Introduced by Rachel Polonsky
Illustrated by Anna and Elena Balbusso
Pushkin’s celebrated and influential short stories, presented alongside the work of acclaimed illustrators Anna and Elena Balbusso.
When conceiving his master-piece Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy took inspiration from a discarded story of Alexander Pushkin’s: ‘It came upon me in spite of myself, thanks to the divine Pushkin.’ This authoritative collection contains Pushkin’s most celebrated and influential prose.
‘Two fixed ideas cannot co-exist in the moral sphere, just as two bodies cannot occupy the same space in the physical world’
Nowhere is Puskin's famous economy of expression starker than in the eponymous story, his only piece of prose fiction to garner immediate contemporary acclaim. It is an audacious, beguiling tale of greed and obsession. As introducer Rachel Polonsky writes, ‘With its diamond-hard, flawlessly clear surface and its unfathomable suggestive depth, “The Queen of Spades” is literature’s supreme tease.’ The story of ill-fortuned Hermann and his dalliance with the high-society gambling tables of St Petersburg draws the reader into an enthralling and unwinnable game. Questions of chance, fate and supernatural forces are maddeningly unanswered as Hermann foolishly pursues the elderly Countess and her secrets.
Pushkin’s simple, erudite prose, here presented in the acclaimed translation by Alan Myers, constantly surprises the reader with its narrative precision and effortless conflation of literary trends and genres. The romanticised memoir ‘The Captain’s Daughter’ and ‘Peter the Great’s Blackamoor’ conjure intriguing imagined histories, the latter playing to Pushkin’s own fascinating ancestry, while the delightfully parodic ‘The Tales of the Late Ivan Petrovich Belkin’ satirises the bloated Russian fiction that preceded it.
Following their multi award-winning work on Eugene Onegin, the Balbusso twins have become synonymous with Folio’s collection of Russian classics. Here they have created six haunting images evoking the tales’ fantastical and dreamlike atmosphere.
‘Pushkin’s stories are somehow bare,’ as Tolstoy commented in his diary in 1853. Verbs dominate over adjectives. Plots are tricksy: precisely set mechanisms of reversal and surprise, all with unlikely happy endings. Characterization is minimal, often ironic and literary. ‘Maria Gavrilovna had been brought up on French novels and, consequently, was in love’ is our introduction to the heroine of ‘The Snowstorm’. ‘Having an inborn romantic imagination,’ says the soldier narrator of ‘The Shot’, ‘I had formerly been attracted . . . to a man whose life was a riddle and who seemed like the hero of some mysterious tale.’ For all their parodic sophistication and saturation with bookish allusions, the tales nonetheless brim with immediate delight in the freshness of Russian weather, walking, hunting, the kisses of pretty girls, and jokes about the pleasures of filling idle autumn and winter evenings with the amusement of simple storytelling.
Alexander Pushkin was born in Moscow in 1799. He gained popularity with the publication of his poem Ruslan and Ludmila (1820), but in the same year was expelled from St Petersburg for writing seditious verses. He wrote more narrative poems during his exile, as well as the drama Boris Godunov (1825), and he began work on his novel in verse, Eugene Onegin (1823–31). After his pardon by the new tsar Nicholas I, and his marriage in 1831, he published ‘The Bronze Horseman’ (1833), but by this time he had already turned towards prose works such as ‘The Queen of Spades’ (1834) and The Captain's Daughter (1836). In 1837 he was mortally wounded in a duel.
Alan Myers was a noted translator, particularly of works by Russian authors. He studied at the University of London and Moscow University, and went on to teach Russian and English in Herefordshire from 1963 to 1986, working as an interpreter for the British Council in Britain and the USSR during the summer months. He turned to literary translation after his retirement from teaching; his major translations include poems, essays and plays by Joseph Brodsky and Dostoevsky’s The Idiot (1992). He died in 2010.
Andrew Kahn is Professor of Russian Literature, University of Oxford, and Fellow and Tutor at St Edmund Hall. He is the author of Pushkin’s ‘The Bronze Horseman’ (1998) and Pushkin’s Lyric Intelligence (2008), and editor of The Cambridge Companion to Pushkin (2007).
Rachel Polonsky is a writer and academic. Her most recent book, Molotov’s Magic Lantern: A Journey in Russian History, won the 2011 Dolman Travel Book of the Year Award. She is a lecturer in Slavonic Studies at the University of Cambridge and a Fellow of Murray Edwards College, and writes about Russian culture and politics for a wide range of periodicals, including The Times Literary Supplement and The New York Review of Books.
Anna & Elena balbusso, Italian twins, have been working as a freelance illustration team since 1998. Their work has gained international recognition, and has been shown in numerous exhibitions and galleries. For three consecutive years (2011–13) they were awarded the Gold Medal in the book category of The Society of Illustrators Awards: in 2012 for their work on The Folio Society edition of The Handmaid’s Tale . In 2013 they won the Book Illustration category at the V&A Illustration Awards for their work on the Folio edition of Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin . Anna and Elena live and work in Milan.
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Review by pedro7 on 14th Sep 2014
"This is a beautifully bound book and is as good to read as it is to look at.I have always thought that Russian short stories are better than any others that I have bought from Folio over the years and..." [read more]