Although Nikolai Leskov’s most memorable work was in the shorter forms of fiction, he also attempted to meet the characteristic nineteenth century demand for “major works” with two full-length novels, Nekuda (1864; no way out) and Na nozhakh (1870-1871; at daggers drawn). Recognizing that novels were not his forte, he also tried to develop a different long form, the “chronicle,” the major result of this effort being Soboriane (1872; The Cathedral Folk, 1924). Leskov also wrote one play, Rastochitel’ (1867; the spendthrift), and a large body of journalistic nonfiction.
Despite the continued output over more than thirty years of much high-quality fiction and despite his popularity among Russian readers, Nikolai Leskov’s immense narrative talent went largely unrecognized by the critics of his time. He was to some extent eclipsed by his great contemporaries: Ivan Turgenev, Fyodor Dostoevski, and Leo Tolstoy. He was also adversely affected by the view that only big novels really “counted.” Finally, he was caught in political cross fire and early in his career was virtually read out of literature by certain radical critics for his supposed retrograde views. Nevertheless, the first twelve-volume edition of his collected works (1889-1896) was a symbolic acknowledgment of his status as a classic, and that status has been more and more widely recognized in the decades since his death. New Russian editions of his works are frequent, and there is a substantial body of scholarship dealing with him. His reputation has also spread abroad, and many volumes of translations and of books about him have been published in English, French, German, Italian, Dutch, Swedish, and other languages. He is regarded as a major narrative artist and a thoughtful critic and moralist, a keen and often caustic observer of Russian society, and an especially penetrating and well-informed commentator on Russian religious life.
Andrews, Larry R. “Hugo’s Gilliatt and Leskov’s Golovan.” Comparative Literature 46 (Winter, 1994): 65-83. Compares the two heroes; suggests that Leskov was influenced by native experience in creating his hero; discusses the hybrid genre that Leskov develops in which his hero represents a specifically Russian virtue.
Benjamin, Walter. “The Storyteller: Reflection on the Works of Nikolay Leskov.” In Illuminations. New York: Harcourt, Brace and World, 1968. In this general study of the short story as an oral and written genre, Benjamin discusses Leskov and the technique of skaz by linking it to the oral transmittance of stories either by foreign travelers or by natives familiar with their own oral tradition.
Eekman, Thomas A. “The Genesis of Leskov’s Soborjane.” California Slavic Studies 2 (1963): 121-140. Eekman traces the genesis of Soboriane, the first great novel about the life of the Russian clergy, and examines its relationship to some of Leskov’s stories that may have been planned for future volumes of the novel.
Howe, Irving. “Justice for Leskov.” The New York Review of Books 34 (April 23, 1987): 32-36. Points out that Leskov has never been widely received outside Russia because he defies the rigid expectations that Westerners impose on Russian...
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