Monday, April 9, 2012

Nature in Turgenev

Nature in Turgenev (Bezhin Meadow):

1. "It was a beautiful July day ... the sunset was fading ... I must have gone a good mile out of my way! ... Meanwhile, night was falling ... the night. Little stars ... twinkled in it. ... I walked like that for half an hour. ... my legs were giving way under me from exhaustion. ... We talked a little. ... the two dogs ... could not reconcile themselves to my presence for a long time, ... "taters" were cooking. ... More than three hours had passed since I had joined the company of the boys ... the moon rose ... it was so small and narrow. ... before the dawn ... the short nights of summer."

At first this set of narrative time markers puzzled me. Four hours after nightfall, the small and narrow moon rises just before the dawn. A waning crescent moon precedes the sun by only a couple of hours. So the night is at most 6 hours long! But it is July, and Chern District, Tula province is located only about 250 km south of Moscow, at 54 N latitude, where a five hour July night is real.

2. "... the damp freshness of late evening had given way to the dry warmth of midnight,". WTF? Surely it should be "... the dry warmth of late evening had given way to the damp freshness of midnight,". I retract this criticism. A friend pointed out that in SF the night temperatures are higher than during the evening and twilight, when there is a strong offshore wind bringing in cold from the Humboldt current. 

3. "There was no moon in the sky: at that time of year it rose late." Hunh? The moon rises late for a week once every lunar cycle, it has nothing to do with the time of year. "There was no moon in the sky: at that time of month it rose late." would be tautological.

4. Finally, the phrase for which I will forgive Turgenev ALL his anti-observational sins (recall he is writing this in the early 1850s!): "The numberless golden stars ... looking at them, you seemed to be dimly aware yourself of the headlong and unceasing course of the earth." A writer who has read and understood Copernicus and Galileo! Most of us, anthropocentrists, are still only aware, if of anything, of the stars whirling around the earth.

Review of characters in Turgenev 

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