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This review is taken from PN Review 30, Volume 9 Number 4, March - April 1983.

TSVETMATELNAK AND RARER BIRDS Ronald Hingley, Nightingale Fever: Russian Poets in Revolution (Weidenfeld) £12.95
Theo Hermans, The Structure of Modernist Poetry (Croom Helm) £14.95

'A shilling life', as Auden said, 'will give you all the facts'; and anyone still requiring all the facts about Pasternak, Mandelstam, Akhmatova and Tsvetaeva will be tempted to lash out and buy Nightingale Fever, number of shillings notwithstanding. But whereas the book might have served a purpose twenty years ago, when only Pasternak was known to the general public, it must now make its way against such indispensable aids to understanding as Clarence Brown's study of Mandelstam, Simon Karlinsky's 'life and art' of Tsvetaeva, Amanda Haight's biography of Akhmatova and Guy de Mallac's new book on Pasternak, not to mention the memoirs of Mandelstam's widow, Olga Ivinskaya's A Captive of Time, and any number of books and articles devoted primarily to interpretation of the poetry. It would be a tall order to add much to the existing stock of knowledge without engaging in many years of research and it is evident that Ronald Hingley has contented himself with materials lying ready to hand.

Nightingale Fever must, then, stand or fall by how well marshalled these materials are, and by what emerges from treating four quite distinct destinies in the same plane, as it were. Some narrative skill is required on the one hand, some interpretative ability on the other. Hingley tells each story in the sequential manner which most biographers and most historians seem unable to resist, as if people really were, in Pasternak's phrase, captives of time. But he has four stories to tell, each ...


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