Places: The Village

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: Derevnya, 1910 (English translation, 1923)

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Social criticism

Time of work: Early twentieth century

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places DiscussedDurnovka

Durnovka Village, The (door-NOF-kah). Fictional Russian village in which the novel is set. Its name might be translated into English literally as “Evil Town” or “Illville,” and Ivan Bunin clearly intends it to represent all that he regards as being wrong with Russian rural society in the last days of the czars. Durnovka is probably based to some degree upon the real village of Ognyovka, where Bunin himself lived. It is a generic peasant village of the period but also a symbol of all Russia, of all that Bunin perceives as being wrong with Russia at the time.

Standing in a deep ravine, the village has thirty peasant cottages on one side of its gorge and the tiny manor house on the other side. The manor is not held by exalted princes or gentlefolk of the sort one finds in books by Leo Tolstoy or Ivan Turgenev, but by a man named Tikhon Ilich Krasov, whose own grandfather was a freed serf. Tikhon Ilich is himself little more than a kulak–a wealthy peasant of the sort who, two decades later, would be murdered by the thousands in the collectivization campaigns of Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin. His manor house is little more than a well-built farmhouse, originally an outlier manor for a landlord who had a number of holdings and his primary seat elsewhere. The village’s peasant cottages are equally unimpressive, small wooden shacks of appalling squalor. Many of them, such as that of Siery, are quite literally falling apart, missing parts of their roofs. Yet people continue to dwell in them, unwilling or unable to put them back in repair.

Black suburb

Black suburb. Tikhon’s birthplace; an outlying part of a nearby unnamed town, to which Tikhon’s grandfather had originally moved after obtaining his freedom and leaving Durnovka, only to be arrested subsequently and imprisoned for a rash of church thefts. The town also contains the fair, an open market for the area’s villages, at which homely goods such as brooms and kettles are sold alongside agricultural produce and animals. There is also a cemetery, the haunt of the town’s prostitutes, who are described as so hungry that, if paid in bread for their services, they gobble down every crumb as they lie under their customers. Bunin uses these scenes to show that the evils and brutalization of Russian life are not peculiar only to the one tiny village but are symptomatic of the entire culture.

*Voronezh

*Voronezh (vor-on-EHZH). City on the Don River, about four hundred miles south of Moscow, in which Tikhon Ilich’s brother Kuzma becomes a writer. Here Kuzma visits the grave of Koltzov, a local composer and poet, and in rapture at finally encountering the “culture” he longs for, scrawls a semiliterate epitaph upon Koltzov’s tombstone. Here also Kuzma reads many famous Russian writers and talks with people of some learning, although he often misunderstands much of what he obtains. He ultimately publishes a book of his writings; however, many of his acquaintances believe that he has plagiarized them from newspapers.

Kazakovo

Kazakovo (kah-zah-KO-vo). Village to which Kuzma travels to purchase an orchard. There he meets a number of broken-down and brutalized peasants and comes to decide that he is not really interested in owning an orchard.

Ulyanovka

Ulyanovka (ool-yah-NOF-kah). Home village of Rodka. It is also the location of the post office, to which Kuzma travels several times while he is keeping Durnovka for his brother. It is a slightly larger village than Durnovka, with more amenities, but the people are equally brutalized and willing to live in appalling squalor.

BibliographyConnolly, Julian. Ivan Bunin. Boston: Twayne, 1982. An analytical survey of Bunin’s major works, with a special emphasis on the evolution of Bunin’s views on human existence. Examines the treatment of Russian society in The Village against the background of Bunin’s perceptions on the inevitable decline and fall of major cultures and civilizations.Kryzytski, Serge. The Works of Ivan Bunin. The Hague: Mouton, 1971. The first monograph on Bunin published in English. Contains a detailed description of Bunin’s work and its critical reception. Compares Bunin’s treatment of Russian peasant life in The Village to that found in the work of his contemporaries.Marullo, Thomas G. “Ivan Bunin’s Derevnja: The Demythologization of the Peasant.” Russian Language Journal 31, no. 109 (1977): 79-100. Outlines the way in which Bunin’s exploration of Russian village life contrasts with traditional portraits of the peasantry in Russian literature.Poggioli, Renato. The Art of Ivan Bunin. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1953. Assesses Bunin’s place in Russian and world literature. Its examination of The Village draws attention to the structure of the work and to the relationships that Bunin establishes among the central characters.Woodward, James B. Ivan Bunin: A Study of His Fiction. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1980. A stimulating discussion of Bunin’s work that analyzes the role that nature plays in Bunin’s fiction. Also focuses on the way that human attitudes toward nature shape the experience of Bunin’s characters.
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