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‘We need the literature of other countries to expand our
horizons and stimulate our ideas. Without it, we are not only
diminished, we are starved’
(The Times, Magnus Linklater 29/06/05)
Blind Musician (The)
by Vladimir Korolenko
Age Range: 9-11
Pyotr has been blind from birth. He comes from a wealthy family and is educated at home by a private tutor. As he grows up he learns to capture the essence of the world through his other senses by developing a heightened sense of smell and hearing and while listening to music his hands create images of shapes, forms and colours in his mind.
The Blind Musician is Russian author Vladimir Korolenko’s most acclaimed and best-known work which was originally serialised before being published in 1886. Korolenko established a unique relationship between Pyotr and the world around him as well as describing his interaction with people and their attitudes and perceptions towards a boy with a disability.
The book, however, was subject to some controversy and criticism, particularly from Moscow University's Private tutor A. M. Shcherbina, who had been blind from the age of two. He did not agree with Korolenko’s theory regarding blind people’s ‘intrinsic longing for light’. By way of explanation the author said in a letter he wrote in 1917 that “to create a creditable treatise on a blind man’s psychology has never been my objective. The idea, was, rather to bring to closer examination man's longing for all things unattainable, forever missing fullness of life.” Korolenko based his research on a blind girl whom he knew as a child, a boy pupil who was gradually losing his sight and a professional musician blind from birth.
Under the guise of a charming story, Korolenko has placed Pyotr in the most favourable and privileged circumstances. He also offers an insight into social life in Russia during the second half of the 19th century. But one of Korolenko's strongest achievements in this novel is how he shows the psychological development, his analysis of his blind protagonist and the use of music as a medium for interpreting light and darkness and colours.
This classic is still in print today and there have been various editions and English translations.
Korolenko (1853-1921) was a Ukrainian-born Russian writer, journalist, human rights activist and humanitarian of Ukrainian and Polish origins. Throughout his career he was an influential social activist, speaking out against social injustice and persecution. He is acknowledged as one of the major Russian writers of the late 19th century and early 20th century.