cover image City Folk and Country Folk

City Folk and Country Folk

Sofia Khvoshchinskaya, trans. from the Russian by Nora Seligman Favorov. Columbia Univ., $30 (192p) ISBN 978-0-231-18302-4

This scathingly funny comedy of manners from Khvoshchinskaya (1824–1865) will deeply satisfy fans of 19th-century Russian literature. Set in 1862, the story begins with self-important, smarmy Erast Sergeyevich Ovcharov temporarily resettling in the country to rest and enjoy the curative properties of fresh whey. He negotiates renting out the partially completed bathhouse of flustered and self-conscious widow Nastasya Ivanova. Nastasya already has her hands full with the unexpected sudden appearance of her cousin, Anna, an ostensibly deeply religious woman recently ousted from her role as a noblewoman’s confidante and travelling companion. Nastasya’s attempts to fulfill the requirements of her social status mandate her hospitality towards these supposed superiors, even as they treat her like a naive yokel. Only Nastasya’s daughter, level-headed 17-year-old Olenka, sees through the pretensions of bombastic Sergeyevich and whining, faux-religious Anna. As mother and daughter increasingly lose their patience, they also feel their way into the new world of recently emancipated serfs. In this delightful send-up of metropolitan superiority and hypocrisy, the plot reaches a boiling point when Sergeyevich meddles in Olenka’s intended betrothal, which is brokered by a supremely smug matchmaker. Favorov’s brisk translation and helpful notes make the novel very accessible to present-day readers. This consistently delightful satire will introduce readers to a funnier, more female-centric slant on Russian literature than they may have previously encountered. (Aug.)