Essay On Happy And Unhappy Families

For instance, he disliked and dismissed Fyodor Dostoevsky, and while that Russian joins Nikolay Gogol in defeating me as a reader so far, Nabokov’s estimation of one of the world’s acknowledged great novelists seems petty and willfully obtuse.

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The wife would not leave her rooms, the husband was away for the third day.

The children were running all over the house as if lost; the English governess quarreled with the housekeeper and wrote a note to a friend, asking her to find her a new place; the cook had already left the premises the day before, at dinner-time; the kitchen-maid and coachman had given notice.

I’m struck too by how Tolstoy starts in long-distance mode, referring to “the wife” and “the husband,” but in the third paragraph he’s moving the camera closer; soon we’re right up in their nostrils.

I’ve always loved Tolstoy’s simple but elegant sentences, on full display here.

My brother, for his part, stayed behind and became, among other things, uncannily familiar with the paramedics he would have to telephone, alone, during the worst years, to report yet another apparent maternal suicide attempt. There were many, many moments of immense joy in the early years: moments mainly sutured in my memory to things like sun cream, ice cream, books, trees, pets, performances, mountain animals, Mc Donald’s, lakes, seasides, swimming pools, and sand statues (complete with seaweed pubic hair).

I remember the joy of constant drag and dressing-up, the ad-hoc “plays” my sibling and I, in costume, would inflict on passers-by: we, the manifestly queer and non-procreative polymorphs the universe saw fit to draw from the loins of a man uniquely anxious about his immortality via offspring.

For one, his analyses are full of very detailed plot descriptions, so must be read afterward.

For another, while I honor his literary artistry, I dislike Nabokov’s haughty aesthete persona. Yet I find my distaste for Nabokov’s persona frees me from awe and leaves room for disagreement with the master.

That’s harder with age, but it has been gratifying to feel myself excited by Tolstoy’s sentences and his magisterial yet compassionate vision of his characters.

Partly, I admit, I want to learn from and argue with cold-fish Nabokov about that warm mammal Tolstoy.


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