November 01, 2008

Being Turgenev

born November 9, 1818 (N.S.) 

In his “Letter to Lord Byron,” W.H. Auden tells the poet that he died “Before the four great Russians lived, who brought/The art of novel writing to a head.” He is referring to Gogol, Turgenev, Tolstoy, and Dostoevsky. In the West, this is the “big four” of Russian literature.* 

But if you ask any Russian to name the four greatest Russian writers, Pushkin will inevitably top the list. Although one could argue that he did not bring “the art of novel writing to a head,” in Russia, Pushkin always comes first. 

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