These are a few of my favorite thins: #19 (The Diary of a superfluous Man by Ivan Turgenev)
This is a Diary of a man (Tchulkaturin) who is about to die & who declares his existence to be superfluous, frivolous & meaningless. Being a diary it shows us the inner life of the narrator & I always love a peek into the inner lives of people who think interesting thoughts (& insights of a dying person are even more interesting, ‘cos they grow more reflective & more honest). Although written in 1850, it reads like a contemporary work (though at some places it does talk of strange things like old fashioned Balls & duels…I never understand duels-men ready to settle small differences in opinion by killing or being killed, rather drastic) .
When Turgenev published Diary of a Superfluous Man in 1850, he created one of the first literary portraits of the alienated man. Turgenev once said that there was a great deal of himself in the unsuccessful lovers who appear in his fiction. This failure, along with painful self-consciousness, is a central fact for the ailing Chulkaturin in this melancholy tale. As he reflects on his life, he tells the story of Liza, whom he loved, and a prince, whom she loved instead, and the curious turns all their lives took
It is peppered with interesting observations on Life, Death, & (unrequited) love. Sample these:
~But isn’t it absurd to begin a diary a fortnight, perhaps, before death? What does it matter? And by how much are fourteen days less than fourteen years, fourteen centuries? Beside eternity, they say, all is nothingness–yes, but in that case eternity, too, is nothing.
~My father had a passion for gambling; my mother was a woman of character . . . a very virtuous woman. Only, I have known no woman whose moral excellence was less productive of happiness. She was crushed beneath the weight of her own virtues, and was a source of misery to every one, from herself upwards. In all the fifty years of her life, she never once took rest, or sat with her hands in her lap; she was for ever fussing and bustling about like an ant, and to absolutely no good purpose, which cannot be said of the ant. The worm of restlessness fretted her night and day. Only once I saw her perfectly tranquil, and that was the day after her death, in her coffin. Looking at her, it positively seemed to me that her face wore an expression of subdued amazement; with the half-open lips, the sunken cheeks, and meekly-staring eyes, it seemed expressing, all over, the words, ‘How good to be at rest!’ Yes, it is good, good to be rid, at last, of the wearing sense of life, of the persistent, restless consciousness of existence! But that’s neither here nor there.
~Yes! I fought shy of my virtuous mother, and passionately loved my vicious father.
~But it occurs to me, is it really worth while to tell the story of my life?
~No, it certainly is not, . . . My life has not been different in any respect from the lives of numbers of other people. The parental home, the university, the government service in the lower grades, retirement, a little circle of friends, decent poverty, modest pleasures, unambitious pursuits, moderate desires–kindly tell me, is that new to any one? And so I will not tell the story of my life, especially as I am writing for my own pleasure; and if my past does not afford even me any sensation of great pleasure or great pain, it must be that there is nothing in it deserving of attention. I had better try to describe my own character to myself. What manner of man am I? . . . It may be observed that no one asks me that question–admitted. But there, I’m dying, by Jove! –I’m dying, and at the point of death I really think one may be excused a desire to find out what sort of a queer fish one really was after all.
~Winter again. The snow is falling in flakes. Superfluous, superfluous. . . . That’s a capital word I have hit on. The more deeply I probe into myself, the more intently I review all my past life, the more I am convinced of the strict truth of this expression. Superfluous–that’s just it. To other people that term is not applicable, . . . People are bad, or good, clever, stupid, pleasant, and disagreeable; but superfluous . . . no. Understand me, though: the universe could get on without those people too . . . no doubt; but uselessness is not their prime characteristic, their most distinctive attribute, and when you speak of them, the word ‘superfluous’ is not the first to rise to your lips. But I . . . there’s nothing else one can say about me; I’m superfluous and nothing more. A supernumerary, and that’s all. Nature, apparently, did not reckon on my appearance, and consequently treated me as an unexpected and uninvited guest. A facetious gentleman, a great devotee of preference, said very happily about me that I was the forfeit my mother had paid at the game of life. I am speaking about myself calmly now, without any bitterness. . . . It’s all over and done with!
~Yes, one can’t help saying with the Russian philosopher–‘How’s one to know what one doesn’t know?’
~peculiar sort of consolation which Lermontov had in view when he said there is pleasure and pain in irritating the sores of old wounds, why not indulge oneself?
~Kirilla Matveitch offered me a seat in his coach; but I refused. . . In the same way children, who have been punished, wishing to pay their parents out, refuse their favourite dainties at table.
~I fully realised how much happiness a man can extract from the contemplation of his own unhappiness. O men! pitiful race, indeed!
You can read the Novella here:
- Turgenev (halsmith.wordpress.com)
- Nothing (wildejourneys.wordpress.com)
- The “Perfect Moment” (tanyasylvan.com)
- Novella Month – Guest Post by Kyle Minor (emergingwriters.typepad.com)
- 14 Russians that inspired the language of love (rbth.ru)
- Juxtaposition Makes Makes Commentary Superfluous (iowntheworld.com)
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