Listening to a Russian tale
My book of choice was to ‘reread’ The Brothers Karamazov—38+ hours of listening to this powerful novel. I finished it in January, and as if we were on the same page, there was a brilliant distillation of Dostoevsky’s masterpiece in the January/23 edition of The New Criterion: “A realist in the higher sense,” by Jason Howland. Fyodor Karamazov, the paterfamilias, “is a man of primordial energies and seemingly insatiable appetites,” Howland says, who wallows in shameless sensual pleasures shot through with existential loneliness. Just when the reader thinks him beyond redemption, he has a moment of true contrition.
For the Karamazov nature is such as to behold the ‘ideal of the Madonna’ in Dmitri’s words, together with the ‘ideal of Sodom.’.. the ideal of Sodom is reflected in the impulse to disfigure what is beautiful and good, as when Fyodor spits on Sofia’s icon of the Madonna… The profoundly muddled paterfamilias wants both to destroy the divine image and to be saved by it. Is that not all too human?
The novel contains multitudes—and the individual’s search to discover meaning in the human journey: the inextricable linking of patricide & suicide; Dmitri’s, the eldest brother, carousing & love of one woman; Ivan’s ‘everything is permitted’ & horror at his influence in the murder of his father; and Alyosha’s, the youngest son, goodness & love of father & brothers in spite of their grievous failings.
Alyosha’s advice to Ivan, tormented by his rejection of God and thus purpose, is to “love life more than its meaning” to “love it before logic”. Alyosha’s spiritual mentor, the Elder Zosima, has one purpose—“to advance active love—the only power available to man that can make the parallel thoughtlines of otherwise isolated human existence meet, not at infinity but here on earth.”
The Brothers Karamazov was even more powerful the second time around. I am older and my knowledge of the sweep of human history, while still selective, has broadened and deepened since I first read it as a young woman.
Listening to & watching another Russian tale
Back to winter 2023. Our movie of the season was a Russian edition of War and Peace—a 7½-hour-long masterpiece with English subtitles. We watched it in four sessions over the long winter evenings, emulating its original release in four segments in 1966-67: I – Andrei Bolkonsky; II – Natasha Rostova; III – The Year 1812; IV – Pierre Bezukhov. Sergei Bondarchuk co-wrote, directed and starred in the movie, playing the part of Pierre Bezukhov. Tolstoy’s novel covers the tumultuous years in the early years of the 19th century in Russia, dominated by Napoleon’s wars to conquer his country; and it helps to have read it to understand the compressed—yes, even at 7½ hours!—story in the movie.
The current war in Ukraine, with Russia in Napoleon’s role of offense and Ukraine in Russia’s role of defence in the 1812 war, underscores the timeliness of the tale—especially in light of the younger generations’ historical illiteracy as the woke cotillion busily tries to dance them into the abyss. Then there’s the recent release of The Story of Russia by Orlando Figes, a book on both our Christmas/22 wishlists that we read one right after the other early in the new year, deepening our understanding of the enigma of Russia.
Listening to epic tales
The Audible experience led to the realization that certain materials are better listened to than read (assuming, of course, that the reader is a master of the material). Epic poems are the perfect candidate. Their long lists of names unfamiliar to the lay reader slows her as she puzzles out the names; the expert reader, on the other hand, keeps intact the rhythm of the poem with perfect pace & pronunciation of the content.
And that is exactly the case with The Iliad, translated by W.H.D. Rouse and read by Anthony Heald. Book XVI made me weep with the death of Patroclus, and Book XXII awed and conflicted me with Achilles’ savage killing of Hector in revenge.
Naturally, The Odyssey will be next (by the same translator & reader). Again, the story is familiar, but the magic will be in its telling. And the one following that will be Paradiso, to complete my journey through Dante’s The Divine Comedy.
I began in 2021 with a course from Hillsdale College, and then read Inferno and Purgatorio in the fall, fully intending to read the last 33 cantos at the beginning of the new year. But 2022 came & went, and it’s still on my list.
Writing a Biblical tale
Another very satisfying accomplishment was the writing and posting of Blog Number 71 – Via Pulchtudinis – the way of beauty. A month late, but doggedly pursued and finally accomplished. Since reading the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John in Bishop Barron’s Word on Fire Bible, I was excited to write about their beauty and profundity. So I did. It was hard. It was satisfying. And the Biblical words gleam gold amidst the cascades of dross produced by today’s prize-winning authors. No wonder I turn to the past for my soul’s sustenance…
Organizing a storage problem
Hosting a dinner party
February saw six of us around the table for a meal of Chicken Marbella, Potatoes Anna, Roasted Asparagus & Butter Lettuce-Avocado Salad washed down with Sangiovese red wine & Sauvignon white wine. The best part, of course, was the conversation, stitching & weaving a multitude of topics into a coat of many colours to keep everyone warm & happy on a cold winter’s night. And the next one will be in spring…
Counting my blessings at the end of Q1
Throughout these long winter months, hardly a day went by when I didn’t have a call or email or text—from one of my large family, with a sad one in January relating the death of a brother-in-law after his long life of almost 87 years; from our sons & their wives and our grandchildren (the latter a scarcer occurrence, but always a possibility); from a friend to chat or make a date for our next connection; from a neighbour to check that all is well at 1402.
Evenings were the highlight of the day and our time together. For 2-2½ hours, we snuggled into the den and watched mystery series (mainly British), movies (mainly Turner Classic Movies), comedy halfhour series, and a sprinkling of special events. A satisfying end to a satisfying day, we agree.
…and now spring is here, or at least trying to arrive. With all the annual rituals of that season on the horizon, a family Easter Sunday dinner being the first, I look forward to leaving the cozy cocoon of our comfortable house for more hours in the great outdoors—or at least in that tiny part of it that is our backyard oasis.