Rod Dreher linked to my piece on Gogol yesterday, and we got to discussing the difference between people who like Austen and those who like Russian novels. In an email, I suggested:
In my experience, Austen fans love her because of the detailed character portraits, the well-turned phrase, subtle plot development. etc.
Russian novels tend to be novels of ideas. The dialogue is often abrupt and slightly off balance—when Russian characters are angry, the world is black; when they are happy, they are positively giddy. It’s as if they are all manic depressives. People read Russian novels—at least most of them—for the ideas represented in characters’ actions, the social commentary, the existential crises. This is all speaking very generally, of course. When I put it like this, there are a number of objections that pop into my head, but voila.
Two questions: First, I’m sure this distinction has been made by others, but what do you think? Is it accurate? Second, Dreherwho admits to struggling to get into Russian novelsasks his readers for their favorites. What are yours?