The Village Essay - Critical Essays

Ivan Bunin

Critical Evaluation

Born of a noble though impoverished family in 1870, Ivan Bunin was reared on his father’s country estate and educated by tutors. After a time at the University of Moscow, he traveled as a journalist and began writing poetry. By 1901, his poetry received some acclaim, and in 1903 his translations of Lord Byron and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow brought him the Pushkin Prize. His stories also brought him wide attention. The Village, in 1910, made him internationally famous.

In the years preceding World War I, Bunin traveled widely, especially in the Middle East. At the time of the Russian Revolution, Bunin sided with reactionary groups. He left Moscow in May, 1918, and the following February he fled the country; he spent most of the rest of his life in France. His literary output, never large, maintained a high quality, and in 1933 he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. In 1941, the seventy-year-old Bunin and his ailing wife fled Paris after the Nazi conquest and lived destitute in unoccupied France. The Tolstoy Foundation solicited funds for their relief. Later, it was revealed that Bunin had sheltered a Jewish journalist for the length of the Occupation. In 1950, he published Vospominaniya (Memories and Portraits, 1951), a brief autobiography that included reminiscences on his relationships with such friends as Ivan Turgenev and Leo Tolstoy. He died in semiobscurity, at the age of eighty-three, at his home in Paris.

Bunin, in an autobiographical introduction to the American edition of The Village, stated that it was one of a series of novels written to portray the character of the Russian people. In the series, said Bunin, he attempted to lay bare the Russian soul in all of its complexity and depth and in its invariably tragic state. Bunin also stated that no one who knew the Russian people as he did could have been surprised by the beastliness of the Russian Revolution and its effects on Russia. Some critics have called Bunin cruel in his portrayal of the Russian people, for he shows them as vicious, egocentric, hatred-filled individuals who care little for anyone but themselves. Bunin himself stated that he was content to have painted a more realistic picture of the Russian people than the idealized conception usually given in the literature of his land, a land from which he was an exile after the revolution.

The Village presents a grim picture of life in pre-Soviet Russia. It is a world in which people are known by nicknames or crude labels: the Bride, the Goat, Duckhead, the Fool. The villagers do not even know how to acknowledge one another’s humanity. These country folk, uneducated and brutalized by hard lives, are stimulated only by disasters; they revel in wife beating and the thrashing of small children, and they gather around to...

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