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Thursday, 18 December 2014

THINK ABOUT IT #1: Rollo May


The old myths and symbols by which we oriented ourselves are gone, anxiety is rampant; we cling to each other and try to persuade ourselves that what we feel is love; we do not will because we are afraid that if we choose one thing or one person we'll lose the other, and we are too insecure to take that chance.  The bottom then drops out of the conjunctive emotions and processes - of which love and will are the two foremost examples.  The individual is forced to turn inward; he becomes obsessed with the new form of the problem of identity, namely, Even-if-I-know-who-I am, I-have-no-significance.  I am unable to influence others.  The next step is apathy.  And the step following that is violence.  For no human being can accept the perpetually numbing experience of his own powerlessness.

Love and Will (1969)



Click HERE to read a short introduction to the theory and practice of Existential Psychotherapy.  To watch a short YouTube video (10 minutes) that explains the work of US Existential Psychotherapist ROLLO MAY, please click HERE.


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ALBERT CAMUS La chute [The Fall] (1956)
POET OF THE MONTH #7: Esther Granek 
WRITERS ON WRITING #57: Richard Yates
 

Thursday, 11 December 2014

WRITERS ON WRITING #58: Bret Easton Ellis


Well, I start with a rough outline, an experimental, very free-form first draft that’s based on everything I want to include in the novel but that I also know won’t make it into the final draft.  And in that first draft there are exercises, samples of how I imagine the narrator might speak if describing something.  I ask questions like, 'Can I use metaphors with this narrator? Will he be able to see something as something else?  No, Patrick Bateman won’t be able to do that.  Everything is all surface for him.'  There’s a scene early in Imperial Bedrooms where Clay takes an actress out to lunch.  The actress has auditioned for the movie Clay has written...They have lunch at this restaurant that I like to go to on Melrose.  There’s a really beautiful silver wall in this restaurant, and depending on what time of day you’re eating there, the sunlight falls on it and creates these patterns and shapes.  In my draft, Clay talked about the silver wall before turning his attention to the actress at hand.  I loved the language I used.  I loved how cool the description of the wall was, the subtle way the light kept changing it.  They were my favorite five lines in the book.  But I knew, after I wrote it, that it couldn’t go in the book.  It wasn’t Clay.  Clay was never going to notice the silver wall, and Clay was never going to talk about the silver wall.  The purpose of the scene is for him to concentrate on the actress, which is what he wants to do, and this silver wall is just the writer jerking off.


The Art of Fiction #216  [The Paris Review #200, Spring 2012]



Click HERE to read the full BRET EASTON ELLIS interview by JON-JON GOULIAN posted in the online archive of The Paris Review.  You can also click HERE to visit the official website of BRET EASTON ELLIS.

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WRITERS ON WRITING #55: Julian Barnes
WRITERS ON WRITING #45: Amy Hempel
WRITERS ON WRITING #33: Tama Janowitz 

Thursday, 4 December 2014

HENRY HANDEL RICHARDSON The Fortunes of Richard Mahony (1917-1929)



 
Penguin Books UK, c. 1992



But a fig for what people thought of him!  Once away from here he would, he thanked God, never see any of them again.  No, it was Mary who was the real stumbling-block, the opponent he most feared.  Had he been less attached to her, the thing would have been easier; as it was, he shrank from hurting her.  And hurt and confuse her he must.  He knew Mary as well - nay, better than he knew his own unreckonable self.  For Mary was not a creature of moods, did not change her mental envelope a dozen times a day.  And just his precise knowledge of her told him that he would never get her to see eye to eye with him.  Her clear, serene outlook was attuned to the plain and the practical; she would discover a thousand drawbacks to his scheme, but nary a one of the incorporeal benefits he dreamed of reaping from it.  There was his handling of money for one thing: she had come, he was aware, to regard him as incurably extravagant; and it would be no easy task to convince her that he could learn again to fit his expenses to a light purse.  She had a woman's instinctive distrust, too, of leaving the beaten track.  Another point made him still more dubious.  Mary's whole heart and happiness were bound up in this place where she had spent the flower-years of her life: who knew if she would thrive as well on other soil?  He found it intolerable to think that she might have to pay for his want of stability.--Yes, reduced to essentials, it came to mean the pitting of one soul's welfare against that of another; was a toss-up between his happiness and hers.  One of them would have to yield.  Who would suffer more by doing so - he or she?  He believed that a sacrifice on his part would make the wreck of his life complete.  On hers - well, thanks to her doughty habit of finding good everywhere, there was a chance of her coming out unscathed.

from Australia Felix (1917)




The Book:  Does a man temperamentally disinclined to seek the favour of those he deems to be his intellectual and social inferiors, who deliberately sets himself apart from his fellow men, refusing to heed any counsel but his own, have the right to make his wife continuously pay for his own lack of judgement and foresight?  Can this man, whose career as a physician is entirely dependent on his ability to obtain and maintain the good opinion of his patients, remain true to his lofty vision of himself and still hope to succeed in a restrictive colonial society where everybody knows everybody else's business and automatically condemns those who, by either accident or design, violate what are held to be its inviolable social norms?  Can such a man ever truly feel contented with what he has, what he does or where he lives?  Or is he perpetually doomed to strive to obtain the unobtainable, to realize a dream of happiness-as-undisturbed-solitude which is as chimerical as it is misguided if not unconsciously self-harming?
 

These are just some of the questions asked by Henry Handel Richardson - the nom de plume of Australian-born author Ethel Florence Richardson - in her three part sequence of historical novels Australia Felix (1917), The Way Home (1925) and Ultima Thule (1929), published in one volume as The Fortunes of Richard Mahony by the English firm of Heinemann and Company in 1930.  Reissued in 2012 in a newly-annotated edition by Melbourne publisher Text Classics, Richardson's longest and arguably greatest work remains a damning evocation of colonial Australia and a penetrating psychological study of a marriage which, despite the love which engenders it and the strong sense of loyalty which both drives and sustains it, remains at best a compromise which leaves neither party satisfied nor any wiser in terms of understanding their partner's inscrutable personality.

Australia Felix opens in the gold rush of 1851, an event which brought men and women of every type and character flooding into what was then known as the Colony of Victoria.  Many made the journey seeking to escape the overcrowded slums of London, Dublin, Peking and the Continent, while others arrived with the idea of ending the genteel poverty of their formerly well-to-do families who, due to bad management or bad luck or a disastrous combination of both, had fallen on hard financial times.  Most, of course, failed to find the gold they'd been duped by the English press into believing would be waiting for them under every stone and shrub.  What they found in Australia were crude, hastily improvised mining towns like Ballarat, pockmarked with the shafts of dozens of played out or recently abandoned mines, where the only certainties were mud, fatal and near-fatal accidents and a life of hard, unrelenting and, for the vast majority of them, unrewarding toil.

Richard Townshend-Mahony is one of these gold rush immigrants, a doctor of Anglo-Irish descent who impulsively abandoned his yet-to-be established medical career to seek his fortune in the antipodes.  Mahony is also one of the genteel poor, a cultured and erudite individual who soon swaps the grubby life of the 'digger' for the slightly easier if only marginally more prosperous life of the goldfield shopkeeper.  He hates Australia, finding its barren brown landscape ugly, its climate unforgiving and the company of his fellow diggers vexing to say the least.  His only goal is to earn enough to pay his way 'home' to England - a place he began to idealize almost the same moment he left it, forgetting how eager he'd been to bid farewell to its lack of opportunity, his uncommunicative mother and his taciturn sisters.

Angus & Robertson Limited Australia, 1983
Mahony's life on the diggings is enlivened only by the companionship of his boyhood chum Purdy Smith - another unlucky prospector who, unlike him, is blessed with more than his share of personal charm and the social gifts required to make the most of it.  Purdy also has a way with the fairer sex, especially with a young lady by the name of Tilly Beamish whose parents run a hotel in the far-off seaside resort town of Geelong.  Tilly and her sister Jinny - easygoing girls who are 'always on for a lark' as Purdy happily describes them - share their home and bedroom with a sixteen year old companion-cum-servant nicknamed Polly who's been thrust upon the Beamish clan by her brother John Turnham, another former immigrant who's now an up-and-coming businessman in Melbourne, the colony's rapidly growing capital.  Mahony, curious to meet Purdy's longtime sweetheart, finds himself smitten with the shy demure Polly (whose real name, it turns out, is Mary) and, a few weeks and several carefully worded letters later, takes the bold step of returning to Geelong to propose to her.  Mary accepts his proposal and, after gaining the permission of the wealthy and initially disapproving John, Mahony marries her and takes her 'home' to Ballarat with him - setting in motion a train of events which will see them rise to the uppermost heights of colonial society, only to see them forced to start from the bottom again after their stockbroker unexpectedly runs off to America taking nearly all their money with him. 

It's Mary - pretty, slightly-built, highly competent and always anxious to make the right impression on people - who dominates her husband's life, first as a source of inspiration (she's the one who persuades him, out of sheer financial necessity, to face facts and start practicing medicine again) and later as his sometimes self-confessed antagonist, serving as a solid 'sensible' barrier between him and the implementation of his latest ill-considered scheme to attain his personal nirvana - which consists, in his case, of a quiet, out of the way place where he can devote himself to reading his way through the latest works of science, religion and philosophy while knocking out the odd essay or journal article 'on the side.'  For much of the time, Mary patiently resigns herself to playing the role of the dutiful and obedient wife, humouring her husband's whims and following him back to the small English village of Buddlecombe where, as she rightly predicted, he finds the weather atrocious, patients unforthcoming and ready money extremely hard to come by.  In the end she has no choice but to consent to his plan to return to Australia where, thanks to an unsuspected windfall in the form of some suddenly valuable mining shares and her skills as a hostess and a born social networker, they soon regain the wealth and position that Mahony's idealized longing for 'the old country' so capriciously deprived them of.

Much of The Way Home, the second volume of the trilogy, is taken up with Mahony's adjustment to his new life as a gentleman of leisure and Mary's struggle to establish them in their newly-built home, dubbed 'Ultima Thule,' in the Melbourne suburb of Carlton.  Their lives are complicated by the appearance of guests like Mary's garrulous sister Sarah, whose insistence on being called 'Zara' threatens to drive the pretention-despising Mahony round the bend, and old friends like Tilly, newly married to the aged father of Henry Ocock, their shrewd and wily lawyer.  (It was Henry Ocock who persuaded Mahony to buy the shares which eventually made him rich.)  Life is further complicated by the arrival of a 'late' child named Cuthbert, known as 'Cuffy' to his doting if often distracted parents, and twin daughters, Lallie and Lucie, affectionately known as 'The Dumplings' due to their chubbiness and endearing if as yet unformed personalities.  

But the arrival of his children does not make Mahony any less restless or any less prone to the fancies he now possesses the wealth and time to indulge whenever he feels the urge to do so.  Soon growing bored of his settled new life, he decides to take his young family to Europe so they can take in the sights and be exposed to the art and culture so patently lacking in a 'young country' like Australia.  It's while they're visiting Venice - a city which, unlike most of the other European cities they've visited, seems to suit the fastidious and perpetually dissatisfied doctor to a tee - that they receive the news that their stockbroker has absconded to America, taking the bulk of what they possess in cash and securities with him.  Mahony puts aside his shock and disbelief and returns immediately to Melbourne, only to find the situation awaiting him there even bleaker than anticipated.  'He was a ruined man; and at the age of forty-nine, with a wife and children dependent on him, must needs start life over again.'

This he is thankfully able to do with the loyal, uncomplaining support of Mary who, as usual, throws herself heart and soul into the task of making them a new home in the 'pretty little suburb of Hawthorn.'  It is here that Mahony hopes to restore his fortune by practicing medicine again - a plan contingent, as he's painfully aware, on his ability to attract and keep patients who are now spoilt for choice when it comes to seeking medical advice in the lively modern city that is the Victorian capital.  His age is another factor that works against him.  Visibly weakened by his financial setbacks and the associated stress-related illnesses these have provoked, Mahony finds himself becoming more cantankerous than ever, locking himself away from his family and friends in his ever-pressing quest to find at least a moment or two of the long-desired 'peace' he craves.  But this attitude doesn't pay the bills or help to clothe, feed and educate his family.  As one patient after another is lost and the prospect of finding new patients to replace them diminishes by the day, Mary is finally obliged to suggest that they start taking in boarders to help meet their expenses - a suggestion met with angry disapproval by her husband and one which gives rise to yet another wild scheme to take over what he's duped himself into believing will become a 'thriving' practice in the remote mining community of Barambogie.  He sets off, against Mary's not very strenuous objections, to look the place over and decide if they can make a new life here for themselves or not.

Mahony's decision to remove Mary and the children from the familiar world of Melbourne and the company of their friends proves to be his financial, social and psychological undoing.  His expectations, after he takes the irrevocable steps of buying the practice and bringing his loved ones to Barambogie, turn out to have been as groundless as ever, based on little more than wishful thinking and the exaggerations of the incumbent physician who wished to offload the practice on to anyone gullible enough to make an offer for it.  The townsfolk who should be his loyal and grateful patients dislike the proud Dr Mahony and he soon earns himself a reputation as the local eccentric, ready to scold when he should heal, criticize where his cause would be much better served by demonstrating a little kindness and compassion.  The work and the vast distances he must cover each day to do it, combined with the inability of most of his patients to pay his far from outrageous fees, soon take their toll on his already frazzled nerves - a situation made no easier by the close proximity of a factory to his newly-rented home and the serious illness and unpreventable death of his daughter Lallie.  The surviving children are devastated and so is the grief-stricken Mary, who nevertheless seizes the opportunity to spend the hottest part of the summer in Geelong with her old friend Tilly, recently widowed and feeling rather lonely.  (Tilly later marries her childhood sweetheart Purdy who, after decades of failure, becomes a rich man overnight thanks to what she inherited following the death of her first husband.)  

Mary's abandonment of the physically and emotionally drained Mahony - temporary though it is and also necessary to protect the health of her two surviving children - sees him sink ever deeper into eccentricity with what, in the end, are calamitous if not entirely unforeseen results.  Exhausted and depressed, fretting constantly about money and Mary's ongoing absence, he fails to set a broken leg properly, resulting in the threat of legal action from the injured party and the loss of his reputation as a reliable physician.  When Mary returns to Barambogie she finds him a nearly shattered man, a mere shadow of the once-proud doctor she married as a girl and has stood by so loyally - and sometimes so inexplicably - for so many years.  There is, of course, no question of them staying in the despised town that has all but broken Mahony's spirit and stolen their beloved Lallie away from them.  A new situation must be found and it must be found immediately.

Once again, the Mahonys are on the move, this time to the small seaside village of Shortlands where it's hoped the air will revive the all-but-moribund Richard and allow him to reestablish himself as the sort of physician in whom his patients - Melbourne-based tourists for the most part, who make the trip across Port Philip Bay to enjoy the breezes during the hottest days of summer - might legitimately place their trust.  But the tourists, so long expected and so eagerly counted upon as the family's saviours, don't come - at least not in sufficient numbers for the town's new doctor to make any kind of steady living from treating them.  Mahony also begins to suffer from dizzy spells which leave him feeling enervated and disoriented - so much so that he becomes a figure of fun to most people, a kind of stooped-over scarecrow who stalks the bluffs gesticulating and muttering to himself, embarrassing his son and daughter each time they're forced by an increasingly alarmed Mary to accompany him to ensure he 'behaves himself' in public.  His father's eccentric behaviour - which now includes many a hateful outburst hurled unthinkingly at the anxious and understandably impatient Mary - becomes an intense source of shame for the sensitive and self-conscious Cuffy, who fears that his parents' inability to pay their debts will see them both sent to prison some day.  But what happens is, in fact, much worse than that.  Returning home from the local sea baths, where she's left her children to enjoy themselves in the water, Mary is met by her servant girl, who hysterically informs her that 'the doctor's bin [sic] and lighted a fire on the surgery table!  He's burning the house down!'

The Text Publishing Company, 2012
Thus begins the saddest part of Richard Mahony's long and tragic story.  Diagnosed as being incurably mad by both the local doctor he replaced and a prominent Melbourne psychiatrist, he's placed in a Benevolent Asylum where, in his own room and treated with understanding rather than scorn, his condition gradually improves.  But his departure - strongly resisted by Mary even though she knows he must live in quiet, well-supervised surroundings to stand any chance of making even a partial recovery - leaves her alone for the first time since their marriage as well as virtually penniless, obliging her to train as a postmistress and eventually accept a job as one in Gymgurra, another remote bush town located some two hundred miles northwest of the city.  This job, which forces everyone in the family to abandon the idea that some 'miracle' will occur and magically restore their long-lost fortune, allows Mary to earn enough to pay for what she thinks, mistakenly, is a private room in the asylum where her 'dear, dear Richard' is supposedly being cared for and treated like the gentleman he is.  But a visit to said institution, undertaken as a surprise for her husband and at great personal expense, reveals that Mahony has been admitted to the general ward, where he's regularly manhandled and sometimes beaten by its warders.  Horrified to discover this and deeply ashamed of herself for abandoning him, Mary appeals to their former friend Henry Ocock to help her raise the funds needed to take her husband back to Gymgurra.  Ocock, mindful of the kindness Mary showed towards his alcoholic and long-dead second wife, helps her arrange for Mahony's discharge from the asylum and subsequent journey to what will become his new home.  Here, watched over by Mary and his two surviving children, Mahony lives out the remainder of his days in a state of calm if childlike dependence, gaining his first real taste of the peace and sense of well-being that's so consistently eluded him throughout his troubled life.  Everything he and Mary have been to each other, everything they've experienced and endured together, seems to be summed up in the final words the mad and crippled Mahony says to her on the night he finally dies - 'Dear wife!  Dear wife!'
 

The Fortunes of Richard Mahony is not easy or uplifting reading for a variety of reasons.  It's long, occasionally repetitive and filled with clichés of the sentimental nineteenth century variety, composed in a style that critic Brian Macfarlane, reviewing a scholarly reprint of it published in 2007, rightly suggested might possess the ability to 'stun a horse.'  But it's also a masterpiece that, as Macfarlane and other critics agree, can give books like Patrick White's Voss (1957) and Tim Winton's Cloudstreet (1991) a serious run for their money in the contest (pointless though such contests are) to be considered 'The Great Australian Novel.'  Its greatness - and it is a great work of art, there's no denying that despite its various flaws - lies in Richardson's excoriating honesty and her ability to make Richard and Mary sympathetic people while never attempting to disguise or minimize what are their obvious and all-too-human failings as individuals, as a couple and, perhaps more crucially, as parents.  While some of her other characterizations - those of Tilly and her Cockney paramour Purdy, for example - occasionally veer towards Dickensian pastiche, this is never the case with the doctor and his wife or, just as significantly, with their son Cuffy.  Cuffy's becomes an increasingly important voice as the trilogy progresses, throwing additional light on his father's behaviour and its unexpected and, from his point of view, ruinous consequences.  The boy is very much the son of his father - highly-strung and easily hurt, conscious of his family's encroaching poverty and all that losing its formerly exalted social position implies in terms of determining his future.  Sadly, Cuffy never comes to know his father except as a remote and isolated figure whose crankiness only serves to irritate, perplex and humiliate him. 

It's this unknowable quality - this inability to connect with his son, wife or anybody else in any true or even temporarily sustainable way - that epitomizes Mahony's tragedy and costs him the chance to regain his hastily abandoned comfort and happiness.  The phrase 'Physician, heal thyself!' would have made a perfect epigram for these novels because it's Mahony's chronic inability to examine his own behaviour with any kind of objective honesty - combined with his wife's unwillingness to upset him by confronting him with the truth about himself and his pursuit of the ever elusive 'better life' he has in mind for them - that makes them two of the most memorable, most realistically drawn characters in all of Australian literature.  Their story allows Richardson to create a vision of colonial Australia that's as fascinating as it is critical, a vision that becomes all the more powerful for being ruthlessly stripped of its thinly applied, never very convincing veneer of 'romance.'  There's nothing romantic about Richard Mahony and the shabby genteel world he so resentfully inhabits.  He strives to impress and conquer it, only to find himself misunderstood, abused and ultimately crushed by it.



HENRY HANDEL RICHARDSON, c. 1917







The Author:  'Henry Handel Richardson' was the pseudonym of Ethel Florence Lindesday Richardson, the daughter of a doctor, who was born in the Melbourne suburb of Fitzroy on 3 January 1870.  Like Richard Mahony, William Richardson came to Australia in 1852, hoping to make his fortune in its goldfields.  He too abandoned prospecting for shopkeeping, married a much younger woman and set himself up as a medical practitioner in Ballarat where, along with his wife Mary, he eventually became one of the city's most prominent and widely respected citizens.  Again like Mahony, he gained and lost a fortune, suffered a breakdown that saw him committed for a time to Melbourne's Yarra Bend Asylum, and died in the care of his wife in the remote town of Koroit where she'd taken the first of what would be several jobs as a government-employed postmistress.  William Richardson's eldest daughter - a sister, named Lilian, had followed Ethel into the world in 1871 - was nine years old at the time of his death, the cause of which is now believed to have been 'general paralysis of the insane,' a disease linked to the terminal stages of syphilis in which the patient suffers from severe vertigo, episodes of erratic and nonsensical behaviour and worsening dementia.  Despite this, Ethel Richardson's husband once declared that in drawing Richard Mahony's portrait his wife was 'really drawing her own.'

HENRY HANDEL RICHARDSON (rear right), 1885
Richardson was sent to the Protestant Ladies' College in Melbourne at the age of thirteen where it was soon discovered that she possessed a prodigious gift for music.  Convinced by her daughter's headmistress to allow young Ethel to study the piano 'properly'  abroad, the Richardsons set sail for Europe in 1888, with the girl successfully auditioning for and being accepted as a pupil at the Leipzig Conservatory one year later.  Intent on becoming a concert pianist, she studied in Germany for the next three years, only to abandon this ambition when she became engaged to the renowned Scottish philologist John George Robertson.  (Apparently she also loathed performing in public, a considerable drawback for a would-be virtuoso.)  She and Robertson were married in 1895 and spent the first years of their married life in Strasbourg where he'd obtained a teaching post at that city's university.  She read widely in English and European literature and began working on a novel while considering the prospect of becoming a translator.  The couple remained in Strasbourg until 1904, when JG Robertson - now the famous author of a work on philology - was offered a new teaching post at London University.  Although she and her husband continued to visit the Continent regularly until the outbreak of war in August 1914, England was to remain Richardson's home for the remainder of her life.  Apart from one brief fact-finding trip, undertaken in 1912 while she was gathering material for Australia Felix, she would never again return to or reside in the land of her birth.

Richardson found the transition to life in England difficult - she consistently viewed herself as a square peg unable to fit into a round hole and had done so since childhood - and, with limited social skills and a shy depressive temperament, devoted herself to her husband, her writing and a small circle of close but trusted friends with whom she travelled, swam, played tennis and discussed the latest works of spiritualism (a lifelong interest, just as it is of Richard Mahony's), psychical research and Freudian psychiatry.  Her debut novel Maurice Guest, set in Leipzig and dealing realistically and honestly with the taboo subject of male homosexuality, was published in 1908 and was well-received by the critics, as was her second novel The Getting of Wisdom, which appeared two years later and was based on her own unhappy experiences as an Australian schoolgirl.  She began working on Australia Felix in 1912, but the outbreak of World War One delayed its publication by five years.  By the time her next novel, The Way Home, was ready for publication in 1925 she and her husband had been sharing their London home for four years with a young woman named Olga Ronconi whom they'd first befriended in 1919.  

Australia Post postage stamp, 1975
Olga would become, at the request of JG Robertson, Richardson's permanent companion following his death in 1933, eventually moving with her from London to the English town of Fairlight (near Hastings) when Lüftwaffe bombing raids made it unsafe for them to continue living in the capital.  The 1929 appearance of Ultima Thule, the final volume of the Mahony saga, set the seal on Richardson's reputation as a writer of profound and inexorable power, winning her the gold medal from the Australian Literary Society and seeing her nominated for, but not winning, that year's Nobel Prize for Literature.  These honours, however, were no compensation for the loss of her husband and she struggled to write again following his death, producing only two more books - a story collection titled The End of a Childhood that appeared in 1934 and The Young Cosima, a poorly received final novel titled that appeared five years later - before her own death, from colon cancer, on 20 March 1946.  An incomplete and, in the estimation of some scholars, highly 'unreliable' memoir titled Myself When Young was published posthumously in 1948.



Click HERE to visit the website of THE HENRY HANDEL RICHARDSON SOCIETY, an Australian-based organization dedicated to promoting and preserving the author's works.  The latest edition of The Fortunes of Richard Mahony, published in April 2012 by The Text Publishing Company as part of its ongoing Australian Classics series, can be found by clicking HERE.  Free and legal copies of RICHARDSON's work are also available from the online eBOOK archive founded and maintained by THE UNIVERSITY OF ADELAIDE and can be obtained by clicking HERE .

The Getting of Wisdom, filmed in 1977 by Australian director BRUCE BERESFORD and starring SIGRID THORNTON, KERRY ARMSTRONG and BARRY HUMPHRIES, remains widely available on DVD in Australia and several other countries.


You might also enjoy:
GEORGE MEREDITH The Ordeal of Richard Feverel (1859)
LEONARD MERRICK The Actor-Manager (1898)
DAVID IRELAND The Glass Canoe (1976)

Thursday, 27 November 2014

WRITERS ON WRITING #57: Richard Yates


A popular writer, a writer who gains a broad and sustained contemporary audience, I guess, like any other writer wants to know he's good, and the bestseller lists and the talk shows and his annual income all repay whatever faith it was that sat him down in front of his typewriter in the first place.  But if he's a serious writer that's got to come second...Much more common, and I think the case is mine, [is when] the good work is its own reward and you share it with as many readers as you can and it stays alive, and has some hard-won clarity and richness, some distillation of human investment, that continues to claim some kind of permanent interest no matter what angles fashion may dispose new readers towards...My first book made a big, popular splash and that kind of success was intoxicating, and I was in the racket, in the race, but the down that followed it was miserable, and the real success has been a quieter, more solid kind of thing.  I know the book's good.  It's there.  It wins new readers.  That level is there to be reached, and I don't need a cheering crowd to tell me that it's worth it.  It would be nice to be the fashion, to be recognized for what I'm trying to do - in the sense that Mailer is, for instance - life would be easier in a lot of ways - but the price of doing something difficult and honest, something true, as April Wheeler learned, is doing it alone.

From the transcript of an interview given to DeWITT HENRY in July 1972, found in YATES' private papers after his death.



Click HERE to read more about novelist and short story writer RICHARD YATES at Best of Everything: The Richard Yates Archive.


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RICHARD YATES A Special Providence (1969)
GINA BERRIAULT The Son (1966)
WRITERS ON WRITING #24: Jerzy Kosinski 

Thursday, 20 November 2014

POET OF THE MONTH #22: Fay Zwicky



FAY ZWICKY, 2008





SOUP AND JELLY


'Feed Fred and sit with him
and mind he doesn’t walk about.
He falls. Tell him his ute is safe
back home. Thinks someone’s pinched it,
peers around the carpark all the time.
His family brought him in it and
he thinks it’s gone.
He was a farmer once...'


I take the tray.  The ice-cream’s almost
melted round the crumbled orange jelly
and the soup’s too hot.  I know
I’ll have to blow on it.


Hunched, trapped behind a tray,
he glances sideways, face as brown
and caverned as the land itself,
long thin lips droop ironic
at the corners, gaunt nose.
The blue and white pajamas cage
the restless rangy legs.
In and out they go, the feet
in cotton socks feeling for the ground.


'Are you a foreigner?'
'Not exactly.  Just a little sunburnt,'
and I put the jelly down.  I mustn’t feel
a thing: my smile has come unstuck.
I place a paper napkin on his lap.  He winces.

'You’re a foreigner all right,' he says.
'OK,' I say.  What’s one displacement more or less,
wishing I were a hearty flat-faced Fenian
with a perm and nothing doing in the belfry.
Someone like his mother.  Or a wife who
spared him the sorrow of himself.
Now he grabs the spoon.  'I’ll do it.'
'Right,' I say, 'You go ahead.  Just ask me
if you want some help.'  The tone’s not right.
I watch the trembling progress of the spoon
for what seems years, paralysed with pity
for his pride.


How does a dark-faced woman give a man called Fred
who cropped a farm and drove a battered ute
a meal of soup and jelly?


Outside the window, clouds are swelling
into growing darkness and there’s a man
hard on his knees planting something in the rain.




from Ask Me (1990)






The Poet:  Fay Zwicky (née Rosefield) was born in Melbourne on 4 July 1933, the daughter of fourth generation Australian-Jewish parents whose families had originally emigrated from Eastern Europe.  Already an accomplished pianist by the age of six, she began performing with her sisters in a chamber music group known as 'The Rosefield Trio' and continued to work as a concert performer for over a decade, in both her native Australia and overseas, after gaining her Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Melbourne in 1954.  

In 1972 she and her Dutch-born first husband Karl Zwicky re-located to Perth, where she became Senior Lecturer in American and Comparative Literature at the University of Western Australia - a post she retained until her retirement from academic life in 1987.  Her first book of poetry, Isaac Babel's Fiddle, appeared in 1975 and she went on to publish four more poetry collections between 1982 and 1999, including a 1993 retrospective volume titled Fay Zwicky: Poems 1970-1992.  In addition to her poetry she has also published many essays and, in 1983, the short story collection Hostages.  What she has declared will be her final book, the poetry collection Picnic: New Poems, was published by the Giramondo Press in 2006.

Zwicky has received numerous awards for her work, including The Kenneth Slessor Prize for Poetry, the Western Australian Premier's Book Award (which she has won three times), the New South Wales Premier's Literary Award, the Christopher Brennan Award of the Fellowship of Australian Writers and, in 2005, the Patrick White Award - an annual prize of $25,000 awarded to a writer who has made 'a significant but inadequately recognised contribution to Australian Literature.'  She was also named 'a State Living Treasure' by the Western Australian government in 2004, an honour she deemed, in her frank uncompromising way, to be 'most repulsive.'




Click HERE to read more poetry by FAY ZWICKY at The Poetry Foundation website.  To read a short article about her which originally appeared in the 12 November 2005 edition of the Melbourne newspaper The Age, please click HERE.


You might also enjoy:
POET OF THE MONTH #20: Anna Świrszczyńska
POET OF THE MONTH #21: Kingsley Amis
POET OF THE MONTH #7: Esther Granek

Thursday, 13 November 2014

LA CHANSON EST LA VIE #1: Claude Nougaro




CLAUDE NOUGARO, c. 1969








 Cécile ma fille
[To My Daughter Cécile]
CLAUDE NOUGARO
[Lyrics: C. Nougaro, Music: J. Datin]
Clip from French television, c. 1963
  



TO MY DAUGHTER CÉCILE


She wanted a child
Me, I didn't want one
But her arguments
Made it easy
To become a father 
To my daughter Cécile

When her belly was round
Feeling cheerful from your kicks
She said to me: 'Go on, celebrate,
It'll be a boy!'
And here you are
My daughter Cécile

And here you are
And I'm here with you
I'm thirty years old
And you're six months old
We're nose to nose
Our eyes locked together
Who's the most surprised?

Long before I had you
I had other girls
Playing heads or tails with my heart
I won from a brunette
I lost to a blonde
My daughter Cécile

And I know that soon
You too will have 
Ideas and affairs of your own
With words sweet as sweet can be
And hands grabbing at your stockings
My daughter Cécile 

Me, I'll wait up all night
I'll hear you come in without a sound
But in the morning I'll be the one to blush
In front of you, your eyes clearer than ever

Still we touch each other
Like I'm touching you now
My breath on your eyelids
My kiss on your mouth
In your sweet childlike sleep
My daughter Cécile

1963


 Translated by BR 





Le Chansonnier:  Claude Nougaro was born in the southern French city of Toulouse - a city he would later go on to immortalize in his 1967 chanson of the same name - on 9 September 1929.  His French father Pierre Nougaro was a well-respected opera singer while his Italian-born mother, Liette Tellini, was a noted piano teacher.  Despite this strong musical background, Nougaro himself never learned to play an instrument nor to read music.  Still, his lack of formal training did not prevent him from developing a lifelong admiration for the work of composers like Jules Massenet and Gabriel Fauré.

His 'real' musical training came in the form of the American jazz, blues and swing recordings he heard as a boy on Radio-Toulouse, with performers like Louis Armstrong, Bessie Smith and Glenn Miller becoming firm favorites as well as crucial influences on what would become his future singing style.  He was equally inspired by French chansonniers like Charles Trénet and Edith Piaf who, ironically, would help to launch his career as a songwriter when two of his poems, Méphisto and La Sentier de la guerre [The Path to War], were recorded by her in the early 1950s.  Before this could happen, Nougaro first had to fail his baccalauréat (the French equivalent of the American SAT exam, the British A-Level exam and the Australian HSC exam) and begin a career as a journalist, working first for Le Journal des curistes de Vichy, an in-house trade publication produced for those involved with prescribing and promoting the 'Vichy water cure,' and then for the French-based Algerian pied-noir newspaper L'Echo d'Alger.  

Nougaro's careers as journalist and fledgling poet/performer were interrupted by his national military service, which saw him inducted into the French Foreign Legion in 1949 and posted to the Moroccan city of Rabat for the next two years.  After returning to France he resumed his poetic activities and, from 1954, regularly recited his poems at the Montmartre cabaret Le Lapin Agile (once patronized by, among others, Henri Toulouse-Lautrec and the young Pablo Picasso) and several other Paris nightclubs.  During this period he began to work as a lyricist for other artists, with several of his songs being recorded not only by Piaf but also by other popular French singers of the day including Colette Renard, Marcel Amont, Philippe Clay and Richard Anthony.  Important friendships were also formed at this time with the Absurdist poet, novelist and playwright Jacques Audiberti and chansonnier Georges Brassens, who became his musical mentor.  

It seemed a natural progression to move from writing lyrics for others to eventually performing them himself, a move which, in 1958, saw him enter the studio to record his debut LP Il y avait une ville [There Is A City] - an interesting mixture of jazz motifs and chanson-inspired lyrics created with the help of future French songwriting legend Michel Legrand.  But it was not until Nougaro signed with the Philips label in 1962 and released the songs Une petite fille [A Little Girl] and Cécile ma fille [To My Daughter Cécile] that his music truly began to find an audience, his jazz and Bossa Nova influenced style making him the ideal performer for the coming decade and, as many have suggested, a pioneer of what's now come to be known as 'World Music.' 

Following a serious 1963 car accident which kept him out of concert halls and the recording studio for most of the year, Nougaro travelled to Brazil where, in addition to meeting and working with some of that country's finest musicians, he also found time to father a son.  (His daughter Cécile had been born in 1951 to his first wife Sylvie, a former waitress whom he'd met when both had been working at Le Lapin Agile.  His son was the product of a shortlived liaison with a Brazilian woman.)  His return to France saw him perform to sell-out crowds at iconic venues like L'Olympia and Le Théatre de la Ville in Paris while his music continued to be heavily influenced by the sound of modern jazz, featuring performances by renowned French organist Eddy Louiss, bassist Pierre Michelot and saxophonist Michel Portal as well as by visiting US superstars including Ornette Coleman.  The late 1960s saw Nougaro go from strength to strength as a performer, with albums like Petit Taureau [Little Bull, the nickname given to him by his recently-deceased friend Jacques Audiberti] and Une Soirée avec Claude Nougaro [An Evening with Claude Nougaro] topping the charts in France and selling respectably in many parts of Europe as well as South America.  

The late 1970s were less kind to Nougaro, with his second label Barclay ultimately choosing to drop him from its roster in 1985 - a move which caused him to sell his Paris home and relocate to New York where he recorded a successful 1987 'comeback' LP, Nougayork, for his new label WEA.  From 1993 until 1997 he won the awards for both Best Album and Best Artist at the Victoires de la musique, the French equivalent of the Grammy Awards.  In the 1990s, however, his health began to fail, with him entering hospital to undergo open heart surgery in 1995 - the first of several operations that would see his condition gradually deteriorate during the next nine years, forcing him to cancel concerts and finally abandon stage work altogether so his limited time and energy could be put to better use in the studio.  This allowed him to create what would prove to be his final and arguably best album, La Note Bleue [The Blue Note], in 2002-2003 - an album recorded for the US jazz label of the same name and one which featured him and others performing stunning new versions of some of his most memorable songs including Dansez sur moi [Dance With Me], Armstrong and, of course, his signature tune Toulouse (albeit in a new, completely instrumental arrangement).  Unfortunately he didn't live to see the October 2004 release of La Note Bleue and its subsequent storming of the French charts, having died of pancreatic cancer in March of that year.

Thankfully, the legacy of Claude Nougaro lives on.  Le Prix Claude Nougaro [The Claude Nougaro Prize] was established in 2007 in the Midi-Pyrénées, the région he was born in, to help nurture and encourage young talent while 2009 was declared L'année Nougaro [The Year of Nougaro] in honor of what would have been his eightieth birthday.  The July 2014 Bastille Day celebrations in his home city Toulouse were also the occasion of a public homage to him that was followed, two months later, by the erection of a statue of him in that city's Square de Gaulle.     




Click HERE to visit the website of CLAUDE NOUGARO (unfortunately available only in French).  To listen to more great music by CLAUDE NOUGARO, please click HERE. 

Special thanks to those who took the time to upload this music to YouTube.  Your efforts are appreciated by music lovers everywhere.





CÉCILE MA FILLE 


Elle voulait un enfant
Moi je n'en voulais pas
Mais il lui fut pourtant facile
Avec ses arguments
De te faire un papa
Cécile ma fille


Quand son ventre fut rond
En riant aux éclats
Elle me dit : " Allons, jubile
Ce sera un garçon "
Et te voilà
Cécile ma fille


Et te voilà
Et me voici moi
Moi j'ai trente ans
Toi six mois
On est nez à nez
Les yeux dans les yeux
Quel est le plus étonné des deux ?


Bien avant que je t'aie
Des filles j'en avais eu
Jouant mon coeur à face ou pile
De la brune gagnée
À la blonde perdue
Cécile ma fille


Et je sais que bientôt
Toi aussi tu auras
Des idées et puis des idylles
Des mots doux sur tes hauts
Et des mains sur tes bas
Cécile ma fille


Moi je t'attendrai toute la nuit
T'entendrai rentrer sans bruit
Mais au matin, c'est moi qui rougirai
Devant tes yeux plus clairs que jamais


Que toujours on te touche
Comme moi maintenant
Comme mon souffle sur tes cils
Mon baiser sur ta bouche
Dans ton sommeil d'enfant
Cécile ma fille.
1963 


Thursday, 6 November 2014

IVAN TURGENEV Fathers and Sons (1861)


 
Penguin Classics UK, 1975



'Ah, my dear friend, the way you express yourself!' Bazarov exclaimed.  'You see what I'm doing: there happened to be an empty space in my trunk, and I'm stuffing it with hay; it's the same with the trunk which is our life:  we fill it with anything that comes to hand rather than leave a void.  Don't be offended, please; you remember, no doubt, the opinion I have always held of Katerina Sergeyevna.  Some young ladies have the reputation of being intelligent because they can sigh cleverly; but your young lady can hold her own, and do it so well that she'll take you in hand also - well, and that's how it should be.'  He slammed the lid of the trunk and got up from the floor.  'And now, in parting, let me repeat...because there is no point deceiving ourselves - we are parting for good, and you know that yourself...you have acted sensibly:  you were not made for our bitter, harsh, lonely existence.  There's no audacity in you, no venom:  you've the fire and energy of youth but that's not enough for our business.  Your sort, the gentry, can never go farther than well-bred resignation or well-bred indignation, and that's futile.  The likes of you, for instance, won't stand up and fight - and yet you think yourselves fine fellows - but we insist on fighting.  Yes, that's the trouble!  Our dust would corrode your eyes, our mud would sully you, but in actual fact you aren't up to our level yet, you unconsciously admire yourself, you enjoy finding fault with yourself; but we've had enough of all that - give us fresh victims!  We must smash people!  You are a nice lad; but you're too soft, a good little liberal gentleman - eh volla-too*, as my father would say.'

Translated by ROSEMARY EDMONDS (1965)
[*et voilà tout = and that's all]




The Book:  The 'angry young man' has become such a stock figure in Western literature, beginning with Shakespeare's Hamlet and persisting into the modern era with characters like JD Salinger's Holden Caulfield (The Catcher in the Rye, 1951), John Osborne's Jimmy Porter (Look Back In Anger, 1956) and Chuck Palahniuk's Tyler Durden (Fight Club, 1996), that it can be easy to forget what a powerful impact he's had on the reading and playgoing public and, to a lesser extent, on society as a whole.  Every generation seems to require and reinvent its own specific version of this character - the lone embittered rebel who yearns to destroy the prevailing social order and establish a new society where ideas like honesty, equality and compassion will rule the day, replacing the inevitable hypocrisies, lies and compromises which, in democracies and dictatorships alike, so often combine to define the nebulous concept of 'government.' 

But the 'angry young man' has not only been a popular figure in the West.  He was equally popular in nineteenth century Russia, a vast feudal nation ruled by a tyrannical Czar who believed, as had his ancestors for centuries before him, that the only way to prevent revolution was to ruthlessly crush anyone who dared express even the slightest desire for social, political or economic change.  It was a time of extremists, of Nihilists and Anarchists, of cold-blooded revolutionaries determined to drag their virtually medieval nation - where an aristocrat's wealth was literally measured by the number of 'souls' (ie. serfs) he owned - into alignment with the more 'civilized beliefs' and 'scientific practices' of the West, by persuasion, agitation and acts of undiscriminating violence when necessary.  On the other side stood the conservatives and moderates, men for whom the idea of reform was abhorrent because, to their fretful minds, it violated the natural order of things and challenged their right to continue leading the graciously indolent lives they led on their vast, poorly-run estates courtesy of the unremitting labour of their serfs.  It's the conflict between these 'old' and 'new' orders, between the conservative patriarchs and their radicalized offspring, that serves as the backdrop to Ivan Turgenev's 1861 masterpiece Fathers and Sons - a novel many critics believe to be the greatest Russian novel ever written.

The story opens with Nikolai Petrovich Kirsanov, a middle-aged landowner and unsuccessful farmer, impatiently awaiting the homecoming of his son Arkady and his son's friend and mentor - the unsentimental medical student Yevgeny Vassilyich Bazarov - from the university in St Petersburg.  Arkady has recently graduated from this institution and his return to the family estate has been eagerly anticipated by his father and his Uncle Pavel for several anxious months.  But the arrival of Arkady and his guest, who soon reveals himself to be a Nihilist and an outspoken opponent of everything Nikolai Petrovich and the ultra-conservative Pavel value and respect, only serves to widen the gulf that's opened up between father and son since the latter's previous visit home.  Although Nikolai Petrovich and Arkady remain on friendly, even affectionate terms with each other, the former feels that he's now being replaced in his son's affections by Bazarov - a man of strong, forcefully expressed opinions whom the easily swayed, eager to please graduate quite clearly idolizes.  

Although Bazarov prides himself on being a Nihilist, even Nikolai Petrovich can admit that this doesn't automatically make his rival a completely untrustworthy or despicable figure.  His son's hero is intelligent, articulate and certainly has something of the common touch about him, making him a favourite of Nikolai Petrovich's recently freed (if still impoverished) serfs and of his pretty young de facto wife Fenichka, mother of his 'other' infant son Mitya.  (Arkady's mother has been dead for twelve years by this time.)  Bazarov believes in science, reform and progress - all the things, in short, that a so-called 'enlightened' Russian nobleman should believe in but which, in the case of Nikolai Petrovich and the aloof and disappointed Pavel, spell the beginning of the end of the leisurely if sterile life they've lived together since choosing to turn their backs on progress by deliberately 'burying themselves' in the country.

The young men manage to amuse themselves for a fortnight on the Kirsanov estate - eating, walking, hunting, gathering specimens of flora and fauna and, in Bazarov's case, attending to the various ailments of its few remaining serfs.  A sort of inter-generational truce prevails until Bazarov  quarrels with Pavel at dinner one night, accusing the older man of being an out of touch sentimentalist who, along with all his kind, remains woefully ignorant of what Russia and its suffering people require to make them truly free and happy.  Pavel is outraged by these claims, but Bazarov is unmoved by his arguments, just as he is by what he curtly dismisses as being Pavel's futile, self-justifying theorizing.  'Your vaunted sense of your own dignity has let you down,' Bazarov sneeringly informs the older man.  'I shall be prepared to agree with you...when you can show me a single institution of contemporary life, private or public, which does not call for absolute and ruthless repudiation.'  After this, he and Arkady bid farewell to the Kirsanov estate, leaving Nikolai Petrovich and his brother to lament over everything they and their class have been accused of condoning by this misanthropic member of the younger generation.  Grateful to be free again, the young men travel on to a nearby town where they're warmly received by Nikolai Petrovich's friend Kolyazin, the district's progressive-minded but ineffectual (and thoroughly despotic) Governor.  From here it's their intention to travel next to the home of Bazarov's parents, cash-strapped landowners who live on a much smaller estate located some sixty miles away.

Life as the guest of Kolyazin proves no more appealing to Bazarov than life as the guest of Arkady's kindhearted if unimaginative father had been.  To relieve the monotony, he allows Arkady to drag him to the home of an 'advanced woman' named Madame Kukshin who proceeds to bore him stiff with her talk of women's rights and her reverence for the writings of several well-meaning but politically irrelevant philosophers.  She does, however, invite him and his young protégé to a ball, where she introduces them to a beautiful widowed aristocrat named Anna Sergeyevna Odintsov - a woman, rumour has it, who gained her fortune by cynically seducing and marrying her much older, now dead husband.  Like her more garrulous acquaintance Madame Kukshin, Anna Sergeyevna finds herself both attracted to and repelled by the outspoken Bazarov, whose reputation for radicalism has preceded him even into this quiet rural corner of Russia.  Nevertheless, she invites him and Arkady to stay with her at her estate before they travel on together to the infinitely more humble home of Bazarov's parents.  The young men are curious about Anna Sergeyevna and happily accept her invitation, arriving at her estate to find themselves greeted by a pair of footmen in livery in the grand 'old-fashioned' style of Catherine the Great.  Their hostess appears half an hour later and introduces them to her shy but pretty younger sister Katerina, known to everyone as Katya, and to the cranky, doddery old aunt who shares their large, efficiently-run house with them.

Signet Classics US, date unspecified
Prolonged exposure to such a beautiful if emotionally distant woman soon sees Arkady and Bazarov both fall madly in love with her - the former in a calf-eyed, silently adoring fashion and the latter in a way which poses a direct threat to his firmly-held convictions about life and the despised concept of 'romance' on the most fundamental levels.  Bazarov finds himself resenting Anna Sergeyevna for making him so conscious of her loveliness, for distracting him from what he insists is his only 'true' vocation.  'Suddenly he would imagine those arms that were so chaste one day twining themselves round his neck, those proud lips responding to his kisses, those intelligent eyes gazing lovingly - yes, lovingly! - into his own; and his head would swirl and for a moment he would be lost in reverie, till indignation boiled up in him again.  He caught himself indulging in all sorts of "shameful" thoughts, as though as devil were mocking at him.  At times it seemed as though a change were taking place in Madame Odintsov too, that there were signs of something special in the expression of her face, that perhaps...But at that point he would generally stamp his feet or grind his teeth and shake his fist at himself.'  

Everything seems hopeless until Anna Sergeyevna invites Bazarov to visit her alone in her room one morning, ostensibly to discuss a scientific text he had previously recommended she should read.  Granted this unforeseen opportunity, the besotted medical student takes matters into his own hands and candidly declares his love for her, only to find his hostess unprepared, even flabbergasted, to be the recipient of such a passionately expressed declaration of his true feelings towards her.  Neither party is left satisfied by the conversation and Bazarov, feeling tormented and humiliated, resumes his interrupted journey to the home of his adoring parents, who have been expecting him all this time without realizing what's kept him dallying on the Odintsov estate so long.  Arkady, confused by his own recent discovery that it's the shy, piano-playing Katya, not their world-weary hostess, whom he actually adores, also decides to leave, intending to return to the Kirsanov estate until he changes his mind at the last minute and decides to accompany Bazarov to his parents' house after all.

Arkady finds his friend much changed during the journey to the obscure and rather forlorn little village his parents call home.  Although Bazarov has lost none of his cynicism, he now seems exhausted and disappointed, a sufferer from the very 'romanticism' he has, in the past, so vehemently rejected.  Naturally, Bazarov's aging parents are overjoyed to see their son, not having laid eyes on him for three years, and his mother can't stop showering him with kisses, alternating these embarrassing displays of affection with promises to dash off to the kitchen and make him something nice to eat that very moment should he wish her to do so.  Bazarov's father, an ex-Army surgeon named Vassily Ivanych (who served in the same regiment as Arkady's paternal grandfather during the Napoleonic wars), behaves in the same adoring fashion, the result of which is to embarrass and irritate his son to the point where the young man is forced to extract a promise from Vassily Ivanych that both he and his mother will strive to 'control themselves' for as long as he and Arkady remain their guests. 

Bazarov's visit, however, proves to be of much shorter duration than originally anticipated.  He soon grows restless in such depressingly familiar surroundings and declares his intention to depart again for the Kirsanov estate, where he hopes to rededicate himself to his long-suspended scientific and medical studies in undisturbed seclusion.  He and Arkady leave the following day, travelling only as far as the first town before Bazarov decides to take a detour that will permit them to pay an unexpected call on Anna Sergeyevna.  They return to her estate to find their hostess looking listless and distracted, full of apologies for her failure to behave as graciously towards them as a woman of her class is expected to behave.  The friends soon bid her farewell again, her invitation to revisit her estate when she's in a brighter frame of mind ringing a little hollow in their ears as their carriage rolls away.

Life in the home of Arkady's father soon re-assumes its former predictable routine.  Bazarov spends his days dissecting plants and animals and arguing politics and other contentious issues with the easily angered Pavel, while Arkady divides his time between mooning over Katya and discussing the estate's future with Nikolai Petrovich - someone, it's now obvious, who's aging rapidly and will soon be incapable of managing his land without the assistance of his son.  Aware that the uneducated but very pretty Fenichka finds him both dangerous and attractive, Bazarov attempts to overcome his unreturned feelings for Anna Sergeyevna by clandestinely kissing the girl in the estate's seldom visited lilac arbour early one morning.  Unfortunately, this scene is witnessed by Pavel, who later that day challenges Bazarov to a duel in order to defend what he feels to be the shamelessly besmirched honour of his brother.  Bazarov is more amused than frightened at the prospect of having to fight a pistol duel with Pavel and gamely accepts the older man's challenge, only to find himself being missed when it finally takes place, making it necessary that he wound Pavel in the thigh with his own unfired pistol in order that 'honour' should be satisfied.  

The wound is not a serious one and Pavel spends the next few weeks in bed recuperating from it, granting him the opportunity to speak privately to Fenichka about what's happened and ascertain if it's really Bazarov or his forgiving if rather dimwitted brother whom the girl loves.  After Fenichka declares her undying love for Nikolai Petrovich, Pavel recommends that his brother break with tradition and marry her immediately - something Nikolai Petrovich has secretly longed to do for years so as to legitimize his 'other' son and repay Fenichka for the years of pleasure and loyalty she has so unstintingly given him.

Bazarov, in the meantime, has left the Kirsanov estate and returned alone to the home of his parents - an event which allows the lovestruck Arkady to cease thinking of himself as his friend's protégé and at last take the steps required to become his own man.  Arkady soon pays another solo visit to the Odintsov estate, where he proposes to Katya, much to the delight of his father and, eventually, of Anna Sergeyevna, whose feelings for the absent Bazarov remain mixed to say the least.  Although she realizes that she loves Bazarov, Anna Sergeyevna remains too afraid of him - and of the personal and social challenges he personifies for her and those like her - to confess her feelings or make anything more of their relationship.  This, she feels, is a moot point anyway, as Bazarov himself made it abundantly clear, at the time of their last meeting, that he had no intention of making a fool of himself again by making any further effort to pursue her.  

Everyone seems to settle into their assigned roles until word reaches Anna Sergeyevna that Bazarov, who had been treating one of the local peasants for typhus, has become fatally infected with the disease and is being nursed in his final illness by his heartbroken parents.  Bazarov begs to see her one last time before his death and she kindly agrees to visit him, arriving with an eminent German physician who immediately confirms the patient's own diagnosis that his case is a hopeless one.  The dying man tells Anna Sergeyevna that he's never ceased to love her but that his love for her is useless to both of them now, something she should make herself forget as quickly as possible.  'Love is a form,' he tells her, 'and my particular form is already disintegrating.  Better let me say - how lovely you are!...Live long, that's best of all, and make the most of it while there's still time.'  He dies soon afterwards, the imprint of his beloved's lips still damp on his feverish forehead.

Many changes occur in the lives of Anna Sergeyevna and her friends during the ensuing months.  Winter finds Katya happily married to Arkady, whose father has been granted his fondest wish and is now just as happily married to Fenichka.  Pavel, fully recovered from his leg wound, has left the family estate and retired to the German city of Dresden, where he plans to live out the rest of his days in genteel if exceedingly dull seclusion, a barely living relic of a vanished era whom his fellow Russian emigrés consider to be a perfect gentleman if something of a long-winded, petty-minded bore.  Anna Sergeyevna has also remarried, her new husband a man considered to be one of the future leaders of Russia by his friends, an up and coming lawyer who is 'quite young still, kindhearted and cold as ice.'  It is only Bazarov's parents whose lives have taken a turn for the worse since the untimely demise of their son.  Deprived of their darling Yevgeny, they spend their days lamenting his loss and tending to his grave in the tiny, otherwise neglected village cemetery he's buried in, their adoration of him - despite his passion, his cynicism, his honest if rebellious heart - as strong and unconditionally unwavering as ever.

Russian edition, date unspecified
Fathers and Sons was a novel that stirred up considerable controversy, if not outrage, in its day, with conservatives condemning Turgenev for glamorizing Nihilism in what they saw as being his overly worshipful portrayal of Bazarov while the radicals took him to task for not going far enough in condemning Czarist oppression and the socially destructive impact it continued to have upon their countrymen.  Turgenev himself became a vilified figure, distrusted and attacked by critics on both sides of politics because - unlike his more fiery contemporaries Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky - he refused to view his work as propaganda, seeking only to reveal in it the situation in Russia as it actually was in all its seething, violent and often contradictory complexity.  The task of the novelist, as Turgenev saw it, was not to deliver sermons about what were the 'right' and 'wrong' ways to fix Russia's many grievous social problems but, rather, to show how these problems influenced the lives and emotions of ordinary people, problems that would not begin to be addressed - and then only after several more decades of unrelenting oppression and bitter political in-fighting - until the outbreak of the Bolshevik Revolution in October 1917 changed the political landscape of his homeland forever.  

Bazarov, who for most readers remains the book's most compelling character, has frequently been described as 'the first Bolshevik' - a description that, while accurate in one sense, ignores the crucial role that emotion plays in his story and what his attempts to deny and defy it ultimately cost him.  The scornful medical student is no bloodthirsty revolutionary, no ranting demagogue preaching Nihilism for its own sake.  Rather, he's a deeply divided human being torn between his sincere desire to see change occur - someone who freely acknowledges the sacrifices that such change will require of him in personal terms - and his equally strong desire to lead a productive and contented life that does not exclude friendship, marriage to a woman he adores and, in time, a family of his own.  I suspect that it was Bazarov's all too potent humanity, rather than what he and his 'type' represented and symbolized in socio-political terms, that raised the ire of Turgenev's many vociferous detractors, causing them to stop and consider the fact that people, not the ideas or the slogans they choose to shout in support of them, are what endure and ultimately matter in the end.  They clamoured for a one-dimensional black and white sketch and instead Turgenev gave them a meticulously detailed colour portrait, devastatingly realistic in its depiction of an unreconciled society and of everything that, in the very different world of pre-Soviet Russia, so tragically defined it.




IVAN TURGENEV, c. 1860
The Author:  'He felt and understood the opposite sides of life,' Henry James once wrote of his friend and fellow novelist Ivan Turgenev, 'our Anglo-Saxon, Protestant, moralistic conventional standards were far away from him...half the charm of conversation with him was that one breathed an air in which cant phrases...simply sounded ridiculous.'  What to James' finely tuned ear sounded like virtues - Turgenev's reticence and skepticism, his lifelong unwillingness to take sides, to pass binding judgements on people and issues that would subsequently have to be adhered to no matter what - struck others as being proof of his procrastinating nature and lack of moral fibre, a betrayal not only of himself but also of the ongoing struggle to free Russia from its long unhappy history of Czarist oppression.  Another friend, the poet Jacob Polonsky, writing to a reactionary minister two years prior to Turgenev's death in 1883, unflatteringly described the novelist as being 'kind and soft as wax...feminine...without character.'  These conflicting views of Turgenev are and remain, even today, entirely typical.  No one, it seems, can quite decide if he's somebody they should celebrate or deride, a writer whose work, while undeniably great, deserves to be praised for its candour or criticized for its author's failure to take a fully committed political and social stance in what were dangerous and exceedingly turbulent times.

Turgenev's ambivalence - or what some, friend and foe alike, chose to call his 'moral weakness' - can perhaps be best understood by examining the circumstances of his birth and childhood.  The writer's father was a cavalry officer who, legend has it, was physically prevented from leaving the estate of his future bride-to-be so he would literally have no choice but to stay where he was and marry her.  Colonel Turgenev was, by all accounts, a handsome and charming man who enjoyed the favours of literally dozens of women - qualities which made him doubly appealing to his allegedly 'ugly' bride, the heiress Varvara Petrovna Lutovinova, and also aided her transformation, in the words of critic Isaiah Berlin, into 'a strong-willed, hysterical, brutal, bitterly frustrated woman who loved her son, and broke his spirit.'  Even before their father's death, which occurred when Ivan was sixteen, it was Varvara Petrovna who ruled the lives of himself and his brother just as she oversaw every aspect of life on their family estate, Spasskoye-Lutovinovo, located near the Ukrainian city of Oryol some 350 kilometres from Moscow.  

As a child, Turgenev often saw his mother and other members of his family behave with unspeakable cruelty and even barbarity towards the serfs who worked their land for them.  One one occasion, he allegedly watched in horrified silence as his maternal grandmother smothered a young peasant boy with a cushion so as not to have to listen to him groan after she'd struck him to the ground in a fit of senseless rage.  The fact that his mother also beat himself and his brother regularly and, by all accounts, with great gusto (whether they'd done anything to rate a beating or not) was perhaps another reason for his later unwillingness to commit himself to radical or unpopular causes, no matter how noble or admirable their aims may have been.  As a victim of what would nowadays be considered prolonged and trauma-inducing child abuse, he probably learned at an early age that to protest or even express an opinion of his own was tantamount to inviting his mother to behave irrationally if not violently toward him.

Turgenev, his mother and his brother Nikolai left their estate in 1827 and moved to what, from that point onward, would be their new home in Moscow.  After completing his schooling, Turgenev spent a year studying at that city's university before transferring, in 1834, to the University of St Petersburg where he remained for the next three years, reading Classics, Russian Literature and Philosophy.  Although he published his first poems during his student years and had the chance to read History under professor (and novelist) Nikolai Gogol, he was dissatisfied with what he saw as being the inferior standard of education offered to men of his class in their native land and, in 1837, transferred again to the University of Berlin.  He returned to Russia in 1840 to complete his Master's Degree and in 1841 began what was to be his brief career as a civil servant - a career that ended for good with his resignation from the Ministry of the Interior in 1845 in order to pursue his 'gentlemanly' interests in literature, travel and hunting.  

PAULINE GARCIA VIARDOT, c. 1870
His retirement from public life also allowed Turgenev to pursue another interest - the Spanish-born opera singer and composer Pauline Garcia-Viardot whom he had first met in 1843.  Turgenev soon followed Madame Garcia-Viardot and her husband and children to Paris, renting an apartment close to where they lived so he could visit her every day.  He would never again live very far away from his heart's desire, accompanying her and her family on her concert tours of Europe and even sharing homes with them at various stages of what some believed to be a fully-fledged affair while others believed the relationship to be nothing more than an unconsummated (and strictly one-sided) infatuation.  Although he never married himself, Turgenev did have several affairs with women who worked on his family's estate and even fathered an illegitimate child by one of them - a girl named Pelageia who was later rechristened Paulinette and sent to Paris by her sempstress mother, at his request, to be raised alongside the Viardot offspring.

After 1862, when he left Russia for what proved to be the final time, Turgenev made his home permanently in Paris where his status as the 'family friend' of a famous opera singer gained him automatic entrée to the city's most fashionable salons and guaranteed his acceptance as one of their own by its most prestigious writers, publishers, artists and musicians.  The appearance, in 1852, of Sketches from a Sportsman's Album - a book of interrelated short stories which was one of the first literary works to offer readers a realistic depiction of the lives of Russian serfs - had been greeted as a masterpiece both in Paris and in its author's homeland, as had been his subsequent novels Rudin (1857), Home of the Gentry (1859) and On The Eve (1860).  Turgenev's clear, balanced, meticulously exact style of writing earned him the respect and friendship of many of France's leading literary figures, including Gustave Flaubert, George Sand, Edmond Goncourt and Guy de Maupassant.  His work also became increasingly popular in England and the United States, with friends and admirers like Henry James doing everything they could to ensure his works were translated and read shortly after they were published in French or, less and less frequently as time went on, in their original Russian.

It was, of course, in Russia that Turgenev received his greatest praise and found his staunchest critics.  The 1861 publication of Fathers and Sons proved, in many respects, to be the culmination of the Russian intelligentsia's love/hate relationship with his work and what he - a wealthy landowner who had fled to the West rather than join the fight to improve the lives of the serfs whose miserable lot he 'pretended' to feel so moved by - represented to it in political if not in literary terms.  The book was attacked by many radical critics for what they saw as being its lack of 'seriousness' and many of the writer's own friends, including his own editor, accused him of having made the controversial figure of Bazarov too attractive and sympathetic, a sort of literary rallying point for the young with whom, they insisted, he had always striven too hard to curry favour.  The controversy never really ended and Turgenev, despite many attempts to do so in letters sent to a wide variety of correspondents, never became fully reconciled with the energizing impact the character he'd created had come to have on Russian politics.  

IVAN TURGENEV, c. 1875
Not even his two greatest contemporaries, Tolstoy and Dostoevsky, could quite forgive Turgenev for what they separately dismissed as being his lack of backbone and conviction.  The publication of his next novel Smoke (1867) led to an open quarrel with Dostoevsky in Baden-Baden, the German resort town in which both writers happened to be living at the time.  Turgenev's relationship with Tolstoy, whom he was distantly related to and whom he had praised as a great writer long before Tolstoy had published any of his own masterpieces, was even less promising.  Although they had been friends of a sort in their youth, with Turgenev taking Tolstoy to Paris and showing him the sights and visiting him several times on his family estate Yasnaya Polyana, Tolstoy once challenged him to a duel and described him as 'a bore' whose attempts to show his children how to dance the can-can were, as he famously confided to his diary, 'sad.'  They didn't speak for seventeen years but this did not prevent Turgenev, on his death-bed, from pleading with his kinsman to stop playing the role of a religious visionary and 'return to literature.'

Like its predecessor, Smoke failed to win the approval of the Russian critics - a situation that repeated itself with virtually everything Turgenev published between 1867 and his death from spinal cancer - in the town of Bougival, just outside Paris, with Pauline Garcia-Viardot at his side - on 3 September 1883.  Although these later works - the novels The Torrents of Spring (1877) and Virgin Soil (1879) and shorter, elegaic works including King Lear of the Steppes (1870) - reveal a deepening of his artistic vision and, for their time, an uncannily perceptive interest in the role that memory and dreams play in defining human consciousness, they were generally not held to be the masterpieces they are until the early years of the twentieth century, when new translations by Constance Garnett and others began appearing in England, the USA and France.  The success of these translations, and his growing reputation as the equal if not the superior of Tolstoy and Dostoevsky, saw Turgenev become an important influence on a new generation of Modernist writers including Joseph Conrad, Virginia Woolf and the young Ernest Hemingway.



Click HERE to download free and legal eBOOK copies of many works by IVAN TURGENEV - including Fathers and Sons (listed under its alternative title Fathers and Children) - from Project Gutenberg in English, French, Russian and Finnish.


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