Nikolai, redux

Karolina Pavlova's novel A Double Life was published in 1848 and received a review in the literary journal Sovremennik. It is very tempting to believe that this review was read by 20 year-old Nikolai Chernyshevsky, who joined the Sovremennik staff in 1853 and eventually became the editor of the journal. A Double Life could easily serve as a precursor text, an inspiration alongside Turgenev's Fathers and Sons, for Chernyshevsky's gigantic and awful 1863 novel What is to be Done? I cannot help noticing that the protagonist of What is to be Done? is a woman named Vera Pavlovna, who is rescued by an enlightened medical student from her preordained position in Russian society. I have found no direct evidence, despite literally minutes of internet searching, that Chernyshevsky read the Pavlova novel, but certainly there are ideas and stylistic devices in A Double Life that resurface in What is to be Done? I do not believe this is a coincidence. I think Chernyshevsky had set out to let the hero of Turgenev's novel rescue the heroine of Pavlova's novel, by writing his own revolutionary science fiction wish fulfillment epic tale. Wait: do I have any doubts at all about this? No, I do not.


  1. That's really deep into the weeds, Scott. I'm impressed with your approach to making connections between authors and texts. Intertextuality is a fascinating concept; the point at the core is the thesis that nothing is original, and everything is influenced and/or derivative. I wonder if originality is or has ever been possible. Thoughts?

    BTW, I hope all is well in the Pacific NW. Best wishes from the balmy Gulf coast.

    1. I don't know if these connections really exist, of if I'm just following the storyteller's impulse to create narratives out of isolated events, to build imaginary systems of causality. Either way, it's fun for me. Ma femme is reading Trollope, and one of his characters said to another, "I assume you're going to get together and determine what is to be done?" The Trollope was published a decade after Chernyshevsky's novel. I do not claim a link, though Trollope's novel is at least partially concerned with politics and the class divide. Anyway, castles made of air. I can't recommend the Pavlova novel except as being of historical interest. Though a couple of lines of poetry in it were pretty good (each of the books' twelve chapters ends with a dream sequence in the form of poetry). Pavlova was primarily a poet. She was praised for her poetry while simultaneously excoriated for having the nerve to be a poet.

  2. Russian literary history definitely seems an obscure niche; but maybe some hidden treasures there... it's rather depressing to become aware of the vast ocean of literature that one will never become familiar with...

  3. I really like that idea, even though I don't know a blessed thing about either writer.