Night of Denial: Stories and Novellas

Overview

The first Russian to be awarded the Nobel Prize for literature, Ivan Bunin is often considered the last of the great Russian masters. Already renowned in Russia before the revolution, he fled the country in 1920 and lived the remainder of his life in France, where he continued to write for thirty years. Bunin made his name as a short-story writer with such masterpieces as "The Gentleman from San Francisco," the title piece in one of his collections and one of the stories in this volume. His last book of stories, ...

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Overview

The first Russian to be awarded the Nobel Prize for literature, Ivan Bunin is often considered the last of the great Russian masters. Already renowned in Russia before the revolution, he fled the country in 1920 and lived the remainder of his life in France, where he continued to write for thirty years. Bunin made his name as a short-story writer with such masterpieces as "The Gentleman from San Francisco," the title piece in one of his collections and one of the stories in this volume. His last book of stories, Dark Avenues, was published in the 1940s. Among his longer works were a fictional autobiography, The Life of Arseniev (1930), and its sequel, Youth (1939), which were later collected into one volume, and two memoirs, The Accursed Days (1926), and Memories and Portraits (1950). He also wrote books on Tolstoy and Chekhov, both of whom he knew personally. Bunin, in fact, serves as a link-both personal and literary-between Tolstoy, whom he met as a young man, Chekhov, a close friend, and Vladimir Nabokov, who was influenced by Bunin early in his career and who moved in the same émigré literary circles in the twenties and thirties.

Bunin achieved his greatest mastery in the short story, and much of his finest work appears in this volume-the largest collection of his prose works ever published in English. In Robert Bowie's fine translation, with extensive annotations and a lengthy critical afterword, this work affords readers of English their first opportunity for a sustained encounter with a Russian classic, and one of the great writers of the twentieth century.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Bunin (1880-1953), the first Russian to be awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature and friend to Tolstoy and Chekhov, is well known in his homeland for his poetry and short fiction. This new translation by Bowie (Russian, emeritus, Miami Univ.) brings his work into focus for 21st-century American readers. Presented here are 40 works by Bunin, 23 of them reworked from an earlier translation by Bowie (In a Far Distant Land) and many rarely seen in English translation. The stories, covering the span of Bunin's career, capture memories of childhood ("First Love"), strong images of nature ("The Hare"), the tension and remaining rituals of a dying way of life in pre-revolutionary Russia ("Antonov Apples"), the effects of love ("The Consecration of Love"), and the promise of death ("Night of Denial"). Bowie's thoughtful and careful translation matches Bunin's elaborately descriptive style. Extensive afterword and endnotes provide background and discussion. An essential purchase for academic libraries; recommended for strong literature collections in public libraries. Heather Wright, ASRC Aerospace Corp., Cincinnati Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780810114036
  • Publisher: Northwestern University Press
  • Publication date: 7/31/2006
  • Series: European Classics
  • Edition description: 1
  • Pages: 640
  • Sales rank: 1,262,956
  • Product dimensions: 5.13 (w) x 7.75 (h) x 2.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Ivan Bunin (1880-1953), a poet and writer of short fiction, won the Nobel Prize in literature in 1933. He is the author of The Life of Arseniev (1994) and The Liberation of Tolstoy: A Tale of Two Writers (2001), also published by Northwestern University Press.

Robert Bowie is professor emeritus of Russian at Miami University of Ohio.

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Read an Excerpt

Night of Denial
Stories and Novellas

By Ivan Bunin
NORTHWESTERN UNIVERSITY PRESS ISBN: 978-0-8101-1403-6



Chapter One The Grammar of Love

One day in early June a certain Ivlev was traveling to a distant region of his province.

He had borrowed a tarantass with a dusty skewed hood from his brother-in-law, at whose estate he was spending the summer. In the village he had hired a troika of small but sedulous horses, with thick matted manes, from a wealthy muzhik. His driver was that muzhik's son, a lad of about eighteen, vacant, pragmatical; he kept pondering something morosely, seemed somehow offended, had no sense of humor. Convinced that talking with him was impossible, Ivlev began observing his surroundings in that placid and aimless state of mind that goes so well with the beat of hooves and the hollow jangle of harness bells.

The drive was pleasant at first. The day was warm, dingy, the road quite smooth, the meadowlands profuse with flowers and skylarks; from the grain, from the low dove blue rye stretching as far as the eye could see, a pleasant breeze was blowing over the sloping land, bearing pollen dust that occasionally clouded the air, so that from a distance everything looked hazy. The lad sat erect in his new cap and ill-fitting lustrine jacket. Because the horses had been entrusted entirely to him and because he was so smartly dressed, his mien was especially grave. The horses snorted, trotted along leisurely; the whiffletree of the outrunner on the left would scrape against the wheel, then stretch back out, while beneath it the white steel of a worn shoe kept flashing.

"Stopping off at the count's?" asked the lad without turning around as a village came into view up ahead of them, ringing the horizon with its willow trees and garden.

"What for?" said Ivlev.

The lad was silent for a moment; with his whip he flicked off a large gadfly clinging to one of the horses, then answered gloomily, "To have some tea."

"Tea's not what's on your mind," said Ivlev. "You're always trying to spare the horses."

"It ain't traveling ruins a horse-it's fodder," the lad answered in a preceptorial tone.

Ivlev looked around. The weather had turned bleaker, discolored clouds had gathered on all sides, and now it was sprinkling; these unpretentious days always wind up with a violent downpour ... An old man plowing near the village said that the young countess was the only one at home, but they stopped off all the same. Content that the horses were resting, the lad pulled a cloth coat over his shoulders and sat placidly soaking on the driver's seat of the tarantass, which he had parked in the middle of the muddy yard near a stone trough that was sunk into ground studded with the prints of cattle hooves. He examined his boots, adjusted the breeching of the shaft horse with his whip stock. Meanwhile, in a drawing room that was murky from the rain outside, Ivlev sat chatting with the countess and waiting for tea. From the veranda came a scent of burning shavings, and past the open windows floated thick green smoke from the samovar, where a barefoot wench had poured kerosene over bundles of wood chips that now burned with bright red flames. The countess was wearing a capacious pink dressing gown cut low over her powdered bosom; she smoked, inhaling deeply; she fussed continually with her hair, baring her firm rotund arms to the shoulders. Inhaling the smoke and laughing, she kept leading the conversation around to love, and apropos of this she mentioned her neighbor, the landowner Khvoshinsky, who, as Ivlev had known since childhood, had been mad with love for his chambermaid Lushka throughout his entire life, although she had died in early youth.

"Ah, the legendary Lushka!" Ivlev remarked facetiously, disconcerted by what he was about to confess. "Because of the way that eccentric worshiped her and dedicated all his life to insane dreams of her, I was almost in love with her myself as a boy; God only knows what fancies came into my head when I thought about her, although they say she was certainly no beauty."

"Indeed?" said the countess, not listening. "He died just this winter. And Pisarev-the only one he sometimes allowed to visit him, because they were old friends-affirms that in no other way was he the least bit mad. And I'm convinced of it-he simply wasn't one to be compared with today's lot ..." Finally, the barefoot wench came in; scrupulously careful of her every movement, she served him a glass of strong grayish tea and a small basket of fly-specked tea biscuits on an old silver tray.

When they started off again, the rain came down in torrents. The hood had to be raised, and Ivlev was forced to sit in a hunched position, covered with the corneous, shriveled apron. Bells on the horses' necks were clinking, emitting a hollow din; little streams ran over their dark and glistening haunches. With grass rustling under the wheels, they passed some sort of boundary amidst the grain through which the lad had driven in hopes of shortening the way. Warm, rye-scented air gathered beneath the hood, blending with the smell of the old tarantass ... "So that's how things are-Khvoshinsky has died," thought Ivlev. "I absolutely must stop by there, at least for a look at that deserted shrine of the mysterious Lushka." But what sort of man was this Khvoshinsky? Was he insane or was he just overwhelmed, completely absorbed by a single fixation? According to the stories of old-time landowners, the contemporaries of Khvoshinsky, at one time people in the province considered him a man of rare intelligence. But all at once he was stricken with this love, this Lushka; then came her sudden death and everything went to pieces. He secluded himself in the house, in the room where Lushka had lived and died, and spent more than twenty years sitting on her bed; not only did he never go off anywhere, but even on his own estate no one ever saw him. He sat on Lushka's mattress till it wore right through, he ascribed literally all phenomena in the world to Lushka's influence. If there was a thunderstorm, it was Lushka who had visited this affliction upon them; if war was declared, it meant Lushka had so decided; in the event of a crop failure, the peasants had incurred the displeasure of Lushka.

"You're heading for Khvoshinskoe then, aren't you?" called Ivlev, putting his head out in the rain.

"Yes," responded the boy, from whose drooping cap the water was streaming; his answer was indistinct through the din of the rainstorm. "Up along Pisarev Hill."

Ivlev knew of no such road. Provincial hamlets were becoming ever more impoverished and more remote. The boundary came to an end; going at a walk, the horses drew the tilting tarantass down by way of an eroded furrow to the bottom of the hill-into some still unmowed meadows whose green slopes stood out dolefully against the low clouds. Then the road, which kept fading away and reappearing, began to wind back and forth across the bottoms of ravines, through gullies full of alder bushes and osiers ... Someone's little apiary came into view, several logs standing on a slope in the tall grass, through which wild red strawberries sparkled ... They detoured around an old dam, immersed in nettles, and a pond that had dried up long ago-a deep hollow grown over with weeds taller than a man. A pair of black snipe darted out of the weeds screeching and flew up into the rainy sky ... Upon the dam, among the nettles, a massive old bush blossomed with little pale pink flowers-that charming shrub called God's tree-and suddenly Ivlev recalled the locality and remembered that as a youth he had often ridden in this area on horseback.

"They say right here is where she drownded herself," remarked the lad abruptly.

"Is it Khvoshinsky's mistress you're talking about?" asked Ivlev. "That's not true. She did nothing of the kind."

"No, she did, she drownded herself," said the lad. "Only they figure he most likely went crazy from being so poor, not on account of her."

After a brief silence he added brusquely, "We'll have to stop off again ... at the Khvoshino place ... Just look how them horses is dragging!"

"Indeed we must," agreed Ivlev.

Tin-colored with rainwater, the road led to a knoll, to a spot where the trees had been cleared; a solitary hut stood there, amidst sodden, rotting wood chips and leaves, amidst stumps and vernal aspen shoots smelling bitter and crisp. There was not a soul around, only the birds sitting in the rain on tall flowers, yellow buntings whose song rang throughout the sparse forest that rose beyond the hut; but when the troika, slushing through the mud, came even with the threshold, a whole pack of gigantic hounds, black, chocolate, smoke gray, tore out from somewhere barking ferociously and began seething around the horses, soaring right up to their muzzles, somersaulting in the air, even gyrating under the very hood of the tarantass. Just as abruptly the sky above them was split by a deafening peal of thunder; in a frenzy the lad began flailing the dogs with his whip, and the horses rushed off at a full gallop amidst aspen trunks, which went flashing past Ivlev's eyes.

Now the Khvoshinskoe estate could be seen beyond the forest. The dogs dropped behind and immediately fell silent, loping back earnestly; the forest parted and once again open fields stretched before them. As evening began setting in, the storm clouds seemed to be now dispersing, now gathering from three sides: on the left they were nearly black, with light blue apertures; on the right they were gray, rumbling with unremitting thunder; and to the west, beyond the manor, beyond the slopes above the river vale, they were turbid blue, with dusty bands of rain through which distant mounds of other clouds showed pink. But the rain on the tarantass was slackening, and Ivlev rose, all spattered with mud, invigorated; he threw back the cumbersome hood and drew in a long deep breath of air, redolent with the dampness of the fields.

He gazed at the approaching estate, seeing at last what he had heard so much about, and, just as before, it seemed that Lushka had lived and died not twenty years ago but almost in time immemorial. All trace of the shallow little river that ran through the vale was lost in cattails, above which a white gull was gliding. Farther along, on a sloping hillock, there were rows of hay soaked dark by the rain; old silver poplars were scattered among them, standing far apart one from another. On an absolutely bare spot stood the house with its glistening wet roof, a rather large house, which had once been white. There were neither gardens nor outbuildings-only two brick columns where the gates had been and burdock growing in the ditches. When the horses had forded the stream and climbed the hill, a woman in a man's summer jacket with drooping pockets appeared, driving some turkey hens through the burdock. The facade of the house was uncommonly bleak: there were not many windows, and all of them were undersized, set back within the thick walls. By contrast, the dismal verandas were enormous. From one of them a young man in a gray gymnasium blouse girded with a wide belt was peering down at the visitors in astonishment; he was dark, with beautiful eyes, very handsome, although his face was pale and freckled, mottled like a bird's egg.

The visit had to be explained somehow. Having ascended the steps of the veranda and introduced himself, Ivlev said that he wanted to examine and perhaps to buy the library, which, according to the countess, belonged to Khvoshinsky; the young man blushed deeply and immediately ushered him into the house. "So this is the son of illustrious Lushka!" thought Ivlev, drinking in everything with his eyes as he walked, often glancing back, saying whatever came to mind just to have another look at the master of the house, who appeared too youthful for his years. The latter answered hurriedly but laconically, nonplussed, it seemed, by both his bashfulness and his greed. He was terribly happy at the prospect of selling the books and assumed they would bring a fine price; this was evident from his very first words, from his quick awkward declaration that you couldn't acquire such books as these for any amount of money. He led Ivlev through a half-dark passage, spread with straw that was rust red from the dampness, into a large anteroom.

"So is this where your father lived?" asked Ivlev, entering and taking off his hat.

"Yes, yes, here," the young man answered hurriedly. "That is, of course, not here ... Father sat in the bedroom most of the time ... but of course he came in here too."

"Yes, I know; he was ill," said Ivlev.

The young man flared up.

"How do you mean, 'ill'?" he said, and his voice took on a more resolute tone. "That's all gossip; Father was certainly not mentally ill in any way. He just read all the time and didn't go out anywhere, that's all ... No, please don't take off your hat; it's cold in here; we no longer use this part of the house."

It was, in fact, much colder inside the house than outside. In the dreary anteroom, papered with old gazettes, a quail cage made of bast stood on the sill of the window, to which the storm clouds gave a somber cast. A little gray bag was hopping along the floor all by itself. Stooping over, the young man caught it and put it on a bench, and Ivlev realized that there was a quail in the bag. Then they went into the parlor. That room, which had windows facing west and north, occupied nearly half of the entire house. Through one window a centenarian weeping birch was visible, all black, standing out against the gold of the ever-clearer evening glow beyond the storm clouds. The whole front corner was occupied by a devotional stand without glass, full of icons that were hung or set within it. Prominent among them, both for size and for antiquity, was an icon in a silver mounting; on top of it, all waxy yellow like dead flesh, lay some wedding candles tied with pale green bows. "Excuse me, please," began Ivlev, overcoming his sense of impropriety. "Did your father really ...?"

"No, that's right," the young man mumbled, understanding immediately. "He didn't buy those candles until after she died ... He even wore a wedding band all the time."

The furniture in the parlor was rough hewn, but along the wall there were beautiful cabinets packed with tea china and tall, slender, gold-rimmed goblets. The entire floor was encrusted with dead withered bees that crackled underfoot. Bees were also strewn about in the drawing room, which was absolutely empty. When they had crossed that and yet another gloomy room with stove and sleeping ledge, the young man stopped beside a low door and took a huge key from his trouser pocket. Turning it with great effort in the rusty keyhole, he thrust open the door and muttered something. Ivlev saw a tiny cell with two windows. By one wall stood a bare iron cot, by the other two small bookcases of Karelian birch.

"So is this the library?" asked Ivlev, walking up to one of them. Hastening to answer affirmatively, the young man helped him open a bookcase, then began avidly observing every movement of his hands.

That library contained the most bizarre of books! Ivlev opened the thick covers, turned the rough gray pages, and read: The Accursed Demesne, The Morning Star and Nocturnal Daemons, Meditations upon the Mysteries of the Universe, A Wondrous Peregrination into an Enchanted Realm, The Latest Dream Book ... But his hands, nonetheless, were trembling. So this is what he lived on, the lonely creature who had secluded himself forever from the world in this cell and only so recently had left it ... But perhaps he, this creature, had not been entirely insane? "There is a state"-Ivlev recalled the lines of Baratynsky-"but by what name shall it be called? Nor dream is it, nor wake, it lies somewhere between. Through it the mind's dementia may verge upon the truth."

(Continues...)



Excerpted from Night of Denial by Ivan Bunin Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

The grammar of love 3
First love 15
In Paris 17
On the night sea 29
Antonov apples 39
Drydale 59
Way back when 135
A passing 145
The snow bull 154
The saviour in desecration 158
The sacrifice 161
Transfiguration 167
The gentleman from San Francisco 172
The saints 198
Zakhar Vorobyov 215
Glory 235
Ioann the weeper 245
I'm saying nothing 253
Noosiform ears 268
The mad artist 283
Sempiternal spring 295
In a never-never land 310
An unknown friend 313
The hare 324
The cranes 326
The calf's head 328
The elephant 330
Indulgent participation 332
The idol 338
The consecration of love 340
Somber pathways (Linden lined) 410
Sunstroke 416
Shere Monday 425
The cold fall 443
Night 448
The case of Cornet Elagin 462
Light breathing 507
Aglaia 514
Temir-Aksak-Khan 526
Night of denial 531
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