Vasily Sleptsov was a Russian social activist and writer during the politically charged 1860s, known as the “era of great reforms,” and marked by Alexander II’s emancipation of the serfs and the relaxation lifting of censorship. Popular in his day, Sleptsov’s contemporaries Leo Tolstoy and Anton Chekhov praised his writing:, with Chekhov once remarkeding, “Sleptsov taught me, better than most, to understand the Russian intelligent, and my own self as well.” The novella Hard Times is considered Sleptsov’s most important work. It focused popular attention on the radical and liberal movements through its fictional setting, where the characters contend with constantly evolving political and social dilemmas. Hard Times was immediately recognized as a vibrant and compelling depiction of prerevolutionary Russian intellectual society, full of lively debates about the possibilities of liberal reform or radical revolution that questioned the viability of a political system facing massive social problems. This is the first English-language version of Hard Times, expertly and fluidly translated by Michael Katz. Highly readable, it provides important historical insights on the political and social climate of a volatile and transformative period in Russia history.
This translation of Sleptsov's 1865 novel is a welcome addition to nineteenth century Russian literature in English. Contrary to what readers might expect of a work by one of the prominent radical voices of the mid-1860s about competing liberal and radical calls for change in post-Emancipation Russia, Hard Times is not only readable but skillfully constructed and at times, indeed, quite beautiful in Katz's rendering. . . . Katz's translation will help introduce this richly deserving novel into courses on nineteenth-century Russian literature, culture, and history.
All teachers of Russian literature in translation owe a great debt to Michael R. Katz for his readable translation of one of the most important works of nineteenth-century Russian literature. . . an illuminating snapshot of gentry and peasant life in the immediate post-Emancipation period. Hard Times would be a valuable text for any course dealing with the transformations of the 1860s in Russia.
If you are convinced that 'leftist' nineteenth-century Russian literature is long-winded and boring, prepare yourself for a big surprise. Hard Times makes for an excellent read and offers a well-informed and realistic picture of life in the Russian countryside after the abolition of serfdom in 1861. Thanks to Michael Katz's compelling translation, this gem of Russian realism is now finally available to the English-speaking reader.
Michael Katz's translation makes available an important component of Russian literary and cultural history of the mid-19th century. Sleptsov's novel, and the questions it poses, very much follows in the tradition of Sand's Jacques, Herzen's Who Is To Blame? and Chernyshevsky's What Is To Be Done?
Vasily Sleptsov (1836-1878) wrote fiction for several magazines including Annals of the Fatherland, Russian Speech, and The Contemporary, where he published his novella Hard Times in 1865. He went on to found the magazine The Women’s Herald, establish the Znamenskaya commune for women, and become an activist for women’s equality.learn more
Michael R. Katz is CV Starr Professor Emeritus at Middlebury College. He is the author of two monographs and is a renowned translator of Russian literature, who has published English versions of Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Turgenev, and Chekhov.learn more
William C. Brumfield is professor of Slavic languages at Tulane University and has published extensively on mid-19th century Russian literature, with a special emphasis on Vasily Sleptsov.learn more