Russian literature, like colonial Canadian literature, comes with a lot of landscape backdrop. The characters often gaze reflectively at the great forest and pass repeatedly through it as they travel from one house or outpost to another. These characters seldom demonstrate detailed knowledge of that forest—most of them belong to a social class that has other concerns, which means they’re doomed to a kind of romantic and hollow relation to the land they float around in. Still, the forest is powerfully present, like the ocean in Moby Dick. The forest, in fact, can be one of the major characters in the story. So for a reader, it can be immensely helpful to understand what kind of forest it is.

I wonder, though, what percentage of the world’s novels take place almost entirely indoors. I’ll bet it’s much larger than the portion set almost entirely outdoors.