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.

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