting facet of the countryside and its denizens. I was not disappointed until the end of the book and only then because I did not want it to end.

Considering this book was first published in 1852 after having appeared serially as separate sketches, it is a further wonder because the serfs would not be freed for another decade. These short stories revealed Turgenev's unique talent for story-telling. And they greatly influenced Russian short story writers into the early 20th century, including Anton Chekhov, Ivan Bunin, Alexander Kuprin and others. The stories remain fresh today, even in translation, and reward the reader with their magnificence.  But let me leave you with a quote from Turgenev himself that expresses my feelings as well:

“the deep, pure blue stirs on one’s lips a smile, innocent as itself; like the clouds over the sky, and, as it were, with them, happy memories pass in slow procession over the soul”

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