Seer. 2001. 79. 4. p. 729-730. Oxford
Livshits, Lev. Vopreki vremeni: Izbrannye raboty. Zakat, Jerusalem and Kharkov, 1999. Photographs. Notes. Appendix. 400 pp. $ 28.00. (Orders toTatyana Livshits-Azaz, 6 Arazim str., PO Box 864, Mevaseret 90805, Israel.)
Lev Iakovlevich Livshits was a talented and original scholar whose career was cut short by his early death (in 1965 at the age of forty-four) after earlier disruption by war and imprisonment – from 1941 he served at the front, in 1950 during the 'rootless cosmopolitan' campaign he was given a ten-year sentence for 'anti-Soviet propaganda'. His academic life, as student and , was spent at the University of Khar'kov. Vopreki vremeni, compiled by his one-time collaborator Boris Miliavsky and his daughter Tatyana Livshits-Azaz is a fitting tribute to his memory. The book contains a selection of Livshits's works: in pride of place his previously unpublished dissertation on Saltykov-Shchedrin's play Teni, written after his rehabilitation in 1954 (pp. 10-256), important archive-based articles on Babel' (notably Konarmiia)and the theatrical reviews (written under the name 'L. Zhadanov') which figured as evidence of his anti-sovietism in 1948-1950. In an appendix there are memoirs of him by his daughter, contemporaries, colleagues, and students, and a photo-record from the family album. The whole pre-sents a lively picture of a charismatic man and fine scholar who did much and, had he lived longer, 1 would certainly have achieved much more.
Except for his study of Teni, all Livshits's writing in this collection have been published before. A brief review of this major, unpublished work will be sufficient to indicate the critical strengths of the author.
Saltykov's 'dramatic satire' Teni was, like Livshits's study of it, first published long after the author's death. Written in the early 1860s, it remained in manuscript (a completed first draft and a partial revision) until it was discovered and published by Kranikhfel'd in 1914. It is set in St Petersburg around 1861-62 and concerns the fundamentally unchanging nature of the state administration in the period of reform – a recurring theme in Saltykov's sketches in the 1860s. Bobyrev, an idealistic young official arrives from service in the provinces expecting to serve the cause of reform, but finds thai the new 'liberalizing' bureaucrats are as corrupt and cynical as their predecessors 1 ('shadows' of the past projected on to the present). Bobyrev's light-minded wife is seduced by Klaverov, his former school-fellow and a civil-service 'general': Bobyrev revolts and denounces Klaverov, but his revolt is only a drunken aberration – he makes his peace and submits to the existing order.
The basis of Livshits's critical method is 'actuality' (konkretika). He is concerned with the facts of history and the facts of the text, and avoids what is unascertainable by factual reference (regrettable in one respect, since the question of the similarity of Saltykov's own situation – disillusioned enlightened bureaucrat, flighty provincial wife – to that of Bobyrev's is not explored). First, on the internal evidence of the text Livshits convincingly dates the two manuscripts to 1862-63 and 1865. Then, using a broad range of contemporary sources (historical, journalistic, literary), he relates the play to the context of the period. In chapters 2-7 he surveys the general administrative scene of St Petersburg and examines in turn the main characters of the play, indicating their typicality with reference to the social-political spectrum of the day and, for some, suggesting real-life parallels (Minister of the Court Adlerberg and his mistress Mina Burkova and the play's Prince Tarakanov and Klara Fedorovna). All of this is soberly and convincingly done.
The later chapters which concern the literary aspects of Teni (9: Subject, Composition, Genre; 10: Characters' and Author's Speech) are no less impressive. Livshits sticks firmly to the 'facts' provided by the text and here, as throughout the book, his skill as a textual com-mentator is of a high order. His subtle reading into the amendments in the first draft and changes made in the revision reveals the signifi-cant shifts of emphasis introduced by Saltykov and enlarges the reader's understanding and appreciation of the play.
Teni is a relatively minor item in the large oeuvre of a now little-read author and Livshits's study may not attract many readers. It is, though, a work of high quality, and the informed use of contemporary sources, the skilful and persuasive reading of the text, and the objective, ideology-free judgements are testimony to the academic integrity of the author. The reviews and articles included in the volume are of the same stamp – well-informed and open-minded. Considering the time when Livshits wrote, the book's title Vopreki vremeni is entirely apt.
The Queen's College Oxford