It feels a bit odd to be continuing with my Russian Reading when on holiday in America (so much of my American reading has been informed by the Cold War). I’ve decided not to let prejudice get in the way of my Russian Project though, and it’s paid off because the wonderful Leonid Andreyev was hugely influenced by none other than Edgar Allen Poe!
It feels like one of those pairings that has been written out of history, but I’ve been spending quite some time during the last few months marvelling at similarities between Southern and American Gothic novels and the literature produced in Russia during the end of the nineteenth and start of the twentieth century. It is true that both literary cultures are imbued with
- a sense of isolation compounded by the vastness of an (untamed) country
- a strong oral folk tradition
- an important religious identity, intertwined with lots of superstitious beliefs, possibly not shared by all of the more educated members of society
- a guilty and complex relationship to slavery (which ended in 1861 in Russia and 1864 in America)
- a sense of being on the outside of, and possibly inferior to, other more industrialised cultures (Western Europe etc).
Both cultures also produced the most fantastic fiction and Andreyev is now officially one of my top Russian Reads. His short stories are hypnotic, demented and compulsive, dealing with sexuality, war and madness in a way which is reminscent of American and Russian classics, but is also wonderfully fresh and exciting. I have written in more detail about which of his stories I love most on my Andreyev page and please, if you know of any new translations pass on the word. He is a writer who is more than due for re-discovery.