NIKOLALIE SKOVIS Russia's best- kept secret. Possibly, if Anthony Trollope had been merged with Thomas Hardy, England could have had a comparable writer. Two factors have kept Leskov out of the company of Tolstoy, Dostoevsky and Turgenev in the international pantheon. One is his language (more versatile and inventive than Hardy's 'Wessex' dialect), which reflects the language and mindset of his narrators and characters. The other is his character, an aspect which Gilbert Adair's foreword treats gently. Generosity of spirit Leskov reserved for his prose. In life he was a wife- beating, hypocritical, paranoiac curmudgeon who earned the hearty dislike of everyone, from Tolstoy to Chekhov, who had initially admired him. Even h children disowned him - in the case of his son Andrei, to the point of writing a damningly dispassionate biography.
Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk (Hesperus Press 66pp £6.99) is familiar to us more from Shostakovich's opera than from previous translations. It is an early and direct, almost documentary, piece, with little of the idiosyncrasies and fantasies of his best prose (written in the 1870s and 1890s). But in its graphic