Portrait of Vsevolod Garshin by Ilya Repin
|Born||Vsevolod Mikhailovich Garshin
February 14, 1855
Ekaterinoslav Province, Russia
|Died||April 5, 1888
St. Petersburg, Russia
Garshin was the son of an officer. He attended secondary school and then the Saint Petersburg Mining Institute. He volunteered to serve in the army at the start of the Russo-Turkish War in 1877. He participated in the Balkans Campaign as a private, and was wounded in action. He was promoted to the rank of an officer at the end of the war. He resigned his commission soon after in order to devote his time to literary efforts. He had previously published a number of articles in newspapers, mostly reviews of art exhibitions.
His experiences as a soldier provide the basis for his first stories, including the very first, "Four Days" (Russian: "Четыре дня"), based on a real incident. The narrative is organized as the interior monologue of a wounded soldier left for dead on the battlefield for four days, face to face with the corpse of a Turkish soldier he had killed. Garshin's empathy for all beings is already evident in this first story.
Despite early literary success, he had periodical bouts of mental illness. At the age of 33, Garshin committed suicide by jumping from the fifth floor of his apartment building and died five days later at a Red Cross hospital.
Garshin's work is not voluminous: it consists of some twenty stories, all of them included in a single volume. His stories are characterized by a spirit of compassion and pity that some have compared to Dostoevsky's. In A Very Short Novel he examines the infidelity of a woman to a crippled hero. The story displays Garshin's talent for concentration and lyrical irony. That Which Was Not and Attalea Princeps are fables with animals and plants in human situations. The second of these stories has a sense of tragic irony. In Officer and Servant he is a forerunner of Chekhov; it is an excellently constructed story conveying an atmosphere of drab gloom and meaningless boredom. "From the Reminiscences of Private Ivanov"—the title story in the most recent English language collection of Garshin's work—has the same Russo-Turkish War setting of "Four Days", and includes as minor players the characters from "Officer and Servant".
His best-known and most characteristic story is The Red Flower; it fits in the series of lunatic-asylum stories in Russian literature (including Gogol's "Diary of a Madman" (1835), Leskov's Hare Remise (1894) and Chekhov's Ward No. 6 (1892)). It is the history of a madman who is obsessed by the desire to challenge and defeat the evil of the world. He discovers that all evil is contained in three poppies growing in the middle of the hospital garden, and with infinite astuteness and cunning he succeeds in defeating the vigilance of his warders and picking the flowers. He dies from nervous exhaustion, but dies happy and certain of having attained his end. The oppressive atmosphere of the asylum is conveyed with effective skill. The end is a relief, like death to a martyr, but it is also ironical.
Vsevolod M. Garshin. Portrait by Ilya Repin (1883)
- Terras, Victor (1991). A History of Russian Literature. New Haven: Yale University Press. pp. 464–465. ISBN 0-300-04971-4.
- "ФЭБ: Евнин. Ф. М. Достоевский и В. М. Гаршин. — 1962 (текст)". Next.feb-web.ru. Retrieved 2012-06-04.
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- Works by Vsevolod Garshin at Project Gutenberg
- From the Reminiscences of Private Ivanov and other stories
- A collection of Garshin's stories translated to English