From Publishers Weekly
This slender, realistic and powerfully dramatic tale was first published in Russia in 1861 by a writer well known in her day who has since fallen into obscurity. The title character is Lolenka, a dutiful 15-year-old schoolgirl living in the provincial city of N, who is dangerously swayed by the bitterly irreverent speeches of her neighbor, a handsome, exiled poet consigned to a numbing job as a copyist. Veretitsyn, who has been censored by the authorities as an example of a "harmful trend" in society, is throwing his life away in self-pity and derision. He is in love with a paragon of kindness and beauty, Sofya Khmelevskaya, but she won't have him. When he sees Lolenka across the fence, reciting her lessons, Veretitsyn decides to make her as miserable as he is. He cynically interrogates her about her schoolwork, pointing out how mechanically she is being taught. Susceptible Lolenka experiences doubt for the first time in her life, and, taken with Veretitsyn, she intentionally flunks her exams and refuses to marry the odious suitor chosen for her. A break in the narration brings the reader to St. Petersburg eight years later, where Lolenka, now a painter and feminist espousing the modern ways, reencounters her nemesis, whose unrequited love for Sofya has tempered his driving anger. Clearly grappling with social and cultural currents such as the supplanting of traditional values and the quality of education for women, Khvoshchinskaya (1824-1889), who published under the masculine pseudonym V. Kretovsky, fits squarely among her contemporaries Turgenev and Dostoyevski. Despite the sometimes stilted language, her characters are fallible and thus completely believable: Veretitsyn leaps off the page and his passion for Sofya is palpable. Khvoshchinskaya's brief and vivid story is like a sharply composed snapshot. Here is a writer to learn more about. (Jan.)
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.
The first English translation of this little-known novella, originally published in 1861, tells the tale of Lolenka, a provincial schoolgirl, and her interactions with exiled poet Veretitsyn in the Russian countryside. Moreover, the story chronicles the education of young women in Russia during that period, and Khvoshchinskaya indicts those methods for being reactionary and insipid. The more that Lolenka is exposed to Veretitsyn, the more she begins to despise the petty bourgeois lifestyle she has known throughout her life. Veretitsyn offers reading suggestions, beginning with Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet
. Lolenka is moved, not with the love story, but with the freedom and willful abandon of the characters. Lolenka becomes engrossed in her extracurricular books and begins to fail at school, "forgetting all she has known." Her exasperated parents are concerned only with keeping up appearances and have her betrothed to a young man with a prosperous future. We meet both Veretitsyn and Lolenka for the last time eight years later; nothing has turned out as expected, but all has ended well. Michael Spinella