Sunday, 1 May 2011

Book Review – Love's Anvil by V. I. Dmitrieva

I picked up Love's Anvil by the Russian author Valentina Ionovna Dmitrieva in a secondhand bookshop recently. With a not very exhaustive search of the Internet I found out almost nothing about the author and have to rely on the sketchy introduction for any biographical details. This translation was published 1921 and the original must have been written before 1916 as an unnamed Russian friend of the author's says: “Is she alive? I don't know. I have not seen her, or heard of her since 1916.” Dmitrieva seems to have had some radical tendencies but the preface writer (J. A. T. Lloyd) is too coy to be explicit. The book is obscure enough to think that few modern readers even know of the tale.

The book is described as a “simple and charming story” and really this is not true. Proof is provided by Dmitrieva, like much Russian literature, having some vivid descriptions of poverty and the contrasts between classes.

The story is set in Woman's Medical Fatality a sort of girls school for chemists but we are far from a Russian St Trinian's. The author herself also studied in a smiler faculty. The hero is Gomotchka a student in her early twenties who's always trying to do good for others despite her poverty. Such a premiss could prove nauseating for a modern author of supermarket tripe. But Dmitrieva is better then that; she explores the philosophical issues and ultimately the tragedy Gomotchka.

Some of its discussion of chemistry and life seems surprisingly modern – at least to a non-scientist; I'm sure a modern chemist or biologist would pick a mass of holes in the discussion.

Afterwards I read a couple of stories by Leo Tolstoy (which, hopefully I shall review soon). And it was noticeable how much better a writer is Tolstoy. Nonetheless this book is surely good enough to be published again, if there is some brave publisher out there. Possibly one that specialised in women writers.

Also I could see this book making a popular movie. Probably the kind I would switch off or avoid. Still the book is vivid enough, and the scenes strong enough, to tempt an adventurous director or producer.

So please, some publisher: give it a try.

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