On the First Things blog, Micah Mattix draws our attention to a Christmas tale from the Russian writer Nikolai Gogol. Excerpt:
While Gogol wears his religious commitments somewhat more lightly in his earlier works than he does in Dead Souls, he nevertheless uses slapstick and stock characters in The Night Before Christmas to serious effect. He reminds us that the devil will be confounded by his own darkness and that God, in his infinite wisdom, will use simple folks, like blacksmiths, with all of their crudeness and selfishness, to participate in his vanquishing of Old Nick. God does not use the self-righteous—the merely pristinely polished life—to further his kingdom. He rarely uses the elite or the religious “pundit.” Most often, he uses the simple, the unrefined, to accomplish his work, because they, at least, will give glory where glory is due.
Here’s a link to the Amazon page for the new edition of the Gogol novella Mattix is talking about. It’s not a Christmas story for kids; it’s about the Devil coming to earth on Christmas Eve to confound the plans of a village blacksmith.
I know next to nothing about Russian literature, and I regret that. For many years I’ve intended to start reading it, but never have made good on it. I’ve made several forays into The Brothers Karamazov, but have never stuck with it. I’m not sure why, aside from the fact that I find it more difficult to stick with fiction than non-fiction. I bought a copy of The Master and Margarita a couple of years ago after reading a compelling essay about it, but I gave up halfway through. I didn’t understand it. To contemplate starting to read Russian literature makes me think of entering a thick forest, one full of mysteries and dread and enchantments, but definitely a difficult path.
Any enthusiastic readers of Russian literature among my readers? Tell us about it. What makes it distinctive? Which books are your favorites?