Ivan Petrovich Belkin left behind a great number of manuscripts.... Most of them, as Ivan Petrovich told me, were true stories heard from various people.
First published anonymously in 1830, Alexander Pushkin’s Tales of Belkin contains his first prose works. It is comprised of an introductory note and five linked stories, ostensibly collected by the scholar Ivan Belkin. The stories center variously around military figures, the wealthy, and businessmen; this beautiful novella gives a vivid portrait of nineteenth century Russian life.
It has become, as well, one of the most beloved books in Russian literary history, and symbolic of the popularity of the novella form in Russia. In fact, it has become the namesake for Russia’s most prestigious annual literary prize, the Belkin Prize, given each year to a book voted by judges to be the best novella of the year.
It is presented here in a sparkling new translation by Josh Billings. Tales of Belkin also highlights the nature of our ongoing Art of the Novella Series—that is, that it specializes in important although albeit lesser-known works by major writers, often in new tranlsations.
The Art of The Novella Series
Too short to be a novel, too long to be a short story, the novella is generally unrecognized by academics and publishers. Nonetheless, it is a form beloved and practiced by literature's greatest writers. In the Art Of The Novella series, Melville House celebrates this renegade art form and its practitioners with titles that are, in many instances, presented in book form for the first time.
About the Author
Alexander Pushkin was born into the Russian nobility in Moscow in 1799. Educated by French tutors while learning Russian from the household serfs, he began publishing poems in his early teens and soon gained widespread recognition, especially for his use of vernacular. At 18 he received a government appointment in St. Petersburg and threw himself into cultural life, including associating with radical intellectuals. He published his first major work, the long poem Rusian and Ludmila, in 1820, shortly before being banished from the capital for writing political poems such asOde to Liberty. In 1825 some friends were involved in the Decembrist uprising, and Pushkin’s restrictions were tightened. Yet he wrote some of his greatest work in exile, including his playBoris Godunov and his novel-in-verse Eugene Onegin. Finally pardoned by the Tsar, he married Natalya Goncharova in 1831. They became regulars of court society, which soon impoverished Pushkin, and in 1837, scandalous rumors about Natalya prompted him to challenge an alleged paramour to a duel. Wounded, Pushkin died two days later. Fearing a public outpouring at his funeral, the government removed his body in the night, to be buried at his family’s distant estate.
Josh Billings is a fiction writer and translator who lives in Maine. He is also the translator of the Melville House edition of The Duel, by Aleksandr Kuprin.
Praise for Tales of Belkin…
"I wanted them all, even those I'd already read."
—Ron Rosenbaum, The New York Observer
—Time Out London
"[F]irst-rate…astutely selected and attractively packaged…indisputably great works."
—Adam Begley, The New York Observer
"I’ve always been haunted by Bartleby, the proto-slacker. But it’s the handsomely minimalist cover of the Melville House edition that gets me here, one of many in the small publisher’s fine 'Art of the Novella' series."
—The New Yorker
"The Art of the Novella series is sort of an anti-Kindle. What these singular, distinctive titles celebrate is book-ness. They're slim enough to be portable but showy enough to be conspicuously consumed—tiny little objects that demand to be loved for the commodities they are."
—KQED (NPR San Francisco)
"Some like it short, and if you're one of them, Melville House, an independent publisher based in Brooklyn, has a line of books for you... elegant-looking paperback editions ...a good read in a small package."
—The Wall Street Journal