Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Ivan Bunin "Visiting cards"

The story by Ivan Bunin, a true master of words, has much to tell about love to our hearts. Like in Zweig's novel "24 hours in the life of a woman", in this short story things happen in a very short time.

The plot is simple - on a boat floating down the Volga a married woman meets a famous writer. After a few hours of communication both had a feeling of true love they were dreaming all their life and to which they were internally prepared. In a short time there was all that for some people lasts a lifetime. To emphasize time’s scantiness allotted to their love, author does not even name the characters; he only describes the rapidly growing feelings.

The heroes made a real jump to their dream, there was everything: love at first sight, shyness coupled with extreme courage, love climax.

The next morning they parted. He kissed her cold hand with love that is somewhere in the heart for a lifetime, and she, not looking back, ran down the gangplank into a rough crowd on the pier.

Monday, 24 September 2012

Stefan Zweig "Marie Antoinette"

Frederick the Great, the mortal enemy of Austria, lost his peace of mind, as Marie Antoinette, the daughter of his long-standing opponent, Maria Theresa, came to the French throne. Indeed, the danger was great for him. Marie Antoinette could have had all the threads of French diplomacy in her hands. “Now, thought Frederick the Great, Europe will be ruled by three women: Catherine the Great (Russian Empress), Maria Teresa (Austrian Empress and the mother of Marie Antoinette) and Marie Antoinette (French queen).” Interesting fact, is not it?

But Frederick need not have worried - Marie Antoinette did resemble neither her mother nor the Russian Empress, Catherine the Great. Zweig says that Marie Antoinette became a real Queen when the crown was removed.

For me, Marie Antoinette is more a true embodiment of the First Lady. Epithets Zweig gives a propos her elegance and tastes are endless. Portraits, unfortunately, do not convey her lightness, grace and ease of movement. She was a real "fireworks of a woman’s triumph" (the epithet is not mine, read it somewhere)

However, Zweig sadly notes that for all her potential talents, she did not go beyond the level of an ordinary person. Oh, had her husband be more energetic and decisive...

She shrugs off the burden of the government as a nuisance. She may be called an ordinary person, as well as a very bad ruler, but you cannot call her an ordinary woman. She was a mega star; French court has not seen such a desire to emulate the Queen of Rokoko. Charm and elegance are still a large share in the goodwill of France, and Marie Antoinette left in it a considerable share.

Zweig says she had to do few things to avoid the destiny. For example, she should have not closed herself in the Trianon from the old aristocracy, which later, embittered by her indifference, maintained and distributed pamphlets. I would not be unjust to say that the bomb that exploded in France at Marie Antoinette's time was laid by Louis XIV who started all this fuss with Versailles. Heavy, expensive protocols and traditions of the French court just had to die away. Remember that was the time of Voltaire.

To write interestingly about real people’s life is difficult, but Zweig did it. I watched Sofia Coppola's film about Marie Antoinette, and I can say that the film embodies, well, maybe twenty percent of the book (I would rather call the movie “the illustrations to the book”, because the movie characters are too two-dimensional). The book is richer, and so many details and important episodes are missing: the attitude of the mother to Marie Antoinette, the fatal influence of the sexual failure of Louis XVI on the spiritual development of Marie Antoinette, release of "The Marriage of Figaro" (I did not know all the underpinnings of this opera), scandalous and shocking scam with the necklace, and even her wedding is full of details that are not in the movie.

Zweig reiterates that Marie Antoinette was not able to rise beyond the level of an ordinary person. That is why we, "ordinary persons" are attracted by her story. We find ourselves in Marie Antoinette rather than in her mother, wise and religious ruler. Her story causes a pile of contradictory feelings: admiration, irritation and familiarity. How many times oblivious, just like Marie Antoinette, we were inactive and waited carelessly for our blows of fate?

The book is beautifully written and if you have not read Zweig before, I would advise you to start with this book.

Friday, 14 September 2012

Honore de Balzac «A Woman of Thirty" and Simone de Beauvoir "The Woman Destroyed"

Are you familiar with the term "Balzac-woman" or “Balzac-aged woman? What kind of a woman does it mean? What is the origin of the term? After all, women described by Balzac lived more than one and a half century ago. Who is a modern Balzac-woman?

e owe the advent of the term "Balzac-woman" to the great French writer, Honore de Balzac who wrote a novel called "A Woman of Thirty.” Realities of that time said that any woman who was over thirty, thirty-odd years, lost its feminine appeal and relevance in the eyes of society. But Balzac "allowed" a thirty year old woman to fall in love for the first time, and more importantly, to be loved.

Balzac allowed a woman to hope. Golden autumn, bright, warm Indian summer, but the passion is still quite possible, and love, and happiness.
Had Balzac worked now, in the twenty-first century, he would have called his work "A Woman of Fifty or Sixty." See the difference?

And what was the "Balzac age" in-between, in the twentieth century? Another French novelist, Simone de Beauvoir with her book "The Woman Destroyed" answers that question. [By the way, without her, this blog would not be complete; she was the one who wrote “The second sex”. She has an interesting biography, but we'll talk about it later.]

Both "A Woman
of Thirty" and "The Woman Destroyed" talk about different women’s fates, the question of age is slightly present like a dotted line. In “The woman destroyed" Monique, a woman, whose marriage is falling apart, states the “Balzac age”, which is forty-four. At that age she remains alone - no profession, no other interest other than her husband. Simone de Beauvoir described masterfully how the truth breaks through the thick cocoon in which Monique was enveloped. Her love for her husband and her two daughters was too devoted and too oppressive. The true picture that she sees after her shell is broken makes her recapitulate all her life. It can be felt that the book was written in the second half of the twentieth century. Monique is forty-four, and it seems there is little hope left in life. 

Nowadays women give birth at the age of forty four and learn new professions. I wonder what will happen in half a century, given the pace of the medicine's development? The “Balzac age” will be seventy? I would rather accept the assumption that our souls are eternal and that the “Balzac age” does not exist at all. In fact, do women need to be sex appealing as long as possible, what other options do they have?

More interesting things about women characters, beauty and style in my blog Notes about styling

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Compare the incomparable: Evelyn Waugh "A Handful of Dust" and Alexander Kuprin "The Duel"

It would seem that two writers, the works of which we will discuss today, are not comparable - an English aristocrat, Evelyn Waugh, and the Russian writer of non-noble origin who dropped out of military service, Alexander Kuprin. One defends the traditional values, the other one tries to imagine a bright future.

We'll talk about "A Handful of Dust" by Evelyn Waugh (which is according to Wiki is included in Modern Library List of Best 20th-Century Novels, and was chosen by TIME magazine as one of the one hundred best English-language novels from 1923 to present) and one of the best novels   of Alexader Kuprin “ The Duel". Since very few people would have thought to compare these literary works, the reader's eye misses what they have in common, which is the presence of an aggressive female character.

Let’s recall "A Handful of Dust", the manor, Tony Last, hardly absorbs the costs of the estate. He feels responsible for the heritage of his ancestors, and hopes to transfer the estate to his son. His wife, Brenda, appears as a cheerful, energetic woman in the beginning of the book, thinking the same way as her husband. But she finds a lover in the city and she deceives shamelessly her loving husband under the pretext that she attends some courses; she rents an apartment and appears rarely in the family home. Their son dies tragically. Tony tries to comfort her, "We will be having other children", and gets an extra kick, "Tony, you have not realized that we are going to divorce?" Brenda is not tortured by the slightest remorse apropos the estate (so dear to her husband) to be sold. As for him, the whole world falls apart! As a result, Tony refuses to divorce his wife in order to keep the house, and participates in the transatlantic expedition. Astray, he finds himself imprisoned by a half-crazy amateur of Dickens and is forced to read a book after book, with no hope to escape. Where, in fact, to break out? Predatory woman nearly deprived him of home, the child died – there is no place for Tony Last in the society!

In the famous "Duel" a sweet, wonderful, charming Shura turns the head of a young officer, Yuri Romashov. May be she really felt something for him,  but the main thing for her (and for Brenda Last) is an opportunity to get into a brilliant society, her beauty should be noticed and appreciated not only by garrison officers but also by a more prominent public. Therefore, for several years, she prepares her husband to enter the Academy of the General Staff, so that he makes a career and gives her the opportunity to reign in the high society.

A quarrel happens between Romashov and Shura’s husband. The purest and sensitive Romashov is accused of impinging Shura’s reputation. An ugly scene takes place in the provincial brothel. For officers of that time the only way to solve the problem was a duel.
A competent strategist, Shura, understands that if Romashov refuses the duel, the impeccable biography of her husband will have a stain. Late at night she sneaks into the apartment of Romashov to persuade him that the duel should take place, but both players would shot in the air. In parting, she gives a "royal" gift to Romashov – she makes “love” with him.

Romashov shot into the air. Shura’s husband did not ... life of the young officer was ruined for the sake of the ambitions of a cold-blooded woman.
Evelyn Waugh shows a life of a beautiful man ruined by his wife and Alexander Kuprin shows the death of a young guy who just started to live, a death in the name of the love for an ambitious, cold-blooded woman who made her choice - for the sake of the future she donates somebody else's life.

The countries are different the situations are similar.