“Tolstoy’s ‘About mushrooms'”

The latest set of CamCREES bibliographical notes looks at Professor Robin Feuer Miller’s talk on 12 November 2013 on the tale of the mushroom hunt in Tolstoi’s Anna Karenina.  They end with a look at Tolstoi-related publications catalogued in the University Library in 2013, with search tips and an insight into some of the Library’s working practices.

Text from the mushroom hunt scene in Tolstoi's Anna Karenina (757:23.d.85.186-188)

Text from the mushroom hunt scene in Tolstoi’s Anna Karenina (757:23.d.85.186-188)

The third CamCREES seminar of Michaelmas 2013, once again part of Dr Katia Bowers’ CEELBAS-funded project ‘Promoting the Study of Nineteenth-Century Russian Literature in the UK’, was given by Professor Robin Feuer Miller of Brandeis University and the University of Oxford.  Her talk focused on a small section of Tolstoi’s Anna Karenina which involves two relatively minor characters: Varen’ka, a young woman who Kitty (Kiti in Russian) has met at a German spa, and Sergei Ivanovich Koznyshev, the half-brother of Kitty’s husband Levin.  The section of the novel focused on in the seminar describes a mushroom hunt undertaken by these two characters in Levin’s estate, during which a proposal of marriage is prepared for but never realised.

Professor Miller’s talk relates to a book she is working on which looks at the “small things” in the works of Tolstoi and Dostoevskii.  In her close reading of the mushroom hunt passage, moreover, Professor Miller applied a twist, suggesting that the section be read almost as a stand-alone piece of writing and considered through the critical lens normally applied to the short stories of Chekhov.  As she showed, the mushroom hunt tale can, bar one didactic digression, very satisfyingly be read as a piece by Chekhov, with its focus on minutiae, emotional tension, and impending failure.  The illustration to this CamCREES note shows a segment of the mushroom hunt, just after the point at which the marriage proposal should have occurred but failed to.  The conversation has turned back to mushrooms – ‘Berezovyi grib’ (‘A birch mushroom’) says Sergei Ivanovich, ‘Da, eto pravda’ (‘Yes, that’s right’) replied Varen’ka.

Professor Miller referred in particular to three works of criticism on Anna Karenina in her talk.  These were:

  • Gary Saul Morson’s Anna Karenina in our time : seeing more wisely (757:24.c.200.95);
  • Vladimir E. Alexandrov’s Limits to interpretation : the meanings of Anna Karenina (757:24.c.200.34); and
  • Amy Mandelker’s Framing Anna Karenina : Tolstoy, the woman question, and the Victorian novel (757:24.c.95.506)

Works on and new editions of works by Tolstoi are of course still collected vigorously by the University Library.  A search on Newton shows that 18 titles connected to Tolstoi have been catalogued so far in 2013.  How was that result reached?  When a Library cataloguer has completed a record or substantially added to it (for example by the addition of a new volume to a set or by significantly improving the existing record), they generally add a field which features their Cambridge ID and the day’s date.  This field is hidden in the normal view of the record but its contents are included in a keyword search in Newton (but not in LibrarySearch).  As an example, here is the public view of the recently catalogued 1978 Anna Karenina which came to the Library as part of the Peter Yakimiuk collection – the red highlights the part of the page where the viewer can choose to see the staff record – and here is the staff view, with the field in question highlighted in red.  As the latter shows, the date is in the YYYYMMDD format.

The existence and searchability of the field means that including a year followed by a question mark (to allow for variant endings) will come up with results which feature either those four digits alone (most commonly as the date of publication) or any term which starts with those numbers.  The search run to find all publications on or about Tolstoi catalogued in 2013 used three terms in an ordinary keyword search – 2013? Tolstoy Leo.  We need to use the authorised form of Tolstoi’s name (the anglicised Tolstoy), and the addition of the authorised form of his Christian name (the anglicised Leo) helps guard against the results including others with the same surname (such as Aleksei Nikolaevich Tolstoi, whose authorised form is also anglicised: Tolstoy, Aleksey Konstantinovich, graf, 1817-1875).  Do note that 2013 is the current year at the time of writing – were this precise search (using 2013?) to be run in 2014, it would only pick up Tolstoi books catalogued in 2014 which were published in 2013.  Without that publication date, the term 2013 would be unlikely to appear anywhere in the record.

The 18 records show the variety of books and workflows in the Library.  7 of the books are in Russian, 6 in English, 3 in Italian, and 2 in French.  Eleven of them have been published in the last four years, but the oldest dates back to 1939.  Why is such old material being catalogued in 2013?  In the case of the 1939 book, this is part of an enormous publication called Literaturnoe nasledstvo (‘Literary heritage’) whose parts are usually catalogued individually.  Records for the earlier material in the set were very inconsistent, so recent weeks have seen the whole set be checked and largely recatalogued.  The 1961 and 1979 books in the list are also part of this set.  Other older books in the list of 18 will relate to donations or similar projects of re-cataloguing.  The only ‘false’ result in the list is the 1963 copy of Resurrection.  The term 2013 in the record relates neither to date of publication nor to date of cataloguing – it instead appears in the heading for the editor, who died this year.

The CamCREES bibliographical notes aim to link Cambridge library resources with the fortnightly seminars hosted by CamCREES (the Cambridge Committee for Russian and East European Studies) in the Michaelmas and Lent terms of each academic year.  Each set of notes starts by looking at the specifics of a seminar and then goes on to explore related research tips and library issues.  The CamCREES bibliographical notes were introduced in February 2011 on the University Library’s Slavonic webpages, where all earlier notes can be found.

-Mel Bach

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