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Wednesday Fatal and Non-Fatal Attractions

What I've Finished Reading

Black Sun: The Brief Transit and Violent Eclipse of Harry Crosby by Geoffery Wolff. Large and sympathetic but not too fulsome biography of a dismally prudish sybarite and one-man death cult who also managed to publish some important authors in the 1920s before shooting himself and a girlfriend in a hotel room. Nothing amazing, but full of interesting details if you're into those Lost Generation guys. Harry is something of an outsider: very rich, not overwhelmingly gifted, tiresomely obsessed with a complicated personal mythology - but he goes to a lot of parties and makes some friends and makes some nice-looking books.

And Herself Surprised. Sara gets to the end of this short book without ever feeling sure she knows herself, though she tries to be as frank as possible. As a very young woman working as a servant, she marries the older son of her employer, largely because she feels sorry for him, and later takes up with Gulley with mixed results. It’s very good! Unfortunately the edition I have is falling apart – it’s a paperback that seems to have fallen into a puddle or a bath at some point in its life, and mold is growing in the wrinkled bottom edge. But I’ll be keeping an eye out for a new (used) copy at the used bookstores, because it’s a keeper.

What I'm Reading Now

Eugene Onegin by Alexander Pushkin (translated)

One of the drawbacks of trying to have honest reactions to books in public is that honesty can get pretty repetitive. In my heart, I have this hope that if I go on writing non-critical reactions for long enough, eventually an embryonic critical ability will begin to develop. Any random forty-second glance at Goodreads should be enough to strip me of this notion, but I live in hope as I live in ignorance. Anyway, it hasn't come to pass, and in the meantime, I end up saying a lot of the same things over and over. Notably: “Hey, guys! You know that famous proverbially influential thing that everyone learned about in school? SURPRISE, IT’S AMAZING. Who knew??”

Everyone knew! Everyone but me. But here I am again, to tell you the exciting news about Eugene Onegin, a wry and hilarious "novel in verse," completed in 1830, in which practically every stanza is a witty precis of some future novel.

But there’s no need that I dissemble
His illness – name it how you choose,
The English spleen it may resemble,
‘Twas in a word the Russian blues,
He spared us, true, one piece of folly;
Although he grew more melancholy,
Was bored with everything he tried,
He did stop short of suicide.
Soft glance, nor welcome sweetly caroled,
Nor cards, nor gossip, chased his gloom;
He’d stroll into the drawing-room
Surly and languid as Childe Harold.
A wanton sigh was not worth mention:
Nothing attracted his attention.

I have already been told several times that Onegin can’t be translated and it’s useless to try! This is probably true. From my standpoint of ignorance, though, this translation (by Babette Deutsch) is not just readable, but delightful in its own right, even if I’m missing 98% of what makes Onegin great and am now doomed to misunderstand Pushkin, and by extension all of Russian literature, forever. I hope it’s not quite that bad – but if it is, at least I had a good time.

What I Plan to Read Next

I don't know! I'm out of town for work and a little off-kilter when it comes to time, so I might just try to focus on Shirley.

Comments

( 1 comment — Leave a comment )
egelantier
Jun. 22nd, 2017 09:47 am (UTC)
hah, there are academic volumes upon volumes upon volumes, in russian, trying to Explain All about eugeny onegin, because it's deceptively simple but relies heavily on historical/societal context (or, to put it simple, is 85% based on memes/injokes/common knowledge of pushkin's day that we don't know about). what is eugeny onegin? We Just Don't Know.

this said, pushkin had more or less singlehandedly invented modern russian language as we know it, in a country where french was the default option for posh and literary. he's, indeed, Our All.
( 1 comment — Leave a comment )

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