Vassily S(emenovich) Yanovsky Yanovsky, Vassily S(emenovich) (Vol. 18) - Essay


(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Yanovsky, Vassily S(emenovich) 1906–

Yanovsky is a Russian novelist, physician, and mathematician. In his fiction he combines elements of fantasy, realism, and metaphysics. (See also CLC, Vol. 2, and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 97-100.)

[No Man's Time defies] neat pigeon-holing.

The hero, Cornelius Yamb, [moves] between two worlds, or to be more precise he travels to Canada to find Bruno, the heir to a vast fortune, and then brings him back to Chicago. The Canadian episode is partly fantasy … and partly escapist … and partly realist, too. Although entertaining, this part of the book sags somewhat during the chapters given over entirely to incomprehensible sermons, and lengthy philosophical ramblings from Bruno….

The latter part of the book is far more satisfactory. Cornelius's decline … and his aimless, unhappy wanderings through the waste-land city make absorbing reading. There is a particularly powerful description of the death of his wife and children in an apartment fire—no question of fantasy here, it is as real as a kick in the leg. The ending is puzzling, with the hero's return to the Village, a place that is finally seen as a dream world, some kind of earthly Valhalla. At this point, the Village gets a little too good to be true, and the book ultimately fails to involve the reader. This is a pity because otherwise No Man's Time holds together not as an uneasy combination of fantasy-escapism and fantasy-realism but as a powerful and occasionally very moving account of one man's decline.

"Village Voice," in The Times Literary Supplement (© Times Newspapers Ltd. (London) 1967; reproduced from The Times Literary Supplement by permission), No. 3404, May 25, 1967, p. 471.

Samuel Hynes

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

["No Man's Land"] is a fable. To say this is to say that V.S. Yanovsky's novel belongs to a large and ill-defined family of literary inventions—a family that includes fairy tales and allegories, parables and dreams…. The common family characteristic in all these is that they make no concessions to credibility. They use time and space as if their authors had invented the concepts; they move willfully between the possible and the impossible, between the rational and the unknown…. Fables are often didactic, but a clear sense of significance is not, I think, a necessary part of our appreciation of them; there is a kind of nonsense-fable, a story that means nothing, that is very appealing….

"No Man's Time" seems to me a nonsense-fable. Certainly the action is fabulous enough….

Much of this [novel] is familiar dream-stuff: the welcoming strangers, flight and pursuit, the strange journey, the obscure and threatening figures that hover at the edges of the action. Some of it can be described in myth-terms: Yamb is a Questor; Bruno is a sacrificed prophet; the village wife will do for an Earth-mother. And the two lives of Cornelius-Conrad make the whole thing an exercise in that modish modern theme, the Question of Identity.

All these familiar elements are in the book, but I can see no way of putting them together into a meaning. There is, to be sure, one possible guide to the point of it all: the prophet Bruno does a good deal of extempore philosophizing and predicting…. But whether the reader is meant to take these Blavatsky-ish utterances as wisdom or as travesty is not clear….

The plotting is clumsy and shapeless; the characters, who are compared to the figures on playing cards, are indeed just that—flat and dehumanized….

The book seems, in the end, not so much bad as unrealized—the fitful evidence of an extraordinary imagination that only fragmentarily reaches the page. Some episodes have the force of a half-forgotten nightmare, and for that moment one feels the cold shock of recognition. Most of it reads like someone's narration of a long and incoherent dream, and other people's dreams are the most boring of narrative forms.

Samuel Hynes, "Strange Journey," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1967 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), October 8, 1967, p. 60.

Penelope Gilliatt

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

["No Man's Time"] is something else. The prose, translated from the Russian, is what they call roistering, full of lunges of slang unnervingly placed between opaque metaphors that seem to have sprung out of the head of some maudlin drunken Eskimo who learned English by gramophone record in an igloo…. The book has a reckless passion for unseatingly wrong images, and fancifulness spreads into the body of the work in spite of its talent. W. H. Auden … sees the fable as the story of a modern Jason searching for the Golden Fleece. (pp. 242, 244)

It is in the American scenes that the book suddenly shifts tone. The humor seems more dependable and the inventions connect with something imaginatively alive. The last sequences are hard to forget…. Yanovsky makes the last part of his book powerful with the homesickness of a man's ache for his life. (p. 246)

Penelope Gilliatt, "Briefly Noted: 'No Man's Time'," in The New Yorker (© 1967 by The New Yorker Magazine, Inc.), Vol. XLIII, No. 39, November 18, 1967, pp. 242, 244, 246.

D.A.N. Jones

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[As] Auden remarks [in the preface, No Man's Time] belongs in the fairy-tale environment of Professor Tolkien and his much-loved Hobbits: those who are charmed by such fancies will doubtless feel at home here in this noman's-land…. Auden has written elsewhere about his idea of Eden—its landscape, fashions, religious and political institutions—and it has something in common with Yanovsky's village….

It is easy to see why Auden should like the idea of this novel, but difficult to share his admiration of the achievement. The city is not interesting; the Argonauts lack personality. The parallels with the Golden Fleece story are insistent but without significance. Yamb finds a Medea, who throws her young brother into the sea to halt pursuers; he takes another bride when he returns to urban life; his childen (by the Medea) get killed. Yanovsky adds nothing of much interest to this powerful anecdote, which so many have handled before him. There is another legend (not much used in serious fiction) according to which the guilty and criminal Medea returned to her homeland, was reconciled with her family and later joined by an older, forgiving Jason. I was disappointed that this ending was not added to No Man's Time, since it might have given more point to this rather ill-constructed fantasy. (p. 22)

D.A.N. Jones, "No Man's Land," in The New York Review of Books...

(The entire section is 440 words.)

Anne Fremantle

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Dr. Yanovsky's second published novel, [Of Light and Sounding Brass] like his first, No Man's Time, subtly counterparts post-quantum physics with Christian theology: It is also a romantic love-story, and an exciting post-lapsarian adventure. Parts One and Two are, according to the author, interchangeable, since time is but a dimension of space. (p. 429)

Over and over again, in both parts of his novel, Kassian-Kassianov feels comforted because "matter is wave and particle, and not wave and not particle, and still something else". By analogy, "God can then be omnipotent as particle, all loving as wave, and there is still a third possibility." Or, as the Bishop puts it "a wave and a particle, and neither a wave nor a particle, and still something else, that does resemble the Holy Trinity—indivisible and unfusable." Since light consists of photons, each single one of which can be isolated and thrown onto a screen, but the course elected by it can never be foretold, then it follows that "these microscopic particles are free in their choice, and their life or path is in no manner predetermined." So, Kassianov concludes, we too have free will, since we too "are endowed with the characteristics of photons, electrons, neutrons; because basically we consist of these infinitely small corpuscles."

These "facts" which bring Dr. Yanovsky (born Russian Orthodox) to theology, led Nobel prize-winning Jacques Monod,...

(The entire section is 577 words.)

Gail Godwin

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Guillaume, the anti-hero of V. S. Yanovsky's metaphysical tale ["The Great Transfer"] is also an artist by profession, but foremost, by his own admission, "a parasite, a pleasure seeker, a ladies' man," who feels that his life has been "a dead void" for the last 25 years…. [When] Guillaume tells ["the Mediator," the leader of the group called The Third Hemisphere,] of his despair in life and his terror of death, she invites him to The Third Hemisphere's Caribbean retreat where one is deprived of all the senses. Communicating with other spheres is a sort of training for death. The training turns out to be a rather incomprehensible mixture of nonsense and interesting ideas….

The Mediator orders some members of the group to think of themselves as belonging to the opposite sex, and Guillaume is assigned the task of referring to himself always in the third person. But, except for a few brief insights into the reasons for his dissatisfied life (his failure to "navigate with a purpose" in painting he ascribes to his lack of "the vision of another continent"), Guillaume remains depressingly self-centered.

It becomes hard to believe, therefore, that Guillaume dreams the Great Tribal Dream and is praised by the Mediator for his unusual receptiveness. His heroic end seems unsuited to the earnings of his life, and one feels that the author, perhaps stymied by the loose ends of his difficult creation, decided to be generous by "transferring" him all too quickly and painlessly.

I found myself longing for Yanovsky to drop his creature and write an essay about these interesting exercises that prepare us for death.

Gail Godwin, "Two Novels," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1974 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), April 28, 1974, p. 35.∗