Brief Lives Alexander Pushkin

pushBy Robert Chandler

A very good ‘brief’ summary of Pushkin’s life and work, which coming in at 150 pages is not so brief really. It gives quite a detailed account of the major milestones of his life and excellent critical analysis of some of his work. It also manages to link the two (life and work) in a natural way and give some complex opinions on his themes. Definitely more than what you would expect from a brief work. After reading I want to read more Pushkin and also read some analysis of his work as well. Nabokov did some work in this area and I think it would be quite interesting to hear what he had to say. This has effectively given me some context within which to place the works I have read recently. You can only guess as to what would have happened to Pushkin if he hadn’t been killed in the duel. His debts were spiralling out of control and it may be that if he didn’t die in this duel he may have died in another. But it’s all conjecture, Robert Chandler who wrote this biography puts across some convincing evidence that he didn’t have a death wish. However, when a person is under pressure they may take risks or act in erratic manner so,while he may not have wanted to die, if his situation didn’t improve it’s very possible something else would have occurred. At the book’s conclusion you are left with the consciousness of Pushkin’s utter genius and sadness that it was not fully expressed. This, in the same way as Blok or Mayakovsky.

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The Captain’s Daughter

capdauBy Alexander Pushkin

This novel is even better than Dubrovsky – possibly because it was finished and also Pushkin had done a lot of research into the areas the novel covers. Prior to The Captains’s Daughter Pushkin had written a history of Pugachev – the rebel leader who takes a central role in the novel. The writing is confident and clear and Pushkin is completely at home in the world he has created. The hero Grinyov has a similar social status to Pushkin (if we are to judge by the number of serfs each have) and both struggle with social events and politics that surround them. Because of this there is an assurance here, which, combined with the subtleties and clarity of Pushkin’s art makes for a fantastic novel. Pushkin seemed to be talented in so many areas, poetry, theatre, history and novel writing. Sadly you feel that he was only just starting to get going when his life was cut short. This novel is not dated at all, highly enjoyable and an excellent entry into Russian literature. All the characters are so interesting and have so many shades – at no time do they become caricatures. Read Pushkin – Nevermind the Tolstoy.

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dubBy Alexander Pushkin

What a great novel! Thoroughly enjoyed reading this. As Pushkin was a poet there is slightness of touch throughout and events are hinted at and themes almost coaxed out. You can see this particularly in the short story Egyptian Nights which is almost worth buying the volume for on its own. It’s a pity that Pushkin died so young in a duel, as there would have been many many more amazing stories, novels and poetry. This was written fifty years before Tolstoy’s major works yet it’s Tolstoy that seems stilted and dated. Pushkin doesn’t dabble in certainties, his characters have humanity and ambiguity. Genius.

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Memoir of Italo Svevo

svevoBy Livia Veneziani Svevo

A very interesting record of Svevo’s life by his wife Livia. She writes well herself and the collection of papers that she adds to the Svevo canon are illuminating. There’s correspondence between Svevo and Joyce and Larbaud as well as more minor literary figures. The strangest letters are from those who didn’t like his novels. There was an Italian critic who recognised that Svevo had talent but told him to stop writing about those minute details no one cares about – precisely the strength of Svevo’s writing. Livia’s narrative also cements the realisation that much of the central character in all his novels came from Svevo (or Ettore) himself and that his comic genius was so perspicuous as he was laughing at his own foibles. From this biography we can see that Svevo the serious young man became Svevo the old and amusing man. The real twist of the biography, if you can call it that, was that he was in his sixties until he had any success and only because he was championed by Larbaud and Joyce. Svevo had given up on writing or rather ‘publishing’ years earlier when his first two novels as a young man were universally ignored. He still wrote but threw himself into his business affairs as a priority (he made submarine paint). If it wasn’t for Joyce he would have remained unknown and maybe never have written his masterpiece of a novel ‘Zeno’ as an old man. This all begs the question. How many amazing geniuses have we missed? We nearly missed Kafka and Kennedy Toole. What if Kennedy Toole had been picked up by a publisher and imbued with confidence – think what he could have written. I also imagine what other works of brilliance Svevo could have created. There are hints here in his correspondence along with the narrative from Livia.

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