Michael R. Katz is C.V. Starr Professor Emeritus at Middlebury College. He is the author of two monographs and is a renowned translator of Russian literature, including English versions of works by Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Turgenev, and Chekhov.
Between 1890 and 1893, Ignaty Potapenko published a number of works in which he presented the Russian intelligentsia with a new role model, the “mediocre, but common-sensical man,” whose diligence and steady devotion to the improvement of society are depicted as being more productive than the reckless heroism of the regime’s most outspoken, and sometimes violent, intellectual opponents. Not a Hero introduces the twenty-first-century reader to an important debate of the prerevolutionary period, a debate that is still relevant today: how to bring about social change within an oppressive and ossified political system without resorting to violence.
In this 19th century Russian social novella, two contrasting characters—one a western-educated intellectual, the other a hidebound country squire—find themselves thrown together on a long cross country journey in a primitive but sturdy carriage—a tarantas. Their shared observations as the troubled panorama of the Russian countryside rolls past is the basis for this commentary on the country’s prospects for social change. Renowned translator Michal R. Katz offers the first new translation of this overlooked novella since the late 1800s, shortly after original publication.
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.