Additional Book Information
Series: NYRB Classics
Publication Date: October 13, 2020
Lady Macbeth of MtsenskSelected Stories
by Nikolai Leskov, translated from the Russian by Robert Chandler and Donald Rayfield, introduction by Donald Rayfield
An NYRB Classics Original
Nikolai Leskov is the strangest of the great Russian writers of the nineteenth century. His work is closer to the oral traditions of narrative than that of his contemporaries, and served as the inspiration for Walter Benjamin’s great essay “The Storyteller,” in which Benjamin contrasts the plotty machinations of the modern novel with the strange, melancholy, but also worldly-wise yarns of an older, slower era that Leskov remained in touch with. The title story is a tale of illicit love and multiple murder that could easily find its way into a Scottish ballad and did go on to become the most popular of Dmitri Shostakovich’s operas. The other stories, all but one newly translated, present the most focused and finely rendered collection of this indispensable writer currently available in English.
Certainly what impresses in Leskov is his all-seeing but unjudging eye. . . . Leskov is emphatically unlike either Tolstoy or Dostoyevsky, and bears only passing comparison with Turgenev. Rather, he emerges as a literary missing link, a writer who brings the metafictional playfulness of Sterne into the Russian tradition, melding this sophistication with his embrace of the folk tale and vernacular of the common people. Then, vitally, there is his legacy to Chekhov: a moral benevolence and humor-filled acceptance of the full range of humanity.
—Claire Messud, The New York Times
Russia's best-kept secret.
—Donald Rayfield, Literary Review
We want to be shown a character's spiritual development; we want to be given truths to live by. But what Leskov gives us is something else: story matters more than character, and all we get by way of metaphysical insight is a sense that life's horrors and beauties are so intermingled as to be beyond all understanding.
—Robert Chandler, The Spectator