“Excellent People” — Anton Chekhov

“Excellent People” by Anton Chekhov

ONCE upon a time there lived in Moscow a man called Vladimir Semyonitch Liadovsky. He took his degree at the university in the faculty of law and had a post on the board of management of some railway; but if you had asked him what his work was, he would look candidly and openly at you with his large bright eyes through his gold pincenez, and would answer in a soft, velvety, lisping baritone:

“My work is literature.”

After completing his course at the university, Vladimir Semyonitch had had a paragraph of theatrical criticism accepted by a newspaper. From this paragraph he passed on to reviewing, and a year later he had advanced to writing a weekly article on literary matters for the same paper. But it does not follow from these facts that he was an amateur, that his literary work was of an ephemeral, haphazard character. Whenever I saw his neat spare figure, his high forehead and long mane of hair, when I listened to his speeches, it always seemed to me that his writing, quite apart from what and how he wrote, was something organically part of him, like the beating of his heart, and that his whole literary programme must have been an integral part of his brain while he was a baby in his mother’s womb. Even in his walk, his gestures, his manner of shaking off the ash from his cigarette, I could read this whole programme from A to Z, with all its claptrap, dulness, and honourable sentiments. He was a literary man all over when with an inspired face he laid a wreath on the coffin of some celebrity, or with a grave and solemn face collected signatures for some address; his passion for making the acquaintance of distinguished literary men, his faculty for finding talent even where it was absent, his perpetual enthusiasm, his pulse that went at one hundred and twenty a minute, his ignorance of life, the genuinely feminine flutter with which he threw himself into concerts and literary evenings for the benefit of destitute students, the way in which he gravitated towards the young—all this would have created for him the reputation of a writer even if he had not written his articles.

He was one of those writers to whom phrases like, “We are but few,” or “What would life be without strife? Forward!” were pre-eminently becoming, though he never strove with any one and never did go forward. It did not even sound mawkish when he fell to discoursing of ideals. Every anniversary of the university, on St. Tatiana’s Day, he got drunk, chanted Gaudeamus out of tune, and his beaming and perspiring countenance seemed to say: “See, I’m drunk; I’m keeping it up!” But even that suited him. Continue reading ““Excellent People” — Anton Chekhov”

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André Maurois’s Climates (Book Acquired, 12.11.2012)

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This one looks pretty cool—André Maurois’s 1928 novel Climates. Here’s publisher Other Press’s blurb:

Written in 1928 by French biographer and novelist Andre Maurois, Climates became a best seller in France and all over Europe. The first 100,000 copies printed of its Russian translation sold out the day they appeared in Moscow bookstores. This magnificently written novel about a double conjugal failure is imbued with subtle yet profound psychological insights of a caliber that arguably rivals Tolstoy’s. Here Phillipe Marcenat, an erudite yet conventional industrialist from central France, falls madly in love with and marries the beautiful but unreliable Odile despite his family’s disapproval. Soon, Phillipe’s possessiveness and jealousy drive her away. Brokenhearted, Phillipe then marries the devoted and sincere Isabelle and promptly inflicts on his new wife the very same woes he endured at the hands of Odile. But Isabelle’s integrity and determination to save her marriage adds yet another dimension to this extraordinary work on the dynamics and vicissitudes of love.

I haven’t had time to dip into Climates yet, but it got a compelling write-up in The New Yorker last month. Excerpt:

At first sight, “Climates” is a simple fable. It tells of Philippe Marcenat, the heir to a provincial paper-mill business, who falls in love with the woman of his dreams, Odile Malet. He loses her, but is later loved in turn by Isabelle de Cheverny, a woman not of his dreams at all, although he tries (“Vertigo”-ishly) to make her so. We follow first Philippe and then Isabelle as they reflect on their love. There is a happy ending of sorts, though not for Philippe. Maurois has summarized his first vision of the story, in its bare-bones form, as:

Part 1. I love, and am not loved.

Part 2. I am loved, and do not love.

Put that way, it sounds like a perfectly balanced diptych. In fact, it is neither balanced nor anywhere near simple. Each of these four “love” and “non-love” elements conceals some complication, something moving at cross-purposes to it. Beneath what seems to be love, there lurks tyranny or submission, or a mixture of both. Beneath what seems to be non-love, there is… it’s hard to say what, but something indefinable that looks very much like love.

Read more: http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/books/2012/11/the-two-loves-of-andre-maurois.html#ixzz2FKDinsNq

 

May Day? Labour Day? Loyalty Day?

The following is excerpted from one of our favorite freely-found books, Alice van Straalen’s The Book of Holidays Around the World:

May Day: Worldwide —  In a festival that lasted from April 28 to May 3, the Romans offered flowers to Flora, their goddess of spring. They brought the custom to all the European lands they conquered; and by the Middle Ages it became especially popular in England. People rose early in the morning to “bring in the May.” They gathered flowers and tree branches to decorate their homes and later went to the town square where the maypole–often over 100 feet tall–was raised, and a woman representing the May Queen presided over the celebrations. Dancers held the streamers that fell from the top of the pole and, as they circled around it, wove them into tight patterns. When they changed directions the streamers untangled again and blew free, a tradition that some towns in England and America have continued. In 1889 the Second Internationale, an association of French socialists, dedicated May Day to working people, and today in many countries it is celebrated as a labor day. The Soviet Union marks the day with a military parade in Moscow.

Soviet Union…yeah, the bookover 25 years old…

Workers of the World Unite -- Rockwell Kent
Workers of the World Unite -- Rockwell Kent

But don’t worry, God-fearing Americans! It turns out that, in order to reclaim May Day from pinkos and anarchists, the U.S. government declared May 1st “Loyalty Day.” From 36 US Code §115:

(a) Designation.— May 1 is Loyalty Day.

(b) Purpose.— Loyalty Day is a special day for the reaffirmation of loyalty to the United States and for the recognition of the heritage of American freedom.

(c) Proclamation.— The President is requested to issue a proclamation—

(1) calling on United States Government officials to display the flag of the United States on all Government buildings on Loyalty Day; and
(2) inviting the people of the United States to observe Loyalty Day with appropriate ceremonies in schools and other suitable places.

Loyalty Day? Okay, sure, why not? But are the two perspectives on this ancient festival–the concept of workers standing up for the right to control the means of production, etc., and the idea of being loyal to America–are they so different?

Flag -- Jasper Johns
Flag -- Jasper Johns