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Leskov, Nikolai Semenovich

LESKOV, NIKOLAI SEMENOVICH

(18311895), prose writer with an unmatched grasp of the Russian popular mentality; supreme master of nonstandard language whose stories and novels often contrast societal brutality against the decency of "righteous men" (pravedniki ).

Nikolai Semenovich Leskov spent his youth in part on his father's estate and in part in the town of Orel, interacting with a motley crosssection of provincial Russia's population. Although lacking a completed formal education, he later boasted professional experiences ranging from criminal investigator to army recruiter and sales representative. His first short stories appeared in 1862.

From the beginning, Leskov's prose conveyed deep compassion for the underdog. Aesthetically, he brought the narrative tool of skaz relating a story in colorful, quasi-oral language marked as that of a personal narratorto a new degree of perfection. Among his best works are the novellas Ledi Makbet Mtsenskogo uyezda (Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk, 1865) and Zapechetlenny angel (The Sealed Angel, 1873); the former is a gritty tale of raw passions leading to coldblooded murders, including infanticide, while the latter is the story of errant icon painters who encounter a miracle. Soboryane (Cathedral Folk, 1867-1872), a masterful novel-chronicle, depicts the Russian clergy in a respectful manner uncommon for its time; however, a subsequent spiritual crisis caused Leskov's ultimate break with the Orthodox Church. His fairytale "Levsha" (The Lefthander, 1881) became an instant popular classic, praising the rich talents of Russian rank-and-file folk while bemoaning their pathetic lot at the hands of an indifferent ruling class.

Leskov's unique, first-hand knowledge of Russian reality, in combination with uncompromising ethical standards, alienated him from both the liberal and the conservative mainstream. Throughout his career, he opposed nihilism and remained a "gradualist," insisting that Russia needed steady evolution rather than an immediate revolution.

Leo Tolstoy aptly called Leskov "the first Russian idealist of a Christian type."

See also: skaz

bibliography

Lantz, Kenneth. (1979). Nikolay Leskov. Boston: Twayne.

McLean, Hugh. (1977). Nikolai Leskov: The Man and His Art. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Peter Rollberg

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Leskov, Nikolai Semyonovich

Nikolai Semyonovich Leskov (nyĬkəlī´ sĬmyô´nəvĬch lyĬskôf´), 1831–95, Russian short-story writer and novelist. Leskov was first a civil servant, then an agent for his uncle's business. Encouraged by his uncle he became a journalist and writer of narrative tales, told in a colorful, vital, and humorous style. An early story of sex and violence, "Lady Macbeth of the Mzinsk District" (1866; tr. in The Sentry, 1922), was used by Shostakovich as the basis of an opera (1934). Cathedral Folk (1872, tr. 1924) is a panoramic novel emphasizing the strengths of the provincial clergy and the faults of church bureaucracy. The brilliance of Leskov's narration transcended his frequent attempts to serve an idea.

See translations of his tales by W. B. Edgerton (1969), D. Magarshack (1946, repr. 2003), and R. Pevear and L. Volokhonsky (2013).

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