Best Russian Short Stories HTML version

lofty, simple naturalness; but the very keynote to the whole of
Russian literature is simplicity, naturalness, veraciousness.
Another essentially Russian trait is the quite unaffected conception
that the lowly are on a plane of equality with the so-called upper
classes. When the Englishman Dickens wrote with his profound pity and
understanding of the poor, there was yet a bit; of remoteness,
perhaps, even, a bit of caricature, in his treatment of them. He
showed their sufferings to the rest of the world with a "Behold how
the other half lives!" The Russian writes of the poor, as it were,
from within, as one of them, with no eye to theatrical effect upon the
well-to-do. There is no insistence upon peculiar virtues or vices. The
poor are portrayed just as they are, as human beings like the rest of
us. A democratic spirit is reflected, breathing a broad humanity, a
true universality, an unstudied generosity that proceed not from the
intellectual conviction that to understand all is to forgive all, but
from an instinctive feeling that no man has the right to set himself
up as a judge over another, that one can only observe and record.
In 1834 two short stories appeared, _The Queen of Spades_, by Pushkin,
and _The Cloak_, by Gogol. The first was a finishing-off of the old,
outgoing style of romanticism, the other was the beginning of the new,
the characteristically Russian style. We read Pushkin's _Queen of
Spades_, the first story in the volume, and the likelihood is we shall
enjoy it greatly. "But why is it Russian?" we ask. The answer is, "It
is not Russian." It might have been printed in an American magazine
over the name of John Brown. But, now, take the very next story in the
volume, _The Cloak_. "Ah," you exclaim, "a genuine Russian story,
Surely. You cannot palm it off on me over the name of Jones or Smith."
Why? Because _The Cloak_ for the first time strikes that truly Russian
note of deep sympathy with the disinherited. It is not yet wholly free
from artificiality, and so is not yet typical of the purely realistic
fiction that reached its perfected development in Turgenev and
Though Pushkin heads the list of those writers who made the literature
of their country world-famous, he was still a romanticist, in the
universal literary fashion of his day. However, he already gave strong
indication of the peculiarly Russian genius for naturalness or
realism, and was a true Russian in his simplicity of style. In no
sense an innovator, but taking the cue for his poetry from Byron and
for his prose from the romanticism current at that period, he was not
in advance of his age. He had a revolutionary streak in his nature, as
his _Ode to Liberty_ and other bits of verse and his intimacy with the
Decembrist rebels show. But his youthful fire soon died down, and he
found it possible to accommodate himself to the life of a Russian high
functionary and courtier under the severe despot Nicholas I, though,
to be sure, he always hated that life. For all his flirting with
revolutionarism, he never displayed great originality or depth of
thought. He was simply an extraordinarily gifted author, a perfect