The Narratology of the Autobiography: An Analysis of the Literary Devices Employed in Ivan Bunin's the Life of Arsen'ev

By Ingram, Susan | Canadian Slavonic Papers, December 2000 | Go to article overview

The Narratology of the Autobiography: An Analysis of the Literary Devices Employed in Ivan Bunin's the Life of Arsen'ev


Ingram, Susan, Canadian Slavonic Papers


Alexander F. Zweers. The Narratology of the Autobiography: An Analysis of the Literary Devices Employed in Ivan Bunin's The Life of Arsen 'ev. Middlebury Studies in Russian Language and Literature, Vol. 11. New York: Peter Lang, 1997. x, 190 pp. Endnotes. Works Cited. Index. $45.95, cloth.

The title of Alexander Zweers' Grown-up Narrator and Childlike Hero: An Analysis of the Literary Devices Employed in Tolstoj's Trilogy Childhood, Boyhood and Youth, as well as his critique of Thomas Murullo's If You See the Buddha: Studies in the Fiction of Ivan Bunin (Canadian Slavonic Papers XL.3-4 [1998]: 480-81)-that Murullo's approach to Bunin is faulty because he does not distinguish between Bunin the man and his narrator and therefore overvalues his fascination with Buddhism at the expense of the obvious Christian influences in his works-manifest Zweers' long-standing interest in questions concerning the negotiations that occur between narrators and their creators during the writing process. Of particular interest to Zweers are cases where an author moulds the same autobiographical material into several different, and yet not so different, works of art. His very close reading of Bunin's The Life of Arsen'ev is interspersed with considerations of Bunin's correspondence with his early love, Varvara Pashchenko, and several short stories written before The Life of Arsen'ev that contain striking depictions of "childhood and youth memories" (p. 135) in order to ascertain precisely how this dynamic of author/narrator plays itself out in Bunin's case.

The first chapter begins, inevitably, with Nabokov. The different narrative layers of Conclusive Evidence, Drugie berega, and Speak, Memory are yet again trotted out and Russian passages compared with their English equivalents to indicate the tensions between historical accuracy and aesthetic pleasure inherent in the genre. The charming childlike worlds of Gorky and Tolstoy also come in for comment, as does Henry James' evocation of childhood in What Maisie Knew. Chapter two carefully reads the first four books of The Life of Arsen'ev in search of narrating, experiencing and re-experiencing Is. …

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