A Russian Gentleman

A Russian Gentleman

A Russian Gentleman

A Russian Gentleman

Excerpt

Reading Sergei Aksakov's A RUSSIAN GENTLEMAN always makes me wish that some American writer had done a book like it about some American pioneer. Fenimore Cooper (a contemporary of Aksakov had a chance to do it. His father was a large landowner at Cooperstown, New York, in a region that had once been the home of the Iroquois (as Aksakov's Ufa had once been the home of the Bashkirs). The younger Cooper at one time or another wrote a great deal about the frontier life he had observed during his childhood. But the New York frontier at the end of the eighteenth century was a ragged line of settlements on the edge of the forest, and the next generation (Fenimore Cooper's) was romantic in its attitudes toward the frontier people and the wilderness they faced. Compared with Cooper's old-fashioned accounts of Cooperstown, Aksakov's accounts of Aksakovo are so fresh and bright that it is difficult to think of the two frontiers, the American and the Russian, as almost contemporary.

To imagine an American book like A RUSSIAN GENTLEMAN you have to suppose several things that never happened but that are at least thinkable. Suppose that a planter from Virginia or further south had made up his mind to emigrate, with his family, slaves, stock, and goods, to the western border: where he could buy as much land as he wanted for about what he felt disposed to pay. Suppose that once there--it might be Texas-- he had developed farmland, timberland, range, and mill, and lived the rest of his life as master and patriarch of that domain.

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