Saturday, October 10, 2009


I do not know why I am writing a seperate post on Mumu, a Turgenev short story that is not as famous as his First Love or the Sketches. I am however not alone in thinking, as I have realized of late, that Mumu is nothing short of a masterpiece. As I have written on this blog before, Turgenev found so much space within the constraints of the longish short story that his results are astounding and the width of his vision, his compassion and the stirring characterizations of his stories are more than another ordinary writer can only dream of.

Mumu is not simply a story of social protest. The deafening cruelty of serfdom is made obvious but without the polemical pressure of showing; the story ends in a kind of helpless stalemate with Gerasim restored to the solitude of a hut, without desire for woman or dog. The protest against injustice, in the form of the prevailing serfdom of the times is as clear as day and yet the end, the end is quite disturbing for Turgenev, in a masterstroke restores to silence and solitude all that was so disquieting, and in letting it simmer and show its ugly face, against the face of stolid acceptance, the plight of 19th century Russia is made obvious.

The greatness of Mumu lies in the dignified hush of the end, the calmness restored to beast and man, the cruel acceptance of desperate fate. Mumu is also a love story, a desperate love story and because it is desperate, because it will lead to nowhere, because it is doomed to failure, because man and might have conspired against Gerasim before the acts of creation were unrolled, the emotional aspects of this story are forces of release, sublime acts.

Who can forget the image of Gerasim walking towards his village in darkness, deaf and dumb amongst shadows, a sack on his shoulders, an indelible image in all literature?

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