Some book posts write themselves. I'm thinking here of proper posts about books I've finished reading rather than the general chattiness about 'in progress' books that I have no problem writing. If I really liked a book and am feeling especially enthusiastic about it, words just flow from my pen (or keyboard in this case), and I usually discover I have more to say about it than I anticipated.
And then there are books like Henry James's The Lesson of the Master, which took me forever to read despite being a mere 122 pages. It was my last Art of the Novella book, which came with James Joyce's The Dead (one of my favorite novellas ever I think). I am going to write about the James novella, though not today. It ended up being a good story and I am glad I persisted with it, but it took its time getting to its destination. I'll take most of the blame as I have been easily distracted of late, and the James novella is best read in one or only a very few sittings. I tend to drag stories out sometimes. But I have been thinking of what I want to say about it and contemplating how I will compose my post and mostly am coming up with a blank page. So I guess I will continue to ruminate on that one.
My most recent Art of the Novella package arrived last week (there was a mix up--I hadn't realized I needed to renew after a year passed, so I missed the February and March books and will have to order them separately). It contained Anton Chekhov's My Life and Sarah Orne Jewett's The Country of Pointed Firs, both books I am greatly looking forward to reading. As I have not yet read a single book in translation so far this year (how did that happen?), I decided Chekhov could go first.
Happily I am getting on well with the Chekhov novella. Perhaps that is not surprising since I have read him before and been suitably impressed by his work--so much so that I have been slowly collecting his entire oeuvre thinking I am going to eventually have a serious Chekhov reading binge (maybe this will be the start of it?).
My Life isn't really about Chekhov's life, though maybe there are autobiographical influences. The blurb also mentions the novella is partly a "commentary on Tolstoyan philosophy". I'm going to make a confession here which is probably going to sound really awful. I (mostly) love Tolstoy's work and the books and novellas I have read by him have been really amazing. But. (There's is always a 'but', isn' there?), I sort of don't like him. In fairness I have never really read anything in great detail about his life and philosophy. What I have read and what sticks with me are more of the quirky things about the ma and how poorly he treated his wife Sofia. To say he lived a somewhat paradoxical life is maybe an accurate statement? (Sorry about the digression).
So I am very curious to see what Chekhov (who I have immense respect for) thought about Tolstoy's philosophy. My Life is about a young man who is "disgusted" by bourgeois society. He decides to live and work among the working class but finds it is not exactly what he expected it to be either. The novella is described as displaying all his strengths--"vivid characters, restrained but telling details, and brilliant psychological observation." Now that I should read slowly I am finding I want to reach more often for the novella than other books on my reading pile.
The story is narrated by Misail Poloznev who, despite being over 25, is on occasion beaten by his father. His sister is also disappointed in him that he is making a poor showing by his inability to hold a proper and respected job. My teaser is actually a description given by Misail of the daughter of a family of wealthy landowners who like to put on amateur theatricals.
"Dolzhikov's daughter came in, a plump, fair beauty, dressed as people said, in everything from Paris. She did not act, but a chair was set for heron the stage at the rehearsals, and the performances never began till she had appeared in the front row, dazzling and astounding everyone with her fine clothes. As a product of the capital she was allowed to make remarks during the rehearsals; and she did so with a sweet indulgent smile, and one could see that she looked upon our performance as a childish amusement. It was said she had studied singing at the Petersburg Conservatoire, and even sang for a whole winter in a private opera. I thought her very charming, and I usually watched her through the rehearsals and performances without taking my eyes off her."
I'm wondering whether the two will connect and how it will work out if they do seeing as Misail is ready to denounce the very things she seems to stand for. As I seem to reach for this book so often I am hoping to make fast and steady progress with it. Certainly better progress than with the James novella.
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Typepad is still experiencing issues, so this page may or may not load. If you have tried to leave a comment or found that your comment has disappeared or posted multiple times I apologize. Hopefully the Typepad folks are getting things sorted out and things will become stable again soon. I had meant to tweak the previous two posts but as I have not been able to access the back end of things easily, I'm spending most of my time getting my post ready before things go down again. I'll catch up with comments soon.