A Sentimental Journey: Memoirs, 1917-1922 Characters

Viktor Shklovsky

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

The narrator

The narrator, a Russian novelist, literary theorist, and soldier modeled on the author. In the narrative of his experiences during critical periods of Russian history, the narrator reveals his character. The image of a highly intelligent, sensitive, and humane artist bitter with grief at the painful events of war and revolution in his country emerges by means of artistic devices that depend on detachment, irony, and distancing. The narrator shows his reaction to the ingrained hatred, inhumanity, and stupidity he observes by means of telling detail that is kaleidoscopic, vivid, dramatic, and terrifying in its routineness. The ability to see steadily and to represent objectively the awful reality of a country torn apart are major elements of his character. The digressions and disruptions in his narrative suggest his broad view of human understanding and the connectedness of widely separated moments of reality. The man behind the detached observer is revealed in the course of the deliberately fragmented narrative. Numberless other characters, quickly sketched, make brief appearances in the account of these turbulent years, but no other character emerges in depth. Major officers in the White Army and the provisional government, ordinary soldiers, literary figures such as Maxim Gorky, and leaders and members of ancient hostile ethnic groups in Persia all appear in momentary vividness in the narrative, then are gone.

The Characters

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

While the novel teems with brief but vividly realized images of famous and unknown actors in the drama of the revolutions and the civil war, the only character moving through the whole novel is Shklovsky himself. Direct characterization is fugitive: He states explicitly, for example, that the soldiers under his command were friendly to him. At times he addresses the reader directly to reveal the suffering man beneath the objective reporter: “No, I shouldn’t have written that. I warmed my heart. It...aches.”

The reader by more indirect means comes to understand and appreciate this complex human being responding to a chaotic world. Shklovsky selects and reports brutal incidents in such a way as to argue for the humane treatment of human beings by one another, canceling old hatreds; he describes his mad and at first single-handed attempt to stop a pogrom in a Persian bazaar. His personal courage and enterprise in wartime crises appear again and again with the most offhand and casual reporting. He also tells about the death of two of his brothers and his sister in terms which show his acute sense of justice and compassion, again with striking understatement.

This characterization is essential to the form—his insistence on the artifice—and essential to the impact of the work. He notes at one point that his wife sees that he is absorbed into whatever milieu he enters. The ability to enter into the highly divergent scenes of war and revolution allows the full realization of the damage. His ability, nevertheless, to endure and look with hope to the future, even as he celebrates the rare examples of generous and life-caring humanity, makes him what he wishes to be, the writer with a lantern.


(Great Characters in Literature)

Grits, Fyodor S. “The Work of Viktor Shklovsky: An Analysis of Third Factory,” in Third Factory, 1977.

Kern, Gary, and Christopher Collins, eds. The Serapion Brothers: A Critical Anthology of Stories and Essays, 1975.

Monas, Sidney. “Driving Nails with a Samovar: A Historical Introduction,” in A Sentimental Journey: Memoirs, 1917-1922, 1970.

National Review. Review. XXII (April 21, 1970), p. 420.

Sheldon, Richard. Introduction to A Sentimental Journey: Memoirs, 1917-1922, 1970.

Sheldon, Richard, ed. Viktor Shklovsky: A Complete Bibliography of Works by and About Him, 1977.