Leskov, Nikolay Semyonovich°

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LESKOV, NIKOLAY SEMYONOVICH ° (1831–1895), Russian author. One of the most controversial and misunderstood writers in Russian literature, he wrote some passages critical of Jews but more frequently criticized his fellow-Russians, often contrasting them unfavorably with the Jews, the Ukrainians, the English, the Americans, the Poles, and the Germans. Leskov's interest in the Jews can be traced throughout his literary career. Jewish themes were especially important in his literary and journalistic writing during the years 1880–87, when he published more than 30 works on the subject, including over 20 newspaper articles explaining Jewish religious beliefs and customs to non-Jewish readers. His fictional works on Jewish themes include Skazaniye o Fyodore-khristianine i o druge yego Abramezhidovine ("The Tale of Theodore the Christian and his friend Abram the Jew," 1887), a simple parable on tolerance and brotherhood, which was reprinted by the Petrograd Soviet shortly after the October 1917 Revolution; Obman ("Deception," 1883), in which Leskov cleverly attacked antisemitism by exposing his fellow-Russians to ridicule; and Ukha bez ryby ("Fish Soup without Fish," 1887), an entertaining story in which a learned provincial rabbi achieves poetic as well as economic justice at the expense of the town's leading Russian Orthodox citizens. Two other stories, Rakushanskiy melamed ("The Hebrew Teacher from Galicia," 1878), and Zhidovskaya kuvyrkolegiya ("Somersaulting Yids," 1882), caused him to be accused of antisemitism by readers who failed to realize that Jews had no more claim to protection from Leskov's humorous satire than Orthodox archbishops, czarist bureaucrats, self-centered intellectuals, or despotic revolutionaries. Leskov also wrote anonymously what was possibly the most powerful defense of equal rights for Jews published in 19th-century Russia. Yevrei v Rossii ("The Jews in Russia," 1884), a report intended for government circulation only, caused much excitement in Jewish circles in St. Petersburg. When a copy was lent to A.E. Landau, editor of the leading Russian-language Jewish journal Voskhod, he immediately devoted a long series of enthusiastic editorials to it and, with unconscious irony, regretted that the author of such a well-written document was not a professional writer. Yevrei v Rossii was republished in Petrograd (1919) and in New York (1969), but it does not appear in the 11-volume Soviet edition of Leskov's works published in 1956–58.


A.L. Volynski (pseud.), N.S. Leskov (Rus., 1923); L. Grossman, N.S. Leskov (Rus., 1945); B.M. Drugov, N.S. Leskov: ocherk tvorchestva (1957); W.B. Edgerton (ed. and tr.), Satirical Stories of Nikolai Leskov (1963), incl. bibl.

[William B. Edgerton]