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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

City Folk and Country Folk

Sofia Khvoshchinskaya

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To purchase City Folk and Country Folk

Title: City Folk and Country Folk
Author: Sofia Khvoshchinskaya
Genre: Novel
Written: 1863 (Eng. 2017)
Length: 249 pages
Original in: Russian
Availability: City Folk and Country Folk - US
City Folk and Country Folk - UK
City Folk and Country Folk - Canada
  • Russian title: Городские и деревенские
  • Translated by Nora Seligman Favorov
  • With an Introduction by Hilde Hoogenboom

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Our Assessment:

B+ : quite low-key, but charming

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Publishers Weekly . 31/7/2017 .
TLS . 22/2/2018 Barbara Heldt

  From the Reviews:
  • "This scathingly funny comedy of manners from Khvoshchinskaya (18241865) will deeply satisfy fans of 19th-century Russian literature." - Publishers Weekly

  • "A comedy this is, but a socially acute one. (...) The introduction by Hilde Hoogenboom forms a necessary complement to this rambunctious novel, well translated into English, and for the first time, by Nora Seligman Favorov." - Barbara Heldt, Times Literary Supplement

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       City Folk and Country Folk is set in 1862, the year after the Russian Emancipation Manifesto and the legal acts that freed the Russian serfs, abolishing a system that tied serfs to landowners -- a major political, social, economic, and legal transformation. The novel focuses on a widow, Nastasya Ivanova Chulkova, and her seventeen-year-old daughter, Olenka. Nastasya Ivanova has a property in the village of Snetki; her fifty souls -- serfs -- are now emancipated, but continue to work on her humble estate "under temporary obligation", as everyone tries to adapt to these new circumstances. While the former serfs' lives -- and what they can do with them -- have changed, and they've taken on a new attitude (paying more attention to how they dress, for example), a lot of fundamentals remain unchanged: "we still depend on your will in everything", one reminds Nastasya Ivanova.
       But City Folk and Country Folk is only incidentally concerned with the social upheaval of the times -- it plays a role, but largely in the background. It's also a very domestic novel: among Nastasya Ivanova's concerns are her independent daughter's marriage prospects, a second cousin, Anna Ilinisha Bobova -- "A pious woman, but spiteful !" Nastasya complains-- who has installed herself in the Chulkov household, and then Erast Sergeyevich Ovcharov, a cosmopolitan nobleman with a nearby estate, who returns to it after much rambling abroad -- but needs quarters, since there's nowhere appropriate on his own property for him to live, and convinces Nastasya to rent him her bathhouse.
       Snetki isn't completely in the boondocks -- "This was no backwoods", as it is located a mere twenty versts (i.e. just over twenty kilometers) from the provincial capital, which Nastasya Ivanova frequently visited. Still, there's a country-city divide -- Olenka, for example, complaining about the locals:

They're nothing but ignoramuses. I only pay attention to city folk.
       The differences extend far: as Nastasya Ivanova explains:
And what kind of illnesses do we have here in the country ? All good-for-nothing; we don't have the more refined illnesses here. In town, if you look around, well, there they do have them.
       Ovcharov is forty years old and active in intellectual life; he spends much of his time writing and reading. He has the look of a pasty intellectual -- and while he's proud of his "physionomie de penseur", the country-woman can only think:
     "Heaven save Olenka from such a feeble husband," Nastasya Ivanova thought. "He has one foot in the grave."
       The set-up -- worldly man suddenly living next door to a curious, smart, frustrated seventeen-year-old who should be getting married off soon -- seems fairly obvious, but that's not really where Khvoshchinskaya goes with this. There is some back and forth between Olenka and Ovcharov -- shockingly intimate, for some of the stiffer folks ... -- and there's another man being foisted on her, but the romances are kept in check here.
       Ovcharov is a busy, lively man, and: "everyone who knew Ovcharov proclaimed him a fine fellow" --:
But whatever society Ovcharov appeared in throughout his wandering life, he was never anything more than a fine fellow. Nowhere did he leave a strong impression; he was easily liked and easily forgotten.
       That's exactly how Khvoshchinskaya uses him here too, with Ovcharov eventually fading out of this story as well -- not before leaving quite a mark, but still.
       If neither traditional romance, nor all that much of a socially-engaged (or concerned) novel, City Folk and Country Folk does enjoyably offer scenes from country life in those times, with Anna Ilinisha an entertainingly awful houseguest, and Chulkov-neighbor and noblewoman Katerina Petrovna imperiously trying to hitch Olenka to her own "protégé", Semyon Ivanovich. The characters are well-drawn and, in their limited ways -- not very much really gets done --, compelling, from feisty (if occasionally frustrated) Olenka to Ovcharov.
       The stakes are kept low in City Folk and Country Folk -- though local gossip apparently matters a great deal, so it is all somewhat relative -- and Khvoshchinskaya doesn't push her characters too hard. Still, there's considerable sly humor here, and quite a bit of clever, pointed observation, even without Khvoshchinskaya forcing any of the issues, and the divide and contrast between country folk and cosmopolitans is amusingly presented. Most of the drama is on a low simmer, a contrast to most European fare of the same time, but it still makes for a flavorful, thoroughly enjoyable read.

- M.A.Orthofer, 3 December 2017

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City Folk and Country Folk: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Russian author Sofia Khvoshchinskaya (Софья Дмитриевна Хвощинская) lived 1824 to 1865, and published under the pseudnym Ivan Vesenev (Иван Весеньев).

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