Sunday, May 28, 2006

Back Link Pompous Circumstance

I just received my first book package from the London independent bookstore, Crockatt & Powell. In their blog they sung a hymn about Summer In Baden-Baden, by Leonid Tsypkin; so I ordered it and I’ve been reading it the last day or two.

I had totally forgotten how delightfully strenuous Russian prose can be. Just now I gave out a hoot after reading a six-page sentence (yes, six pages long = one sentence). What made me laugh was the part of the sentence in italics below:

(first five pages)

“… and I was very pleased by her answer because I scarcely ever come across people who do not regard Pushkin as an idol – especially women, women poets in particular, from Marina Tsvetayeva who wrote of him as the ‘terror of husbands, delight of wives’, devoting an entire book to him and manifestly in love with him, to Bella Akhmadulina who celebrates him in that hazy, somnambulistic verse of hers – but you will probably never find as fierce and passionate an admirer of Pushkin as Dostoyevsky, for who Pushkin may have been just as unattainable an antithetical dream as Stavrogin, embodying as he did harmony of spirit (though it may only have appeared that way), a high sense of honour (did Dostoyevsky know who loyally Pushkin used to bow to Count Orlov at the Mariinsky Theatre?), strength and constancy of character (did Dostoyevsky realize that the Decembrists did not really trust Pushkin very much, considering him both unstable and indiscreet?), and finally the nonchalance of a seducer who always achieved success (here there is really nothing to add in brackets, as Pushkin’s perfection in this sphere was genuinely beyond dispute)…

Now, Tsypkin admittedly does not write the type of prose for those readers weaned on the “one thought, one sentence” literary doctrine. I usually find this type of prose pompous, complex, and not always worth the effort. Yet, Tsypkin’s story of Dostoyevsky managed to produce a whole spectrum of emotions in me: exasperation, irritation, frustration, as well as, delight, wonder, and a large portion of grudging admiration.

I reacted this way because, though the subject material is, at times, very difficult to digest (I find the lengthy material of Dostoyevsky’s appallingly condescending relationship with his wife and his gambling addiction difficult to read), Tsypkin is so unrelenting honest in his presentation of the material, as well as grandiose in his perceptions and insights, it makes every moment spent with the book worth it.


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