Tag Archives: Quotes

The difficulties of reading Russian novels in Ernesto Sabato’s The Tunnel

I’ve long since overcome my reluctance to read Russian novels, but I’ll admit that there was a time when they seemed impenetrable. At best, I’d have to draw up a list of characters in order to keep all the names straight–no easy task with those patronymics. Now I seem to have overcome these early difficulties. Was it just practice? The main point is that I identified and laughed at a section of Ernesto Sabato’s novel The Tunnel in which a few characters discuss this same issue. Since the narrator of The Tunnel reminds me of the narrator from Notes from Underground, it’s no coincidence the Russian novel mentioned was written by Dostoevsky.

In The Tunnel, the main character, painter Juan is in pursuit of Maria, the woman he’s obsessed with, and he travels to the country home of her cousin Hunter to find her. Here’s Hunter and Mimi Allende (“a skinny woman with a ridiculously long cigarette holder”) discussing art which leads to the subject of Russian novels. We start with Mimi and Hunter talking while the narrator listens:

After all to claim that one is original is really like pointing one’s fingers at the mediocrity of others–which to me seems in very doubtful taste. I am sure that if I painted or wrote, my art would never attract attention.

“I don’t doubt that,” Hunter said maliciously. “Then you would not want to write, let us say, The Brothers Karamazov.

“Quelle horreur!” Mimi exclaimed. She rolled her eyes heavenward, then completed her thought:

“To me, they are the nouveaux riches of the consciousness. Can you bear Russian novels?”

The last question, unexpectedly, was directed at me, but the woman did not wait for an answer; she rushed on, again speaking to Hunter:

“My dear, I have never been able to finish a Russian novel. They are so tiresome. I think there are thousands of characters, and in the end it turns out there are only four of five. Isn’t it maddening just when you begin to recognize a man called Alexandre, he’s called Sacha, and then Satchka, and later Sachenka, and suddenly something pretentious like Alexandre Alexandrovitch Bunine, and later simply Alexandre Alexandrovitch. The minute you get your bearings, they throw you off the track again. There’s no end to it; each character is a whole family in himself. Even you will agree that it is exhausting, even for you!”

Later there’s a discussion of mystery novels….

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Zweig on Casanova

“No real man, therefore, I repeat, can read Casanova’s memoirs in certain moods without feeling envious, without feeling himself to be a bungler as compared with this master of the art of life. Often–again and again and again–one would rather be Casanova than be Goethe, Michelangelo, or Balzac.”

I’m reading Stefan Zweig’s Casanova: A Study in Self-Portraiture, and I came across this quote today. Is it true, I wonder? My first response is to say I’d rather be Balzac. Balzac didn’t have a particularly easy life, and he died far too young, but those books….who wouldn’t want to be the author of La Comédie Humaine? Perhaps I’ll have a different opinion after I read Casanova’s memoirs….

 

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Quote-George Bernard Shaw

“I had no taste for what is called popular art, no respect for popular morality, no belief in popular religion, no admiration for popular heroics.” –

George Bernard Shaw

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Quote-H.G.Wells

“Most people seem to live ‘in character.’ They have a beginning, a middle and an end….. They have a class, they have a place, they know what is becoming in them and what is due to them.

But there is another kind of life. One gets hit by some unusual transverse force, jerked out of one’s stratum, and one lives crosswise for the rest of time.”

from Tono-Bungay by H.G. Wells

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Quote-Russell Banks

“Character is fate, which suggest that if a man can know and then to some degree control his character, he can know and to the same degree control his fate.”

Sarah Cole: A Type of Love Story from Success Stories by Russell Banks

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Quote-Samuel Johnson

“In the decline of life, shame and grief are of short duration; whether it be that we bear easily what we have borne long, or that finding ourselves in age less regarded, we less regard others; or that we look with slight regard upon afflictions, to which we know that the hand of death is about to put an end.”

from Rasselas by Samuel Johnson

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Quote-Samuel Butler

“I suppose that a prig with more money than brains was much the same sixty or seventy years ago as he is now.”

from The Way of All Flesh by Samuel Butler

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Quote-Samuel Johnson

“No form of government has yet been discovered by which cruelty can be wholly prevented. Subordination supposes power on one part and subjection on the other, and if power be in the hands of men, it will sometimes be abused.”

from Rasselas, Chapter 8 by Samuel Johnson.

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Quote-George Bernard Shaw

“Every despot must have one disloyal subject to keep him sane.”

George Bernard Shaw

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Quote-Samuel Johnson

“What cannot be repaired is not to be regretted.”

from Rasselas by Samuel Johnson

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