Joseph Wood Krutch (review date 1925)
SOURCE: “New Russia or Old?,” in Nation, Vol. 120, February 11, 1925, pp. 163–64.
[In the following unfavorable assessment of Tales of the Wilderness, Krutch maintains that Pilnyak's stories “are singularly barren of either intellectual or emotional content.”]
Prince Mirsky begins his introduction to Tales of the Wilderness with the statement that the English reading public knows next to nothing of contemporary Russian literature and then, as he proceeds to discuss the prose writers since Chekhov, comes very near to saying that they are not worth knowing. Dismissing Merezhkovsky, Andreev, and Artsybashev as “second- and third-rate writers,” he proposes Remizov and Pilniak as representatives of the best which contemporary Russia has to offer; but of them and their school he says that they have little except a self-conscious and fastidious style to distinguish them. Both from this introduction and from the tales themselves we learn that they are devoted to meticulous, rather pointless studies of the mean and grotesque aspects of contemporary life and that, lacking the social ideas of their great predecessors, they have created a sort of inverted aestheticism which toys with ugliness without exactly knowing why it does so. A certain gift for clear-cut description they certainly have, but their stories are singularly barren of either intellectual or emotional content.
Politically, perhaps, Russia has taken on a new life; but literature is a slower growth than government and artistically she is still (if we may judge from these two writers) hesitating between the dead world and the world which is still powerless to be born. No new impulse, social, intellectual, or artistic, is discernible in these translations, and the old ones seem exhausted. The belief in the people which sustained some of Russia's great writers seems to have vanished before the time came for that faith to translate itself into energy, and Pilniak pictures both the defeated aristocracy and the triumphant proletariat as blundering futilely from one despair to another without having the energy even to suffer. Unsympathetic observers have accused the Russian of loving despair because it relieves him of the necessity of effort, and without taking so unfavorable a view one may at least suggest that Pilniak is too tired to hope. He seems when confronted with the triumph of the revolution to have said merely: “Oh well, you cannot expect anything from the people either,” and then to have sunk back into...
(The entire section is 1050 words.)