City Folk and Country Folk

by Sofia Khvoshchinskaya

Translated by Nora Seligman Favorov

An unsung gem of nineteenth-century Russian literature, City Folk and Country Folk is a seemingly gentle yet devastating satire of Russia's aristocratic and pseudo-intellectual elites in the 1860s. Translated into English for the first time, the novel weaves an engaging tale of manipulation, infatuation, and female assertiveness that takes place one year after the liberation of the empire's serfs.

Upending Russian literary clichés of female passivity and rural gentry benightedness, Sofia Khvoshchinskaya centers her story on a common-sense, hardworking noblewoman and her self-assured daughter living on their small rural estate. The antithesis of the thoughtful, intellectual, and self-denying young heroines created by Khvoshchinskaya's male peers, especially Ivan Turgenev, seventeen-year-old Olenka ultimately helps her mother overcome a sense of duty to her "betters" and leads the two to triumph over the urbanites' financial, amorous, and matrimonial machinations.

Sofia Khvoshchinskaya and her writer sisters closely mirror Britain's Brontës, yet Khvoshchinskaya's work contains more of Jane Austen's wit and social repartee, as well as an intellectual engagement reminiscent of Elizabeth Gaskell's condition-of-England novels. Written by a woman under a male pseudonym, this brilliant and entertaining exploration of gender dynamics on a post-emancipation Russian estate offers a fresh and necessary point of comparison with the better-known classics of nineteenth-century world literature.

About the Author

Sofia Khvoshchinskaya (1824–1865), a writer, translator, and painter, published fiction and social commentary in Russia's most influential journals. She and her sister Nadezhda wrote to support their family, struggling members of the nobility, alternating long stretches of toil in their native Ryazan Province with visits to Russia's capitals, where they interacted with some of the country's leading intellectuals.

Nora Seligman Favorov is a translator of Russian literature, poetry, and history.

Reviews

Where’s Khvoshchinskaya been all my life? A must-read.
In its first English translation since its publication in Russia in the mid-19th century, City Folk and Country Folk offers us a fascinating look at gender dynamics in a nation that had just liberated the empire’s serfs.
In her sympathetic depiction of the central mother-daughter relationship Khvoshchinskaya stakes her own territory and widens the boundaries of the 19th-century Russian novel. . . . Set against a backdrop of the emancipation of the serfs, touching on the (assumed) backwardness of rural Russia and the role of its elite in political reform, the book at its heart is the story of two country women asserting their independence.