July 2, 2010

1. Pronouns and Patriarchy

Time was, English writers referred to a generic individual as “he.” But that was then, and this is now. If you use “he” now, you’ll be thrown out of academia, and you’ll be lucky to escape with your life. Since “he” was a relic of odious patriarchy, it was replaced by “he/she,” though he/she offended both tradition and euphony. Now, however, it has been decided that “he/she” is also patriarchal since the “he” comes before the “she.” (Why didn’t we think of that before?) He/she isn’t truly gender-neutral. So the latest thing is “she/he.”

One might object though, that “she/he” is unjust to males, since it relegates them to second place. Isn’t she/he an example of female chauvinism and matriarchy? But perhaps it should be used for a certain amount of time, as a kind of reparation for centuries of wicked patriarchy. I suggest that we use she/he for 150 years. After that, we could alternate between a century of she/he and a century of he/she. And if that becomes confusing, we could invent a new pronoun that was gender-less (like the Chinese “ta”).

Or we could insist that every writer alternate between he/she and she/he. But what if a writer has an odd number of such pronouns — in a given work, or in his total body of work? For example, what if a writer used he/she 19 times, and she/he only 18 times? Wouldn’t that expose him to a charge of patriarchy, and endanger his academic career? How can a writer achieve balance and justice if his work has an odd number of pronouns? I confess I’m baffled by this question, and don’t see any solution.

2. Hardy’s Far from the Madding Crowd

I just finished a Victorian novel, Thomas Hardy’s Far from the Madding Crowd. In my salad days, I ignored Victorian fiction, I thought it was second-rate. Perhaps it is second-rate compared to Elizabethan drama, or Russian fiction, or Greek tragedy, but it may be more enjoyable to read than those first-raters. I hadn’t read Hardy in many years, and I was impressed: the plot is enjoyable, there are beautiful scenes of rural life, and the ideas are interesting. Some say that Hardy uses cheap tricks, melodramatic devices, to stir up his plot, but I haven’t read enough of this kind of fiction to become cynical about it. I’ve spent much of my time reading plotless writers like Proust and Joyce, so for me, an action-packed plot is a refreshing change.

As is my wont, I chose the Norton Critical Edition, which was made in 1986, and contains useful footnotes, good essays, and a bibliography that points you to more Hardy material.1 Many leading critics have written about Hardy, so there’s a plethora of criticism to choose from.

The title (Far from the Madding Crowd) comes from a famous English poem, Thomas Gray’s “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard”:

Far from the madding crowd’s ignoble strife,
Their sober wishes never learned to stray;
Along the cool sequestered vale of life
They kept the noiseless tenor of their way.

Most of Hardy’s novels are set in the countryside of southwest England — a region known as Wessex (sometimes called Dorsetshire; the county name is Dorset, the largest town is Dorchester). One might compare Hardy with Faulkner, who also wrote a series of novels about the rural area where he grew up. Hardy describes country life — shearing sheep, making hay, caring for bees, etc. These descriptions of country life are interwoven with his characters and his plot, so they’re never tedious. Hardy tells us that, in the churchyard

at six o’clock, the young men of the village gathered, as was their custom, for a game of Prisoners’ Base. The spot had been consecrated to this ancient diversion from time immemorial, the old stocks conveniently forming a base facing the boundary of the churchyard, in front of which the ground was trodden hard and bare as a pavement by the players. She could see the brown and black heads of the young lads darting about right and left, their white shirt-sleeves gleaming in the sun; whilst occasionally a shout and a peal of hearty laughter varied the stillness of the evening air.2

While Hardy praises country life, he doesn’t thunder against industrialization as Lawrence does; Hardy ignores the city. One might say that Hardy is Lawrence without an edge.

In an earlier issue, I discussed frevel — a teasing, childish kind of daring that stems from a lack of respect, and that often has dire consequences. (Frevel is a German word, related to the English “frivolous.”) Madding Crowd includes a perfect example of frevel: Liddy and Bathsheba send Boldwood a teasing valentine, with a spurious suggestion of love and marriage. This valentine has dire consequences. One might say that the plot of Madding Crowd hinges on this case of frevel. One wonders where Hardy acquired his understanding of frevel. Was it his own idea? Did he have experience of it? Did he find it in some philosophical writer, or in some fictional work?

Hardy was born in 1840, about 30 years after Dickens, and about 30 years before Forster.3 In the 1890s, Hardy’s novels began to arouse criticism for violating the Victorian moral code. After Jude the Obscure was castigated as Jude the Obscene, Hardy quit writing fiction. (D. H. Lawrence was a fan of Hardy, and wrote a book on his work; Hardy’s candid treatment of sex in Jude may have increased Lawrence’s admiration for him.4) Among Hardy’s chief works are Tess of the d’Urbervilles, Far From the Madding Crowd, Jude the Obscure, The Return of the Native, and The Mayor of Casterbridge.

Hardy lived until 1928, and during his latter years, he concentrated on writing poetry; he’s regarded as one of the leading poets of his day. Hardy regarded himself primarily as a poet; he said that he wrote fiction merely to make money. (D. H. Lawrence also wrote both poetry and fiction, but he seemed to take more pride in his fiction than in his poetry; perhaps he felt that prose was a better vehicle for his philosophical ideas than poetry was.)

Hardy attempts humor, often at the expense of his rustics, but I don’t find him funny. He often displays his erudition with references to history, literature, astronomy, etc.; these references are somewhat interesting, but also somewhat forced. Critics often find fault with Hardy’s style, which is occasionally quirky and obscure.

Hardy was married twice. He gradually became estranged from his first wife, but when she died in 1912, he was deeply affected, and his feelings overflowed in poetry. His second wife was his secretary, a woman much younger than he was. After Hardy died, his second wife published a two-volume biography of him; much of this biography was apparently written by Hardy himself, so perhaps it should be called an autobiography.

Hardy was not from the upper class (his father was a mason and builder), and his sympathies seem to lie with his working-class characters, rather than with his aristocratic characters. The hero of Madding Crowd is the shepherd Gabriel Oak, and the villain is the high-born soldier, Frank Troy. According to Wikipedia, “Hardy never felt at home in London. He was acutely conscious of class divisions and his social inferiority.” George Meredith advised Hardy not to publish his first novel, The Poor Man and the Lady, because it was “too bitter a satire on the rich.”5

Hardy is known for taking a rather dark, tragic view of the human condition; many of the characters in Madding Crowd meet misfortune. Hardy once said that we should take “a full look at the Worst.” But his worldview is only dark if he’s compared to other Victorian writers; if he’s compared to modern writers, one is struck by his hopefulness, his lack of the morbid and cynical.

Hardy describes Gabriel Oak as “generous and true,”6 and he describes one of his female characters (Fanny Robin) as a “gentle creature.”7 Can you imagine a more modern writer, like Forster or Lawrence, using such phrases? One might say that Hardy is the last of the morally simple writers, the last of the “generous and true” writers.

Hardy’s morality is traditional, Western morality. Hardy praises Gabriel for his unselfishness: “Among the multitude of interests by which he was surrounded, those which affected his personal well-being were not the most absorbing and important in his eyes.”8 Hardy blames Bathsheba for following her feelings: “Her culpability lay in her making no attempt to control feeling by subtle and careful inquiry into consequences.”9 Hardy’s morality has more in common with the morality of Socrates and Jesus than with the morality of Forster and Lawrence. Hardy has none of the admiration for Eastern mysticism that we find in Forster; Hardy doesn’t discuss spiritual growth, as Forster does, and he doesn’t urge us to follow the wisdom of the body, as Lawrence does.

[Spoiler Warning: If you’re thinking of reading Madding Crowd, you may want to skip the rest of this essay.]

But if Hardy sometimes moralizes, and favors reason over feeling, he’s by no means blind to the mysterious and occult; Hardy once said he would give ten years of his life to see a ghost, and Wikipedia speaks of his “fascination with the supernatural.”10 Hardy notes that Bathsheba can feel when Gabriel is looking at her: “Rays of male vision seem to have a tickling effect upon virgin faces in rural districts; she brushed hers with her hand, as if Gabriel had been irritating its pink surface by actual touch.”11 When Troy is reported to have drowned, his wife says that she feels he’s alive: “From the first, I have had a strange unaccountable feeling that he could not have perished.”12 And indeed, he hadn’t perished. (In an earlier issue, I discussed a Sherlock Holmes story in which a woman feels that her “dead” husband is still alive.)

There’s a clear class structure in Hardy’s work. Employers are called “master” and “mistress,” and a laborer is called “my man.”

One essay in the Norton Edition is by Howard Babb. Babb argues that the theme of Madding Crowd is the goodness of nature, and the goodness of lives close to nature. He points out that positive characters in the novel have names taken from nature — Oak and Robin, for example — while negative characters have names that suggest civilization and business — Troy and Pennyways, for example. Babb points out that Hardy associates positive characters with beautiful scenes, negative characters with dismal scenes. Hardy’s hero (Gabriel Oak) is introduced in connection with “the sublimity of Norcombe Hill,”13 while Hardy’s villain (Frank Troy) is introduced in a snow-covered landscape notable for its dreariness, somberness, and deathlike quality.14 Oak is in touch with nature, and reads nature’s signs of a coming storm,15 while Troy is at odds with nature, and his attempt to plant flowers on his girlfriend’s grave is ruined by a heavy rain.16 As for Bathsheba, when she’s feeling low after breaking with her husband, she’s “spiritually regenerated by a night in a thicket.”17 So Hardy doesn’t just offer us descriptions of nature, he uses nature to illustrate character and theme; one might even say that nature is a character in Hardy’s novel.

Another essay in the Norton Edition is by Roy Morrell. Morrell points out that the relationship between Gabriel and Bathsheba is healthy because it develops “in the interstices of a mass of hard prosaic reality.”18 On the other hand, the relationship between Boldwood and Bathsheba is unhealthy because it’s based on airy romanticism; the relationship between Bathsheba and Troy is also romantic and unhealthy. “Hardy is disparaging romance, the dream and the dreamer. He is suggesting, instead, that one should live... in accordance with reality.”19

Another essay in the Norton Edition is by Alan Friedman. Friedman argues that, at the start of Madding Crowd, Bathsheba is described as high-spirited, headstrong, un-tamed, because the theme of the novel is the taming of Bathsheba. Bathsheba’s world expands in the course of the novel — she becomes a landowner, a wife, etc. This expansion reaches a bursting point when her marriage with Troy collapses, and when Boldwood shoots Troy at the Christmas party. Bathsheba’s life has become impossible, she wonders how she can continue living. Friedman’s analysis of the novel is penetrating; he connects it not only to literature in general but also to life:

In fiction, those moments — or those many pages — which render a central character’s realization that life has become morally impossible are often accompanied (is it only in fiction?) by the onset of illness and fever: the very intensity of the moral explosion brings on a physical deterioration. And not infrequently, those fully expanded and intensified moments in the structure are also accompanied by the suggestion of mental derangement [one thinks of Hamlet]. Perhaps we are justified in regarding these processes as literary “rituals” or conventions — drawn of course from cultural conventions and psychological observation — which not only render but also mark the fullness of the formal expansion of experience.20

Our headstrong ways get us into trouble, we get stuck, life becomes impossible. Through suffering we attain wisdom, we learn humility. Bathsheba’s expansion, Friedman argues, is followed by the containment of that expansion. Bathsheba’s health revives, her spirits revive. By the end of the novel, she’s ready for a modest, un-romantic match with Gabriel — a match that she spurned at the start of the novel. She’s older and wiser; “she never laughed readily now.”21

As I read Madding Crowd, I wondered if Boldwood had some of Hardy’s own traits. Boldwood is a shadow figure, reminding me of Hamlet and Ahab. When Gabriel Oak is shearing sheep,

Oak’s belief that [Bathsheba] was going to stand pleasantly by [was] painfully interrupted by Farmer Boldwood’s appearance in the extremest corner of the barn. Nobody seemed to have perceived his entry, but there he certainly was. Boldwood always carried with him a social atmosphere of his own, which everybody felt who came near him; and the talk, which Bathsheba’s presence had somewhat suppressed, was now totally suspended.22

In my book of aphorisms, I discussed Hamlet’s shadowy tendencies, and said that Shakespeare himself probably shared them. Boldwood is the antithesis of Troy, and surely Hardy himself was also the antithesis of Troy.23

Surely Troy has his faults, and surely he does much harm to Fanny Robin, but he’s one of the most striking characters in Madding Crowd, he’s one of Hardy’s finest creations, and he has some positive traits. He has a remarkable capacity for action, as is clear from his swordsmanship, his circus act, etc.; Hardy speaks of “the lightning action in which he was such an adept.”24 Troy has no concern with the past or the future, but there’s a certain Zennish wisdom in that attitude, as Hardy realizes: “it may be argued with great plausibility that reminiscence is less an endowment than a disease, and that expectation [is] a constant fluctuation between pleasure and pain.”25

Madding Crowd contains a striking criticism of specialized knowledge. Bathsheba tells Gabriel,

When I want a broad-minded opinion for general enlightenment, distinct from special advice, I never go to a man who deals in the subject professionally. So I like the parson’s opinion on law, the lawyer’s on doctoring, the doctor’s on business, and my business-man’s — that is, yours — on morals.26

3. Pushkin

A. “The Queen of Spades”

I read a Pushkin short story, “The Queen of Spades,” which is being discussed by the local GreatBooks group. An excellent short story, I highly recommend it. (E-text here.) The story is saturated with magic and the occult, but manages to keep two feet on the solid ground of reality. The story has a high reputation; it’s considered one of Pushkin’s best, and one of the best in all of Russian literature. As for Pushkin himself, his reputation is very high in Russia, but not as high outside Russia, perhaps because much of his work is poetry, which is difficult to translate.

Pushkin is said to have had a strong interest in the occult, and he’s said to have been an avid card-player and gambler.27 Perhaps his interest in the occult is typical of the Romantic period. Pushkin always felt that he would die young and die violently, and he did so (he died at age 37, from wounds received in a duel). His art and his life reflected each other.

The story’s epigraph is, “The queen of spades signifies secret ill-will.” Thus, playing cards are given an occult significance, like tarot cards. A card game isn’t just a game of chance, it has a magical significance, an occult significance, it’s connected to human destiny; perhaps it foretells the future, or offers guidance for the future. In short, a card game is a kind of divination. Perhaps this is why Pushkin had a keen interest in cards, and includes card games in many of his works.

The story touches on other aspects of the occult, besides divination. There’s life-after-death, and a Swedenborg quote about life-after-death. (One is reminded of another Romantic writer, Poe, who also mentions Swedenborg in connection with the occult.) There’s also telepathy: the servant girl, Lizaveta, can always feel when Hermann is watching her. And when Hermann is wandering the streets, an “unknown power” draws him to the home of the Countess. And finally, there’s a reference to a famous occultist, St. Germain.28 St. Germain traveled to Russia (among other places), and was a member of the same Freemason lodge that Pushkin himself was a member of.

[Spoiler Warning: If you might read “The Queen of Spades,” skip the next seven paragraphs.]

The GreatBooks discussion revolved around the question, “Was Lizaveta an accomplice to murder?” Did she “arrange” the murder? Was it a “willed death,” a psychic murder? This is a question that has frequently arisen in previous issues of this e-zine; perhaps it’s one of the key questions in literary criticism.

It’s true that Lizaveta was unhappy as the Countess’s companion, and it’s true that her lot in life improved after the Countess’s death. It’s also true that she let Hermann into the house, and also let him out after the Countess’s death. Nonetheless, I don’t think there’s enough evidence, of any kind, to “convict” Lizaveta. For me, an argument in favor of Lizaveta’s innocence is that the Countess, when she appears to Hermann as a ghost, is well-disposed toward Lizaveta, and promotes the marriage that Lizaveta seeks. If Lizaveta were an accomplice, I think the Countess would suspect that, and not try to help Lizaveta in any way.

In an earlier issue, I discussed a D. H. Lawrence story in which the protagonist leaves a sickle on the grass, and the sickle injures his daughter. Again, the question arises, “Was it accidental, or was it (consciously or unconsciously) intentional?” Such questions can be very difficult to answer.

One member of the GreatBooks group did some research on faro, the card game played in the story. He said that Hermann had the winning card, and could have played it, but played the Queen of Spades by mistake. This suggests that Hermann had a self-destructive impulse, it suggests that (on some level) he didn’t want to win. Hermann’s inner divisions cause him to err, just as, when he’s looking at the Countess’s casket, his inner divisions cause him to stumble and fall. Ultimately, his inner divisions land him in a mental hospital. (Personally, I still don’t understand faro; perhaps a discussion of the story should include a demonstration of the game.)

Hermann lacks a heart. He embodies calculating self-interest — greed. The Countess has a heart; after she dies, she still cares about Lizaveta, and tries to arrange for her marriage. And Lizaveta also has a heart; after she’s married and wealthy, she takes care of a poor relative. One might say that, in Pushkin’s story, the characters get what they deserve.

According to some critics, Hermann is the model for a later creation, Dostoyevsky’s Raskolnikov, protagonist of Crime and Punishment. It is also argued that Svidrigailov (a character in The Brothers Karamazov) is Raskolnikov’s “double,” and thus has some of Hermann’s traits. Svidrigailov sees a ghost, as Hermann does; Svidrigailov’s girlfriend, Dunia, is a Lizaveta-figure, as his late wife is a Countess-figure. The triangle Svidrigailov-Marfa-Dunia reproduces the triangle Hermann-Countess-Lizaveta. Likewise, the triangle in Crime and Punishment of Raskolnikov-Pawnbroker-Sonia reproduces Pushkin’s triangle.29

Dostoyevsky’s attitude toward ghosts reflects his reading of “The Queen of Spades.” Since Hermann eventually goes mad, one might say that the ghost of the Countess is Hermann’s hallucination. But in The Brothers Karamazov, Dostoyevsky says the fact that “ghosts appear only to the sick... only proves that ghosts can appear to no one but sick people — and not that there are no ghosts per se.”30 In sum, Pushkin’s story had a profound effect on Dostoyevsky.

One critic, Maxim Shrayer, discusses “The Queen of Spades” in connection with Romantic irony.31 Shrayer traces Romantic irony to the influential critic Friedrich Schlegel. Schlegel’s school argued that the essence of reality was becoming, not being; reality is chaotic, disorderly; everything we believe is both true and false. Romantic irony is “a set of artistic devices that allow the author to ‘form a club with his readers and mock all and everything,’ to appear as a figure in his own writing, and to comment upon the action.”

The chief example of Romantic irony in English literature is Byron’s long poem, Don Juan. Byron had much influence on the writers of his day, including Pushkin; Byron was famous not only for his writings but for his scandals and adventures. Hermann has been called a Byronic character — gloomy, unsociable, etc.

In “The Queen of Spades,” Pushkin’s attitude toward the occult might be called ironic since he seems to both believe and disbelieve. In Pushkin’s story, some examples of the occult are such that even a skeptic would accept them, such as Lizaveta feeling Hermann’s eyes on her, while other examples are such that even a believer would be skeptical, such as the playing card winking at Hermann.

Since I was fascinated by “The Queen of Spades,” I looked at several essays on the story, but wasn’t fond of any. The story is a favorite with modern critics, but not with older critics, who seem to have overlooked Pushkin. Modern critics don’t write pure English. One critic speaks of, “the self-evident proximity of the plotlines of ‘The Queen of Spades’ to the fairy tale.” Why not say “‘The Queen of Spades’ resembles a fairy tale”? Modern critics never use three words if they can use ten, and never say anything clearly if they can say it obscurely. This critic goes on to say, “Hermann as questing hero, the formula (of the three cards) as the passport to riches — the prize, along with Lizaveta, the ‘princess’ — and the Countess as donor are obvious as fairy-tale elements.”32

“The Queen of Spades” whets your appetite for more Pushkin. Among his major works is a play, Boris Gudonov, and a verse novel, Eugene Onegin. Nabokov made a multi-volume translation of Eugene Onegin. If you want to read Pushkin’s short stories, I suggest a volume called The Captain’s Daughter and Other Stories.33

B. “The Captain’s Daughter”

Pushkin was critical of the Czar’s government, and sympathetic to revolutionary ideas; during much of his life, he was under government surveillance, or exiled to the southern provinces. Perhaps it was during his southern exile that he became interested in Pugachev’s Rebellion, a rebellion of Cossacks and peasants that occurred in the southern provinces in 1773, during the reign of Catherine II (Pugachev himself was a Cossack who had been a lieutenant in the Russian army). Pushkin wrote two works about Pugachev’s Rebellion: a non-fiction account, and a novella called “The Captain’s Daughter.”

I was disappointed by “The Captain’s Daughter.” Pushkin uses a light-hearted tone that jars with the grim events he’s describing. The plot is simple, predictable, and un-realistic. The plot doesn’t draw you in, doesn’t persuade you that these characters are real and alive; you’re always aware that this is a fictional work, a work that follows a formula. The formula is: boy meets girl, they fall in love, various obstacles prevent them from marrying, the obstacles are finally overcome, and at the end of the story, they marry. If you weren’t cynical about fiction before, this novella will make you cynical. If “The Queen of Spades” whets your appetite for more Pushkin, “The Captain’s Daughter” sates your appetite for Pushkin. While Dostoyevsky was fascinated by “The Queen of Spades” and influenced by it, I don’t see anything in “The Captain’s Daughter” that would fascinate him or influence him.

At the end of one chapter, the protagonist says he suddenly had an idea for saving his girlfriend from his enemy. “What it entailed, the reader will see in the next chapter — as old-fashioned novelists used to say.”34 Thus, the writer doesn’t stay behind-the-scenes, he steps forward and addresses the reader, he makes it clear that he’s spinning a yarn to entertain the reader, and entice him to read on. But you have little interest in the fate of these characters because you don’t empathize with them; they aren’t living, three-dimensional characters, they’re flat, one-dimensional types (Hero, Heroine, Villain, Loyal Servant, etc.). At one point, the heroine says goodbye to the hero:

“Farewell, Petr Andreich,” she said in a soft voice. “God only knows if we’ll see each other again, but I will never forget you: till my dying day you alone shall live in my heart.”35

Touching words certainly, but as I read them, I wasn’t touched because I didn’t connect with the characters. I didn’t see the characters before me as I read, I saw the author writing the story, trying to make it a touching story. There is, however, something to be said for “The Captain’s Daughter”; it has a good reputation, and that reputation isn’t entirely undeserved. It’s short, highly readable, painless. It teaches you something about Russian life, and Russian history (if only it had a map!). If it isn’t realistic that’s because it’s part of a different tradition; it’s part of the Romantic tradition of Walter Scott, the pre-realistic tradition. This Romantic tradition isn’t necessarily inferior to the later, realistic tradition. After all, 20th-century writers rejected realism, and praised pre-realistic writers like Fielding and Sterne.36

4. Psi Stuff

There’s a new film about the occult: Something Unknown. Other films on the subject are What the Bleep Do We Know!? and The Secret (discussed in an earlier issue). An organization called IONS has a website and “community groups” scattered around the world. One of the best psi websites is Skeptical Investigations; a similar site is Suppressed Science.

© L. James Hammond 2010
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1. The editor is Robert C. Schweik. back
2. Ch. 45 back
3. Hardy was roughly contemporary with George Meredith, Algernon Charles Swinburne, and Robert Louis Stevenson. Early in his career, Hardy met Meredith, and received advice from him. Hardy also met Stevenson a couple of times. back
4. In his Study of Thomas Hardy, Lawrence says that the theme of Hardy’s work is, “The spirit of Love must always succumb before the blind, stupid, but overwhelming power of the Law.”(ch. 9) Those who take a chance on romance come to a bad end; one should follow the beaten path of convention, Hardy seems to say. Lawrence’s view of Madding Crowd is that Bathsheba truly loves Troy (“the flower of imaginative fine love”), but this love is destroyed, so she settles for Gabriel.(ch. 3) When writing his Hardy book, Lawrence consulted Thomas Hardy: A Critical Study, by Lascelles Abercrombie. back
5. Wikipedia article on Meredith back
6. Ch. 38 back
7. Ch. 45 back
8. Ch. 43 back
9. Ch. 29 back
10. Hardy believed, though, that Hume’s skeptical arguments against miracles applied to occult phenomena (Hume had said that we shouldn’t accept a miracle unless it would be a greater miracle if it were false). back
11. Ch. 3 back
12. Ch. 51 back
13. p. 374 back
14. p. 374 back
15. Ch. 36 back
16. Ch. 46 back
17. p. 377 back
18. Ch. 56 back
19. p. 382 back
20. p. 391 back
21. p. 392 back
22. Ch. 22 back
23. In the Norton Edition, a critic named Michael Millgate says “Perhaps originally conceived as a contrast to Oak, Troy is even more effective as a foil to Boldwood: where the latter is slow, massive, profoundly obsessive, Troy is quick, light, and casual; if they both neglect their ricks it is for utterly different reasons.”(p. 407) back
24. Ch. 50 back
25. Ch. 25 back
26. Ch. 50 back
27. “Like Hermann [the protagonist of “Queen of Spades”], Pushkin was known to believe in omens, fortune-telling, and parapsychological phenomena.” (from the Internet) back
28. One critic explains the origin of the story: “The old Countess Anna Fedotovna, a truly extravagant relic of the eighteenth century, belongs among the most remarkable of Pushkin’s creations. Her real-life model was Princess Nataliia Petrovna Golitsyna, whom Pushkin knew personally. The princess served as a lady-in-waiting to five generations of Russian emperors and was ninety-two years old at the time Pushkin wrote his tale. She was an avid gambler, and because of her failing eyesight, a deck of large-format cards was kept for her at the court. Once, her grandson, S. G. Golitsyn, had lost a large sum at cards and came to his grandmother to beg for money. Instead of money, the princess told him of the three winning cards that Saint-Germain had once revealed to her in Paris. The grandson bet on them and regained his loss. In 1762, when the Countess was in her thirties, Saint-Germain actually visited Petersburg and was involved in the conspiracy that ousted Peter III and brought Catherine II to the throne. While in Russia, Saint-Germain stayed at the house of Princess Mariia Golitsyna, a relative of Pushkin's prototype for the Countess. Pushkin punishes Hermann out of Masonic loyalty to Count Saint-Germain — both men were members of the Ovid Lodge in Odessa.”(The Ace in “The Queen of Spades,” by Sergei Davydov, Slavic Review, Vol. 58, No. 2, Special Issue: Aleksandr Pushkin: 1799-1999, Summer, 1999, pp. 309-328) back
29. See Canadian Slavonic Papers, May-June 1996, “Everyone Knew Her... Or Did They?” by Svetlana Grenier, footnote 30. Unfortunately, this essay is written in the scholarly jargon that I call LitSpeak, so it makes painful reading. back
30. Quoted in Grenier’s essay, near footnote 30 back
31. “Rethinking Romantic Irony: Pushkin, Byron, Schlegel and The Queen of Spades,” by Maxim D. Shrayer, The Slavic and East European Journal, Vol. 36, No. 4 (Winter, 1992), pp. 397-414 back
32. Pushkin’s “The Queen of Spades”, by Neil Cornwell, part II, section 2, p. 60 (Bristol Classical Press, Critical Studies in Russian Literature). For more on “The Queen of Spades,” take a look at The Voice of a giant: essays on seven Russian prose classics, edited by Roger Cockrell and David Richards. A Russian writer, D. S. Mirsky, wrote a biography of Pushkin, but it doesn’t throw light on “The Queen of Spades” (Mirsky’s History of Russian Literature is well-regarded.) An English writer, T. J. Binyon, also wrote a biography of Pushkin, but it says little of interest about “The Queen of Spades.” There are also Pushkin biographies by David Magarshack and Henri Troyat. back
33. Consider also Alexander Pushkin, Complete Prose Fiction, trans. and ed. Paul Debreczeny (Stanford, 1983) back
34. Ch. 10 back
35. Ch. 13 back
36. In earlier issues, I mentioned Kundera’s fondness for pre-realistic writers. (click here or here). back